There has always been controversy over the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at La Salette on September 19, 1846, and in particular over the secret parts of the message of Our Lady. But that controversy came to a head in 1999, when Abbé Michel Corteville discovered the original letters of the two visionaries, addressed to Pope Pius IX in 1851, which had been buried in the Vatican archives for decades. Critics of the various versions of the Secret of La Salette, published by the seers Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud in later years, felt vindicated when they learned that the original versions were much shorter. Their triumph was short-lived, however, as Abbé Corteville soon published a thorough and scholarly study of the Apparition and Message of La Salette, which demonstrated that the visionaries intentionally revealed their secrets by degrees—the later versions being logical amplifications of the earlier. The entire story of this controversy, which has been much overshadowed by the controversy over the Third Secret of Fatima, is both fascinating and complex.
Opposition to La Salette was brewing even within the diocese of Grenoble and the archdiocese of Lyons. This opposition was fueled in part by the explosive political situation in France—the unrest which led to the 1848 revolution, which replaced the "citizen-king" Louis-Philippe with Louis Napoleon III. The unrest and the ensuing coup led to an ever widening gap between those in the Church who favored a return to legitimate monarchy and those who favored the republic/empire under Napoleon III. The royalists were frequently accused of trying to use La Salette and the undisclosed Secret as propaganda to support their cause. Liberals were accused of opposing La Salette and the Secret for fear that it might condemn them.
Opposition to La Salette was also fueled by the so-called Incident of Ars, which eventually served to bolster belief in the Apparition. This latter event centered on the doubts suffered by the renowned Curé of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, after an interview with the seer Maximin. The best information we can have of this strange event is from Maximin himself, taken from an interview which he gave to Mlle. des Brulais for her book on La Salette.
On the evening of September 24, 1850, three men accompanied Maximin and his sister to Ars, insisting that Maximin have an interview with the holy Curé. They were met by the famously indiscreet Vicar of Ars, the Abbé Raymond. M. Raymond had previously visited La Salette and had attempted to question Maximin himself. The boy had refused to answer his questions, and thereafter M. Raymond was prejudiced against the Apparition. So naturally on this occasion, the conversation was not very cordial. Maximin tells us what happened:
"Ah! M. le Vicaire of Ars said that I had invented a tale and that I had not seen our Blessed Lady. I was not in a good mood, so I replied: 'Well, if you like, put it that I have told a lie and that I have seen nothing!' After that I walked away."
M. Raymond informed St. John Marie Vianney of the event, undoubtedly putting his own interpretation on the boy's words. Maximin met the Saint the next morning. Mlle. des Brulais questioned Maximin on this meeting:
Question: "What took placed during your interview with M. le Curé d'Ars? Will you tell me something about it?"
Answer: "The three gentlemen took me to the Curé d'Ars, in order, as they said, that I might consult him on the subject of my vocation. M. le Curé advised me to return again to my own diocese. Those gentlemen were very angry because of this advice. They said I had misunderstood M. Vianney, and they sent me back to him. On that occasion, I went into his confessional in the sacristy. The Curé d'Ars is not easy to understand because he has not many teeth left. He asked me whether I had seen the Blessed Virgin. I answered, ‘I cannot say whether it is the Blessed Virgin or not; I have seen something… a Lady. But, M. le Curé, if you know that it is the Blessed Virgin, you should tell it to all those pilgrims, so that they may believe in La Salette'."
Q.: "They say, my dear child, that you confessed to M. le Curé d'Ars that you had told lies. Is that true?"
A.: "Ah! I said that I had occasionally lied to M. le Curé of Corps. 'You must retract,' M. Vianney told me. 'No, I cannot retract with regard to those lies; it is not worthwhile.' He told me once more that I must. And I: 'As it happened a long time ago, I can no longer do so, it is too old a story'."
Q.: "But what did you mean?"
A.: "I meant my little lies to M. le Curé of Corps when I did not wish to tell him where I was going, or when I did not want to learn my lessons."
Q.: "Well, now I can see that M. le Curé d'Ars understood that the lies you mentioned to him were in reference to the Apparition."
A.: "Oh! yes, he understood me in that way; at least, that is what has been written in the papers."
Q.: "So you were not making your confession?"
A.: "No. I was in the confessional, it is true, but I had not said my Confiteor, and I had not come to Ars for the purpose of going to confession." (Mlle. de Brulais, L'Echo de la sainte montagne, pp. 267-269—as quoted by Abbé Francis Trochu, The Curé d'Ars—St. John Marie Vianney, pp. 381-382.)
M. Raymond, noticing that the Saint now had doubts about La Salette, lost no time in spreading the news. He even reported it to the Archbishop of Lyons, Cardinal Bonald. This Cardinal was one of those fence-riding clerics who imagined that the new republic would guarantee the liberty of the Church. He convinced himself that the Apparition at La Salette, and especially the Secret, were inventions of the royalists to promote their cause. So, he duly announced this welcome news from the pulpit. It made the newspapers, and the enemies of La Salette misused the name and reputation of St. John Marie Vianney to cast doubt upon it.
Their efforts were in vain, however. As we have already seen, the investigation conducted by the Bishop of Grenoble continued, in spite of this opposition, and ended with a verdict approving of the authenticity of the Apparition. As to the holy Curé, his anxiety increased greatly when he heard of this decision. He bore this cross for eight years, until October of 1858—only some ten months before his death. The Saint himself related how he regained his faith in the Apparition:
"For about a fortnight I had been experiencing a great interior trouble, and my soul felt as if it were being dragged over a rough road. Then I made an act of faith in respect to the Apparition, and at once my soul recovered its tranquility. I also desired to see a priest of Grenoble in order to confide to him what had taken place within me. The following day a distinguished ecclesiastic of that town arrived here (Canon Gerin). He came into the sacristy and asked me what one should think of La Salette. I replied: ‘One may believe in it.' I was in need of money to complete the requisite sum for the foundation of a mission. I prayed to Our Lady of La Salette to procure the money for me, and I found just what was needed. I looked upon the incident as miraculous." (Procès apostolique ne pereant, p. 897, as quoted by Trochu, ibid., pg. 386.)
Now it was Cardinal Bonald who requested of Bishop de Bruillard that the seers should inform the Pope of their Secrets. Perhaps he hoped that it would be an obvious ploy of the royalists. He even wrote of his suspicions to Pope Pius IX. But again, all was in vain, for the Holy See whole-heartedly approved of the decision of the Bishop of Grenoble, and, indeed, the revelation of the Secrets to the Pope appears to have encouraged this approbation.
Here then are the original versions of the Secrets, which were sent to Pope Pius IX in July of 1851. Again, in this correspondence to the Pope, the seers intended only to give brief summaries of their Secrets:
19 September 1846, we saw a beautiful lady. We never said that this lady was the Blessed Virgin, but we always said she was a beautiful lady.
I do not know if this is the Holy Virgin or anyone else. Myself, I think today she is the Holy Virgin.
This is what the lady told me:
"If my people continue, what I tell you will arrive earlier; if it changes a little, it will be a little later.
"France has corrupted the universe, one day she will be punished. Faith will be extinguished in France: three parts of France will not practice religion any more or almost no more; the other part will practice it without really practicing it. Then after [that], nations will convert, the faith will return everywhere.
"A large country in northern Europe, today Protestant, will be converted: by the support of this country, all the other countries of the world will be converted.
"Before all that arrives, great disorders will arrive in the Church, and everywhere. Then after [that], our Holy Father the Pope will be persecuted. His successor will be a pontiff that no one expects.
"Then after [that] a great peace will come, but it will not last long. A monster will come to disturb it.
Everything I say here will arrive in the next century, [by] the year two thousand (literally – later to two thousand years)."
(She said to say this some time before).
My Holy Father, your holy blessing to one of your sheep ... Grenoble, July 3, 1851.
J.M.J. Secret that the Holy Virgin gave me on the Mountain of La Salette September 19, 1846:
Melanie, I will tell you something you will not tell anyone: the time of the wrath of God is here!
If, when you have told people what I told you earlier, and what I tell you to say again – if after that, they do not convert (if they do not repent, and if they continue to work on Sundays, and if they continue to blaspheme the Holy Name of God), in a word, if the face of the earth does not change, God will take revenge against the ungrateful people and slaves of the devil.
My Son is going to unleash His power! Paris, a city stained with all sorts of crimes, will perish infallibly. Marseille will be destroyed shortly. When these things arrive, the disorder will be complete on earth. The world will indulge its ungodly passions.
The Pope will be persecuted on all sides: they will shoot at him, they will want to kill him, but they can do nothing; the Vicar of God will triumph again this time.
The priests and nuns, and the true servants of my Son will be persecuted, and many will die for the Faith of Jesus Christ.
A famine will reign at the same time.
After all these things have arrived, many people will recognize the hand of God upon them; they will be converted, and will do penance for their sins.
A great king will ascend the throne, and reign for a few years. Religion will flourish again and extend throughout the earth, and there will be a great abundance; the world, being happy not to be lacking anything, will resume its disorders, forsake God, and deliver itself up to its criminal passions.
[Among] God's ministers and the Spouses of Jesus Christ, there will be some who will deliver themselves up to disorder, and that will be terrible.
Finally, Hell will reign on earth. This is when the Antichrist will be born of a nun: but woe to her! Many people will believe him, because he says he came from Heaven – woe to those who believe in him!
The time is not far; there will not pass two times fifty years.
My child, you will not say what I just told you. (You will not tell anyone; you will not say that one day you may tell; you will not say what it regards); finally you will not say anything until I tell you to say it!
I pray to Our Holy Father the Pope to give me his holy blessing.
Mélanie Mathieu, Shepherdess of La Salette ... Grenoble, July 6, 1851 ... J.M.J. +
We have already seen, in our last issue, the reaction of Pope Pius IX to these Secrets. We may note that Maximin's Secret has nothing about politics, while Melanie's has only one brief mention of "a great king." Clearly the royalist agenda was not at work here.
According to Michele Corteville, at first the children were very reluctant to reveal their Secrets. Maximin said he had been instructed to tell no one, "not even the Pope"; but soon he agreed to do so, when the matter was more fully explained to him. Melanie, at first, made the same excuse and even expressed a doubt that it was really the Pope who was asking for the Secrets. A few days later, however, she changed her mind and agreed to the disclosure. It has been conjectured that she asked Our Lady to help her to know what to do. She refused, however, to disclose the Secret to Cardinal Bonald, who, as we have seen, was really the one who had insisted on the disclosure. As to St. John Marie Vianney, towards the close of his life, he openly encouraged belief in the Apparition of La Salette. It may be surmised that his final devotion did more good than the earlier misuse of his doubts had done harm.
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