What Does It Mean for the Church Today? The Austrian Miracle of 1955
The catastrophic outcome of the Second Vatican Council is a saga as ironic as it is tragic, for everything that was touched by the conciliar “renewal” promptly fell into ruin. But perhaps the greatest irony of what is flippantly but nonetheless fairly called the Second Vatican Disaster is that the great conciliar “opening to the world,” hailed by the neo-Modernists as the long overdue dismantling of the “fortress Church,” has been followed by a steady retreat of Churchmen precisely into the ever-smaller fortress of “religious liberty.”
From behind the narrowing walls of this man-made fortress, resting upon a shaky foundation made of human conventions called “rights” and paper guarantees of rights called “constitutions,” Churchmen of the post-conciliar epoch have been reduced to demanding from the temporal power nothing more than the right to be left alone. The result—irony of ironies—is that never in living memory has the Church been so little engaged with the world, so little inclined to exercise in civil society the immense supernatural power that has always been hers to command. The Church Militant has laid down its spiritual arms and surrendered.
Only seven years before the Council commenced, however, the world witnessed an astonishing example of the power of the Church Militant. On May 15, 1955, in the month of Our Lady, the Soviets signed the Austrian State Treaty under which they and the Allied Powers ended their post-war occupation of Austria. The last Soviet troops left the occupied eastern sector of Austria on October 26, 1955.
A Modern Miracle
Concerning this event, the historian Sigfried Beer of Columbia University writes: “The question as to why the Soviets finally decided to abandon their military presence in eastern Austria in the spring of 1955 and to agree to a negotiated withdrawal has preoccupied historians ever since.”1 And well it should, for in human terms the Soviets’ abrupt departure from Austria, leaving behind the treasures of Vienna, is simply inexplicable.
Austria was delivered from Soviet tyranny by a miracle obtained through the social action of the Church Militant. In 1946 an obscure Catholic priest, Fr. Petrus Pavlicek, made a pilgrimage to the Marian Basilica in Mariazell, Austria, one of the most visited Marian shrines in Europe. There he experienced an interior locution: “Do as I say and there will be peace.” The voice was apparently that of Our Lady of Fatima, whose prophecy 29 years earlier of the spread of Russia’s errors throughout the world, failing the consecration of “that poor nation” to her Immaculate Heart, was already being fulfilled.
Unlike the Vatican bureaucrats who have impeded Russia’s consecration since the Council, Father Pavlicek followed his heavenly orders to the letter. Employing a statue of the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima provided by the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima, he conducted Marian pilgrimages throughout Austria and promoted a Fatima-oriented program of reparation for sin involving attendance at Mass, Confession, and recitation of the Rosary in public procession. Echoing the teaching of Pius XI in Quas Primas and Ubi Arcano Dei, Father Pavlicek declared: “Peace is a gift of God, not the work of politicians.”2
In fact, Our Lady predicted that the conflagration of the Second World War, which opened the way to Russian domination of Eastern Europe and the spread of Russia’s errors, would erupt “during the reign of Pius XI.” (In a telling indication of the unilateral disarmament of the Church, the Vatican bureaucracy dared to amend the words of the Mother of God to read “the pontificate of Pius XI,”3 so as to avoid the embarrassing impression that the Pope reigns in monarchical fashion as the Vicar of Christ the King.)
Father Pavlicek’s “Rosary Atonement Crusade” 4 grew to some half a million Catholics, despite the initial resistance of Austria’s upper hierarchy. The Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Theodor Innitzer, ultimately did join the Crusade, as did Austria’s Prime Minister, Leopold Figl, members of his cabinet, and Figl’s successor, Julius Raab. By 1955 “some ten percent of the Austrian population was engaged in the Crusade, which involved daily prayers to Our Lady of Fatima.”5 Tens of thousands of Catholics, both clergy and laity, and even politicians, were seen marching in the streets, praying the Rosary and bearing votive candles for the intention of peace in the world.
The Soviets didn’t have a chance against the Blessed Virgin, whose intercessory might had been called down upon them by a lowly Catholic cleric. Hence their patently miraculous relinquishment of the crown jewel of their European conquest. As the historian Rolf Steininger notes, “the West was taken aback” by the communiqué from Moscow announcing its agreement to withdraw its forces, and Sir Geoffrey Arnold Wallinger, Britain’s High Commissioner in occupied Austria, pronounced the result “far too good to be true, to be honest.”6 But it was true. And the Soviet departure from Austria stands today as a modern testament to the Church’s power over the world—if only that power be exercised—contrary to the creation myth of political modernity, which claims that the emancipation of “the modern world” from the Church’s influence is definitive and final.
When Joseph Stalin was discussing military strategy with Churchill and Roosevelt at the Teheran Conference in 1943—a prelude to Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s delivery of Eastern Europe into Soviet bondage at Yalta—the subject of the Pope’s views on achieving an end to the war came up. “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” Stalin is reported to have said. In a later meeting with Pius XII, Churchill reported that remark to the Pope, who replied: “Tell my son Joseph he will meet my divisions in heaven.”7
The typical contemporary Churchman, hewing to post-conciliar correctness—the ecclesial equivalent of PC in secular politics—would view Pius XII’s reply as a bygone relic of the time when haughty Popes, wearing royal robes and calling themselves Roman Pontiff and Vicar of Christ, lived in the delusion that they were monarchs of some sort with spiritual and indirect temporal authority that extended, with that of Christ, to the whole world. But Catholics who understand what the Church was before the Council—and what she has in fact never ceased to be, despite the unprecedented malaise that now afflicts her—recognize in the words of Pope Pius the holy condescension of Christ Himself toward His lowly but most beloved subjects.
The Legions of Heaven
From the eternal perspective of Pius XII, the great and evil Stalin, with all his legions, was nothing more than a diabolically disordered child rebelling against his heavenly Father, who would allow him to wreak havoc for a time in this passing world, while the mighty Soviet Union was nothing more than an ephemeral monument to human folly. “But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them: thou shalt bring all the nations to nothing” (Ps. 59:8). This is why, two years after Stalin had his encounter with heaven’s legions, a simple priest, leading a Marian movement in Austria, succeeded in driving the Soviets from the soil of that Catholic nation without firing a shot.
What happened in Austria in the spring of 1955 revealed the greatness of the Church as the vehicle of God’s infinite grace, and the ultimate puniness of all human powers before her. Yet today, in a great sign of the diabolical disorientation Sister Lucia of Fatima so often remarked, the Church’s leaders have consented to put on what William Blake decried as the “mind-forged manacles” of emerging contemporary man. Blake wrote at the time of the French Revolution, when the common man had already become powerless before the demands of the new nation-state, and was without help from an increasingly impotent spiritual power represented by a Protestantism whose moral capital, inherited from the Church, had been all but exhausted. Only the Catholic Church continued to stand against the “blood-dimmed tide” whose loosing upon the world William Butler Yeats would so famously remark more than a century later, two years after the apparitions at Fatima and the end of World War I.
As none other than Cardinal Ratzinger observed, however, at Vatican II the Church abruptly abandoned her fierce opposition to the errors of political modernity, represented by the Syllabus of Blessed Pius IX, issued a “counter-syllabus” in the form of Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae, and thus made “an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789.”8 The attempt has failed, of course, and failed disastrously.
The Same Means Today as Then
But, as Our Lord Himself counseled Sister Lucia at Rianjo in 1931, concerning the failure to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “It is never too late to have recourse to Jesus and Mary.” The life of Fr. Petrus Pavlicek bears witness to the power of an unswerving faith in that promise. (The completed positio for Father Pavlicek’s beatification has been under consideration in Rome since 2001.) When the Pope and the leaders of the Church demonstrate the same faith, and act accordingly by effecting a true and proper consecration of Russia, the world will witness a Marian miracle even greater than that which occurred in eastern Austria a mere 58 years ago. It will be, as Antonio Socci has written, “an extraordinary change in the world, an overthrow of the mentality dominating modernity, probably following dramatic events for humanity.…Thus, a total change in modern history, through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary…”9
Those who lead the Church today need only regain the courage to believe in their own power, as the divinely commissioned ministers of God’s grace, to bring about such an event. As Romano Amerio put it: “Faith in Providence thus proclaims the possibility that the world might rise and be healed by a metanoia which it cannot initiate but which it is capable of accepting once it is offered.”10 At Fatima, the Mother of God instructed the Church on how to present that offer to humanity, promising not only the possibility but the certainty of its acceptance. Let the example of Austria in 1955 remind us that Our Lady of Fatima keeps her promises with spectacular results.
‑1 Siegfried Beer, The Soviet Occupation of Austria, 1945-1955: Recent Research and Perspectives, Eurozine, http://www.eurozine.com/pdf/2007-05-24-beer-en.pdf.
2 In Charles E. Shaffer, “Expelled by the Rosary,” http://www.americaneedsfatima.org/About-the-Rosaries/expelled-by-the-rosary.html.
3 Cf. text of the Message of Fatima, www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/ documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_ message-fatima_en.html.
4 Cf. “Wie man offiziell ‘selig’ wird,” www.franziskaner.at/index.php/rss/583-wie-man-offiziell-qseligq-wird.
5 Schaffer, “Expelled by the Rosary,” loc. cit.
6 Rolf Steininger, Austria, Germany, and the Cold War: From the Anschluss to the State Treaty (Berghahn Books, 2008), p. 128.
7 “Religion: Urbi et Orbi,” Time magazine, December 14, 1953.
8 Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 382.
9 Antonio Socci, The Fourth Secret of Fatima (Loreto Publications, 2006), p. 217.
10 Iota Unum, p. 761.