Vatican City, Dec. 20--(RNS) A high Vatican official and the custodian of theMessage of Fatima denied that a still undisclosed portion of the so-called third secret of Fatima predicted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The denial was contained in a statement issued by ArchbishopTarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrineof the Faith, and signed by Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only survivoramong the three Portuguese shepherds who said the Virgin Mary appearedto them and gave them the message in 1917.

Bertone said he traveled to Portugal on Nov. 17 and met for morethan two hours with Lucia in her convent at Coimbra "to obtain someclarifications and direct information" about the Message of Fatima. Hedescribed the nun, now 94, as being in "very good form, lucid andlively."

On June 26, 2000, the Vatican made public what it said was the fulltext of the long-guarded third secret. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said thesecret prophesied the suffering the Catholic Church and the world wouldface in the 20th century and the attempt to assassinate Pope John PaulII.

Cults have grown up around the third secret of Fatima over thedecades, and reports began circulating after the attacks on the WorldTrade Center and the Pentagon that the Vatican had not released the fulltext. "In recent months, above all after the sad event of the terroristattacks of last Sept. 11, articles appeared in Italian and foreignnewspapers regarding presumed new revelations by Sister Lucia, announcedin a letter of warning to the pontiff," Bertone said, "apocalypticreinterpretations of the message of Fatima."

The attacks happened, the reports claimed, because the pope has notyet carried out the Virgin's request to consecrate Russia to theImmaculate Heart of Mary. Bertone said that Lucia confirmed she had read the text issued by the Vatican in June and told him, "Everything has been published.Nothing more is secret."

Lucia also said the consecration of Russia "desired by our lady wasdone in 1984, and accepted in heaven." Denying reports that she was so upset by the terrorist attacks that she has been unable to sleep and prays day and night, she said, "It isn't true. How could I pray during the day if I don't rest at night? What things they put in my mouth. What things they make me do."

She suggested that people seek the truth in her recent book, "The Appeals of the Message of Fatima," which has been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Germany, Hungarian and Polish. "Let them read my book," she said. "It contains the counsel that corresponds with the desires of Our Lady. Prayer and penitence with great faith in the power of God will save the world."