The Churchs Position
From 1917 to 1920 the Churchs position regarding the Fatima apparitions was one of prudent reserve and silence. As is the practice of the Church in similar circumstances, She refrained from passing judgment on the event until a thorough investigation was conducted.
At the time of the apparitions, the Portuguese clergy were reluctant to encourage belief in them, and many actually discouraged the laity from going to Fatima. The Portuguese clergy acted in this way in a large measure because of the recent persecutions suffered by the Church in Portugal at the hands of the anti-Catholic Masonic government. With the pain of the terrible persecutions still fresh in their minds, the clergy did not want to take any steps that would further provoke the governments wrath. Although President Sidonio Pais had struck down many of the countrys anti-Catholic laws by 1918 (which in turn led to his murder by his Masonic brethren in late 1918), the Portuguese clergy were fearful to take actions that would incite their return.
The apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima indeed provoked strong opposition from many sides: from the local government, as illustrated by the August 1917 kidnapping of the three children by the village Administrator; from the Freemasons, as exhibited by the destruction of the Capelinha that took place in March 1922; and even from the press, which was controlled by the Masons and which scorned the apparitions until witnessing the October 1917 Miracle of the Sun. Thus, from every quarter that fostered disdain and hatred toward God and His Church, strong opposition to the events at Fatima was exhibited.
Nevertheless, in spite of silence and discouragement on the part of the Catholic clergy, and the patent scorn and opposition from the secular realms, the Portuguese people maintained their belief in and support of the Fatima apparitions. As a testament to the power of the laity, the number of witnesses present at the Cova da Iria grew from a mere 50 in June of 1917, to the crowd of 70,000 that witnessed the October miracle. Even after the cycle of apparitions ended, while awaiting official ecclesiastical approval, the faithful continued to visit, in pilgrimage, the sacred place where the Mother of God had appeared.