FATHER NICHOLAS GRUNER
The Facts Behind the Controversy
by B.L. Drake
Father Nicholas Gruner
may be the most controversial priest in the Roman Catholic Church today.
He is certainly one of the most
talked about. His life and career have long been the focus of
great interest and attention from both friends and foes alike.
Since his ordination in 1976, Father Gruner has spent his
time tirelessly promoting devotion to and interest in the Message
that the Blessed Virgin Mary delivered at Fatima in 1917. In the
pages of his magazine the Fatima Crusader, on weekly radio and
television and in public appearances around the world, he has
consistently maintained the paramount importance of heeding the
solemn requests that Our Lady made at Fatima.
As most serious Catholics know, it has long been considered
"politically incorrect" in high Church circles to take the
Message of Fatima literally. Yet that is precisely what Father
Gruner has, from the start, insisted upon doing in his life and
work as a Catholic priest.
Before the Controversy
Given the controversy that has swirled around his public
persona for so many years, it is interesting to note that, in
1978, when he published his first issue of the Fatima Crusader,
Father Gruner was the same cassock-wearing priest he is today.
Just as he does today, he said his Masses in Latin and he refused
to permit Communion in the hand. He was, at that time, drawing
large crowds on his tours across Canada with the Pilgrim Statue
of Our Lady of Fatima where, just as he does today, he preached
the urgent necessity of avoiding the "errors of Russia" and
consecrating "that poor nation" to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
in the exact manner that the Virgin requested at Fatima.
Despite these activities for which he would later be
bitterly criticized, in 1978 Father Gruner was nevertheless
granted partial faculties in the Archdiocese of Ottawa and was
also welcomed in cathedrals all across Canada where he was
routinely granted temporary faculties to preach and hear
By April of 1981, he had full faculties for preaching and
hearing confession in Ottawa, granted to him by Archbishop Joseph
Plourde, one of the most liberal churchmen in Canada. One priest
actually told him at that time that he had "more faculties than I
have ever had and I've been a priest for forty years."
What Father Gruner did not have however was political
correctness. The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal
Casaroli, had dedicated his long career to the promotion and
defense of the Vatican's 1962 agreement with the Soviet Union to
cease all its anti-Communist activities in return for a promised
end to the persecution of Christians behind the Iron Curtain. So
too, the recently elected pope, John Paul II had come to the
Throne of Peter with his own program for the East.
In the heady, breathtaking days of the Pope's early
political moves, the pro-Fatima anti-Communist rhetoric of the type Father
Gruner was becoming famous for was anathema to the politicians of
the Vatican. In retrospect, it does not seem merely coincidental
that Gruner's first run-in with Church authorities should take
place at a time when his preaching about "the errors of Russia"
was beginning to develop a large and responsive audience in both
Canada and the United States.
The Nuncio Steps In
There were ten thousand priests in Canada in 1981 when the
Pro Nuncio to Ottawa, Archbishop. Palmas made time to see
Cardinal Oddi, the head of the Vatican Congregation for the
Clergy. However, the purpose of his visit was to talk about one
priest only: Father Nicholas Gruner.
On behalf of his boss, the Secretary of State, the Nuncio
angrily complained of the young priest's activities and claimed
(falsely, as it would later be proven) that no Canadian bishop
would incardinate him. Palmas insisted that Father Gruner be
forced to return to the diocese in Italy where he had been
incardinated and from which he had been formally authorized by
his bishop to work outside. Father Gruner's problems with the
Church hierarchy date from this visit and have persisted to this
For nine years, while Rome's strategy with Russia was played
out, Father Gruner was subject to an increasing harassment,
bordering on persecution, from various officials within the
Vatican and in local dioceses. Many of his priestly rights,
guaranteed by Canon Law, were systematically denied him.
Despite what would become almost constant unlawful
harassment from Church bureaucrats and the liberal Catholic
press, Father Gruner continued to build his Fatima Apostolate,
speaking on, publishing about and finally televising the Fatima
Message wherever and whenever he could. Not surprisingly, as more
and more clergy and lay people responded to his words, providing
growing volunteer and financial support, the pressures from the
Church bureaucracy intensified.
Matters Come to a Head
In 1989, matters reached a fever pitch. Letters purporting
to come from the last remaining seer of Fatima, Sister Lucia, had
been published, claiming that the Blessed Virgin's request for
the collegial consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart had
been made. This issue had long been central to Father Gruner's
crusade. His unrelenting insistence that the Consecration had not
been done according to the specific requests of Our Lady of
Fatima had for many years been the dominating theme of his
Relying on his encyclopedic knowledge of Sister Lucia's
writings and on the expertise of Fatima authorities from around
the world, Gruner was able to demonstrate conclusively that the
letters were forgeries, part and parcel of a deeper conspiracy to
silence the last remaining witness to the Virgin's appearances at
In November 1989, shortly after he had published his exposé
on the forged letters, Father Gruner received a strongly-worded
communication from Gerardo Piero, the bishop of Avellino, the
diocese to which he was still officially attached. In this
letter, Bishop Piero admitted he was being writing under
pressure from the Secretary of State's office, Father Gruner
was told that incardination in a local Canadian diocese would be
arranged for him, but only if he pledged to close down his
Apostolate and cease his work on behalf of the Fatima Message. If
he refused, Piero noted sadly, he would be forced to immediately
return to Avellino.
Early in the New Year, Father Gruner travelled to Italy with
his friend, Father Paul Kramer, whose knowledge of Canon Law and
Church tradition is legendary. There, they proceeded
to Avellino and met with Bishop Piero on January 25, 1990. Face-
to-face, the bishop admitted to Father Gruner that "if I were to
suspend you, it would be a mortal sin, but if the Vatican tells
me to do it, I will have to do it." Following a dinner which he
cooked with his own hands, the Bishop formally -- before two
witnesses -- reconfirmed his permission for Father Gruner to work
outside of the diocese of Avellino while he sought a new bishop.
Four months later, he restated this permission in a letter to Gruner and again encouraged him to find a bishop to incardinate
him outside of Avellino.
The Attacks Continue
Despite having achieved this important reconfirmation of his
good standing as a priest, it was not long before Father Gruner
was once again the target of attacks. In June 1990, Monsignor
McCormack, chancellor of the archdiocese of Toronto sent an
"advisory" memorandum to every parish in the archdiocese,
attempting to turn priests and lay people alike against Father
Gruner and his Fatima Apostolate.
According to McCormack, Father Gruner's status was
"irregular," in other words, he was not a priest in good standing
and implied his Apostolic work was not worthy of support. The local
Catholic press immediately picked up on McCormack's memo and
several articles went so far as to suggest that Gruner was a
vagus, a polite term for a renegade priest without a bishop.
After repeated attempts to discuss the matter with the
chancellery office were rebuffed, Father Gruner strongly felt
there was no other way to clear his name but to file a libel
action in the Canadian courts. That case is still pending at this
Interestingly, only a month following these events, Bishop Pierro
of Avellino agan wrote to Father Gruner, confirming his will that
Gruner find a new bishop and another diocese in which to be incardinated.
With his permission once more renewed, Father Gruner continued on with
his work and his efforts to find a new bishop.
In the autumn of 1992, Father Gruner organized one of the
largest private conferences of Catholic bishops ever held. The
event, which took place in Fatima, soon became noteworthy for
more than just bringing together nearly one-hundred bishops from
around the world to discuss the Message of Fatima. From the day
Father Gruner arrived in Fatima, Church bureaucrats, both locally
and in Rome, made their violent opposition to the gathering
clear. A misleading announcement was published in the Vatican's
own paper declaring that the Conference was not "authorized"
(despite the fact that Canon law requires no such authorization).
Both the local bishop and the director of the Fatima Shrine
publicly deplored the event and criticized Father Gruner by name.
In an effort to clear up the objections of the local authorities, Father
Gruner arranged for four of his guests (all archbishops) to meet
with the Bishop of Fatima. Their meeting did result in a
lessening of the immediate friction, including an agreement to
conjoin the Bishop's Conference to a smaller official event
taking place at that same time. The "peace" however was destined
to be short-lived.
Msgr. Guerra, then Rector of the Fatima Shrine, had made no
secret of his intense loathing for Father Gruner and his rigorous
opposition to the Conference he had organized. On the evening of
October 10, 1992, while accompanying an aged Indian cardinal
returning from Mass, Father Gruner was violently assaulted by two
young men in the sacristy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
The attack took place in full view of several people, including a
bishop. Father Gruner was "roughed up" to the extent that he
required medical attention for the numerous bruises and
contusions sustained in the assault. The two men quickly
disappeared in the confusion, but were later conclusively
identified as lay employees of the Shrine. One of the men
actually admitted that he had attacked Father Gruner under
instructions from Msgr. Guerra!
The physical attack on a Roman Catholic priest in the Shrine
dedicated to the Queen of Peace received considerable attention
in the Portuguese press. Notwithstanding Father Gruner's
documented injuries, Msgr. Guerra confined his comments to a
speculation that the assault had been staged in an effort to
A few days later, Cardinal Padiyara, the Indian prelate whom Father
Gruner had been assisting at the time of the attack, drew Gruner aside
to warn him "take care," because his life was in danger as long as
he was in Fatima. As a result of this warning, Father Gruner has
not returned to Fatima since 1992.
A New Bishop
1993 began with the installation of Antonio Forte as the
new bishop of Avellino, the third since Father Gruner's
ordination in 1976. In July 1993, Father Gruner received word
from a friendly bishop that he would be glad to incardinate him
if he could obtain the necessary decree of excardination from
the new bishop of Avellino. This new offer to incardinate came as
a direct result of Father Gruner's meeting this bishop at the Fatima Bishops'
Conference. Father Gruner promptly wrote to
Bishop Forte asking to be excardinated. Although he had been
pressured for more than 17 years to find himself a new bishop
outside of Avellino, Father Gruner waited for more than three
months in vain for a reply.
Throughout the autumn of 1993, Father Gruner attempted to
communicate with Bishop Forte. In October, he finally tracked him
down to a Bishops' Conference taking place in Colavalenza, Italy.
He quickly dispatched a colleague, Father Paul Trinchard who was
on pilgrimage in the country, to see him accompanied by an
Italian translator. The result of their meeting in early November
was a letter from Bishop Forte excusing himself from giving a
decision. In the letter, he indicated that he had
nothing personal against Father Gruner, but said that his delay
was entirely due to a direct order from Archbishop Sepe in
Sepe had worked for many years near Cardinal Casaroli in
the Secretariat of State and, in 1992, was now put in de facto
charge of the Congregation of the Clergy. Such intervention by Sepe was
clearly ultra vires -- outside his jurisdiction. Apparently,
Bishop Forte did not dare stand up to him.
Orders from Higher-Ups
Father Gruner himself finally met with Bishop Forte face-to-
face on January 13, 1994 in Avellino. Once again, he was
accompanied by Father Paul Kramer whom he had asked to serve as
his witness. On that occasion, the bishop told them pointblank
that he had nothing against Father Gruner, but that his hands
were tied by orders from higher-ups in the Congregation for the
Father Kramer notes that Bishop Forte willingly
acknowledged that Father Gruner was a priest in good standing. At
the conclusion of their meeting, Bishop Forte told Father Gruner
to return to Canada and promised to write to him there.
When Father Gruner got back to Canada, he was surprised,
shocked and, in his own words, "scandalized" when a letter from Bishop Forte arrived two weeks later telling him to give up his Apostolate and return to Avellino or
face suspension as a priest.
He wrote to a friend privately: "According to Canon law, you
don't have a suspension without a court case; you don't have a
suspension without a hearing; you don't have a suspension without
a crime being committed; you don't have a suspension without
all these things happening and yet that is exactly
what they are trying to do to me! Not a single one of these things
Upon receipt of this letter, Father Gruner showed it to Father
Kramer. It appeared obvious the letter from the new bishop
contained many gross errors of law and fact, demanding a response
within just a few days. In order not to err in such an important
reply, they both studied the matter in depth. Father Kramer in
particular studied the pertinent portions of Canon law and
took counsel with several world-class canonists.
Even while under severe time constraints with the work of his
Apostolate, Father Gruner replied with a closely reasoned seventeen
page letter. "It would have been impossible without the help of
Father Kramer and even then we were only able to make our deadline
just in the nick of time," said Father Gruner. He would wait two years
and still Bishop Forte gave no response to the issues raised in this
lengthy letter. When the bishop did not reply within 30 days of
receipt of Father Gruner's letter, he was forced by Canon law to
appeal the bishop's command in a matter of days again or lose
all right of appeal. As a result of this Canonical appeal, by law, the
Bishop of Avellino's order to Father Gruner became immediately null-
and-void until a determination was officially received from the Vatican-
based court, thus freeing him to continue his work as before.
An Open Letter
In spite of these threats and continuing harassment from
Vatican bureaucrats, Father Gruner persisted in his efforts to
bring the bishops of the world together to discuss the Message of
Fatima. Starting in the spring of 1994, he organized yet a second
Bishops' Conference, this one to take place in Mexico City at the
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Six weeks before the gathering was to convene, letters were sent to bishops around the world
from the papal nuncios warning them not to attend the Conference
because it had not been "approved" and was merely Father
Gruner's "private initiative." Once again, these letters
conveniently neglected to mention that bishops neither require
nor typically receive Vatican approval to attend private
conferences of this kind.
It also needs to be noted that "private initiatives" of the
kind made by Father Gruner are perfectly acceptable and
within the law for any priest. Since his appeal against his
bishop as still sub judice (pending judgement),
Father Gruner was not under any restriction that prevented
him from writing to and inviting the bishops to such a
By the time the Conference finally convened in mid-November
1994, the number of bishops in attendance was far short of those
who had originally agreed to attend prior to the nuncios'
letters. In a dramatic and angry speech to the assembly,
a special delegate to an important
Pontifical commission in the Vatican, made it clear that the low
attendance was the direct result of a slander campaign carefully
orchestrated by the Secretariat of State. Brandishing a copy of
the nuncios' letter, he called it "an abuse of authority, an
insult and a humiliation to all the bishops who had received it."
Following the close of the Conference, Father Gruner
determined to take his case directly to Pope John Paul II. From
past experience, he knew that writing to the Holy Father on a
personal basis could not guarantee that the Pontiff would ever
actually see his letter. Over the course of six months, working
with other organizers of the Conference, he raised the funds
necessary to publish a public "Open Letter to the Holy Father" in
Italy largest newspaper, Il Messagero, on July 12, 1995. The letter
meticulously outlined the long history of interference and
harassment surrounding the two Bishops' Conferences organized by
Father Gruner's Apostolate. It also announced that a third
Bishops' Conference would be held in 1996, this time in Rome! The
publication of the "Open Letter" was received with great interest
by the Italian news media; several newspaper articles were
written about it and it was featured in at least one special program on the
national television network.
Not uncharacteristically, although angered, the Vatican
bureaucrats declined to make a public comment on the publication
of the "Open Letter." Reliable sources inside the Vatican
confirmed that the publication had created great consternation in
the offices of the bureaucracy, leading one infuriated staffer to
actually call Il Messaggero and demand to know how they could
print such a report.
It came as no surprise to Gruner or anyone else that the
response from the Church's bureaucracy was firm and double-
barreled. Early in 1996, as the world watched the resurgence of
Communism in Russia, a new letter was issued from the
Congregation that, once again, urged bishops to reject Father
Gruner's invitation to attend his conference in Rome because it
was "not authorized." The letter also repeated the old, repeately
disproven accusation that Father Gruner's standing as a priest was suspect.
In the words of one longtime Vatican watcher, this newletter was part of "the same old broken record routine repeat
something often enough and people will believe it whether it's
true or not."
New Offer to Incardinate
Almost simultaneous with the mailing of this new letter from
the Congregation of the Clergy came the news that yet another
bishop had offered to incardinate Father Gruner and thus put to
rest nearly two decades of controversy regarding his priestly
With Communism on the rise again in Russia, the possibility of Zyuganov
being elected president next June and the threat of nuclear annihilation
explicitly made in November 1995 against the United States in an official
Russian government publication, is it any wonder that today many people
are beginning to agree on the importance of Father Gruner's continued work?
While it is unknown at this time how this new
incardination will be handled by the bureaucrats in Rome, the
evidence clearly shows that Father Gruner has been the victim of
a long and unjust campaign of harassment at the hands of those in
the Church opposed to his work on behalf of the Fatima Message.
All the documentary evidence and the testimony of innumerable
witnesses demonstrates conclusively that the "controversy"
regarding Father Gruner has nothing to do with his status as a
priest and everything to do with his resolute and unswerving determination to
promote a message that disturbs and discomfits many in the
To date, the Vatican bureaucracy has contumaciously refused
to discuss the real agenda behind their attacks on Father Gruner.
There can be no doubt that what he says and does in support of the Fatima Message is perfectly allowed and, in fact, encouraged by the laws and teaching of the Roman
Catholic Church. The bureaucrats surely know that any challenge to
his activities on behalf of Our Lady of Fatima would almost
certainly fail in any open and fair courtroom.
In the last 20 years, thousands of priests have left the priesthood. Why
does Father Gruner continue to soldier-on in the face of almost
unprecedented opposition from within his own Church? In reply, Father
Gruner says: "I believe Our Lady means it absolutely and literally when
She says 'If my requests are granted, many souls will be saved and
there will be peace. If My requests are not granted, Russia will
raise up wars and persecutions against the Church, the good will
be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various
nations will be annihilated.' I don't think we have any other choice but
to continue to promote Our Lady's full Message with all our strength. What
else can we do?"
B.L. Drake is a freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia and frequent
contributor to Catholic publications.