Pope reveals Fatima secret

He says vision foretold assassination attempt


Monday, May 15, 2000

Vatican City -- Pope John Paul's decision to reveal that the 1917 "Secret of Fatima" foretold the attempt on his life in 1981 has rekindled the debate about whether that shooting was a communist plot.

"I am 100-per-cent certain," said Ferdinando Imposimato, an Italian magistrate who led an investigation into whether the Bulgarian secret service, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union, had hired Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca to kill the Pope.

"I even wrote to the Pope," Mr. Imposimato said in an interview on Italian state radio yesterday, "and I told him that Agca was the instrument of an international plot, which certainly involved the secret services of the East Bloc, among them the Bulgarians and the KGB."

Ending a decades-old mystery, the Vatican revealed the Third Secret of Fatima on Saturday, saying that one of the secrets the Virgin Mary was said to have told three Portuguese shepherd children more than 80 years ago foretold the shooting of the Pope.

The disclosure came as the Pope visited Fatima to beatify two of the three children, Jacinta Marto and her brother, Francisco, who were 7 and 8 years old at the time they reported the visions. The third child was their cousin, now Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos. She has been cloistered in a Carmelite convent in central Portugal since 1929 and now is 93.

Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood and can be performed only after the person's death. The Vatican said the two are the first children to be so honoured who did not die as martyrs.

The first two of the secrets were made public by Sister Lucia, who met with the Pope Saturday. They are said to have foretold the end of the First World War, the start of the Second World War, and the rise and fall of Soviet communism. For years, many believed the third, unrevealed secret was a doomsday prophecy of the end of the world.

But Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano told the 600,000 people gathered at Fatima that the third vision involved a "bishop clothed in white" who "falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire." Cardinal Sodano recalled that the Pope had credited the Virgin of Fatima with intervening and saving his life. The Vatican said later that the Pope had read the secret within days of being elected pontiff in 1978.

Mr. Agca, a trained killer who was a member of the right-wing Grey Wolves group, shot and nearly killed the Pope in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of the Madonna's first apparition to the three children.

At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish homeland were leading toward the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity union, and most historians agree that he had a vital role in events that led to the formation of the East Bloc's first freely elected government and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The question about who was behind the assassination attempt is one of the mysteries of the 20th century. It has been the subject of three investigations and two trials.

Mr. Agca, now 41, was arrested in St. Peter's Square minutes after the shooting. He was tried two months later and given a life sentence, which he is serving in Italy.

At a 1986 trial, prosecutors failed to prove charges that the Bulgarian secret service hired Mr. Agca on behalf of Moscow. The so-called Bulgarian Connection trial ended with the "acquittal for lack of sufficient evidence" of three Turks and three Bulgarians charged with conspiring with Mr. Agca.

The verdict, a quirk of the Italian judicial system, meant the jury was not convinced of the defendants' innocence but that there was not enough evidence for a guilty verdict.

Mr. Agca gave conflicting testimony during the 1986 trial. He said the order to kill the Pope came from the Soviet embassy in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, but his credibility was damaged when he said he was Jesus Christ.

Mr. Agca also said several times during the trial that he wanted the Vatican to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima and asked the Pope about it when the pontiff visited him in prison in 1983.

"Now I know for sure that I was the unwitting instrument of a mysterious plan," Italian news agency Ansa quoted Mr. Agca as telling his lawyer after Saturday's revelation of the secret.

Original article