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Chapter 12

The Incardination Game

       In his opening speech to the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII made the momentous announcement that with the advent of the Council the Church would cease dispensing Her traditional remedy for heresy, the anathema, because “[S]he prefers today to make use of the medicine of mercy, rather than of the arms of severity”.1 Henceforth the Church would merely explain her doctrine in an amiable conversation with the world, “showing the validity of her teaching, rather than ... issuing condemnations.”

       This new approach to error could be viewed as an implicit criticism of Pope John's 259 predecessors on the Chair of Peter. In any case, His Holiness did not explain in this unprecedented speech how it could be an act of mercy to avoid condemning errors which lead souls into the eternal abyss of Hell.

       Thus officially began the astounding process by which the Holy Catholic Church would be converted almost overnight from an impenetrable fortress against error into a veritable infirmary for the doctrinally diseased, who would soon be queuing up in large numbers to demand their daily dose of this new medicine of mercy, dispensed in a candy coating of “dialogue”.

       Within a few years of the Council's close the Church would throw down her “arms of severity”: the Index of forbidden books would be abolished, along with the Oath Against Modernism prescribed by Pope St. Pius X. Gone would be the Councils of Vigilance that sainted Pope had ordered to be erected in every diocese in the world, as he had decreed in his monumental encyclical against the modernists, Pascendi.

       Invigorated and emboldened by Pope John's amnesty, the heresiarchs who had been expelled from the seminaries and chanceries in keeping with the mandate of Pope St. Pius X's Pascendi would soon return in triumph, as prodigal sons who had not repented. Indeed, some had already returned in their new guise as periti —experts!—at Vatican II. Yesterday's heresy or proximate heresy would become today's “problem in theology”, while the clear propositions of the past would soon recede in the endless palaver of the very modernists of whom St. Pius X had written in Pascendi:

       “They bowed their head for a moment, but it was soon uplifted more arrogantly than ever.”2

       Only this time, the head of modernism would be uplifted with the official toleration of many of the highest authorities in the Church.

       The resulting resurgence of modernism, condemned by Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies”, would make the revolt of Henry VIII seem like a Catholic Restoration by comparison, as the perennial liturgy, priestly formation and catechesis of the Church were swept aside in a neo-modernist debacle of unthinkable magnitude. Soon the toleration of error would lead to the persecution of Truth by the very neo-modernists who would gain sway in the hierarchy, and strict adherence to Tradition would become the only condemned doctrine.

       Yes, the Deposit of the Faith would remain intact through it all, as Our Lord had promised; but only a very diligent student of Tradition would be able to find it in the midst of the reigning confusion. For the rest of the faithful there was only a datum of daily experience in the light of which it would be difficult to disprove, to the average Catholic in the pew, the thesis that the Catholic Church had changed in substantial matters. No less than Cardinal Ratzinger himself would be forced to admit years later in his memoirs that the loss of appearances would make it impossible for many to find the substance of the Faith.

       “But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance?”3

       In a Church which no longer wishes to condemn anyone or anything, but merely to explain itself to the world, how would it be possible to silence Father Nicholas Gruner? That he would have to be silenced was a foregone conclusion; his teaching and preaching of the undiluted message of Fatima had for too long been an intolerable irritant to the executors of Ostpolitik and the new ecumenism in the Vatican.

       The mild-mannered priest from Canada was spoiling the global party by constantly pointing out in his vexatious magazine that the Pope is not the mascot of a New World Order of ecumenical brotherhood, but the Vicar of Christ, empowered by God Almighty to bring about the Kingship of Christ through the Reign of Mary, and with it the end of all heresy, by the means She had revealed at Fatima:

       “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me. Russia will be converted, and a period of peace will be given to mankind ... If My requests are granted, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”

       Such antiquated triumphalism was an embarrassing eyesore in the new post-conciliar landscape of religious liberty and world ecumenism. Who could speak seriously any longer of the Kingship of Christ and the Queenship of Mary, at a time when the Vatican was dispatching ambassadors to attend the gala opening of the first mosque in the city of Rome?4

       But on what grounds could this meddlesome priest be silenced? After nearly 20 years of apostolic work, no Church authority had even suggested that Father Gruner had taught or believed anything contrary to faith and morals, much less that he had been guilty of immorality. It was certainly no canonical crime to do what Catholics had always done and to believe precisely what they had always believed. As for the Apostolate, there could be no question that under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II himself, its activities were entirely permissible, indeed encouraged, and certainly in no need of any official “ecclesiastical approval” which could now conveniently be withdrawn.5

       Besides, now that the Church had become thoroughly infested with openly heretical priests and laity and their innumerable heterodox associations, all of them operating with impunity under the same Code of Canon Law, any attempt to silence Father Gruner and his Marian Apostolate on doctrinal grounds would make the bureaucrats look ridiculous—they would lose their bella figura. What is worse, they would have to prove something in a canonical proceeding involving witnesses and documents, with a right of defense afforded to Father Gruner.

       No, that would not do. Yet there was one seemingly foolproof stratagem at the bureaucrats' disposal, and they would seize upon it with a vengeance: They would invoke the so-called “administrative law” of the Church, which regulates the status of priests through “extra-judicial” administrative “decrees” of bishops on such matters as where a priest will reside, what faculties he will be able to exercise in a given diocese, and what sort of “canonical mission” he will be given. In Father Gruner's case the ensuing administrative battle would revolve around a single word: incardination.

       Canon 265 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides that:

       “Every cleric must be incardinated in a particular Church [the post-Vatican II term for diocese] ... unattached clergy are by no means to be allowed.”

       “Incardination” is a word derived from the Latin and literally means to be hinged or attached to something. As the Canon states, every priest must be “hinged” to a bishop so that there would be no unattached or “vagus” priests in the Church.

       Father Gruner has never been a “vagus”. Of course like many other priests in the Church today, he had been given the right to live and work outside the diocese of his incardination. In fact, his permission had been given in the form of a binding, written decree, signed and sealed by the Bishop of Avellino. There was certainly no need for his services in the Diocese of Avellino, where his inability to speak the obscure local dialect precluded any parish assignment or other canonical mission. Thus, since 1978 Father Gruner had been conducting the Apostolate in Canada under the written permission to be outside the Diocese of Avellino, which permission was expressly to continue until such time as another bishop invited him to transfer to his diocese. At least three bishops would extend such an invitation to Father Gruner, but certain Vatican bureaucrats were not about to let a few benevolent bishops stand in their way.

       For Father Gruner, a rather commonplace and perfectly legal arrangement with his bishop had become an Achilles' heel. The Plan to exploit it was quite simple: First, Father Gruner would be ordered to find another bishop to incardinate him; then the bureaucrats would block all offers of incardination by benevolent bishops in other dioceses; then they would cause the Bishop of Avellino to revoke the permission to live outside the Diocese and order Father Gruner to return to Avellino, on grounds that he had “failed” to find another bishop.

       If Father Gruner would not submit to exile in a foreign diocese, then he would be subjected to the ultimate penalties: suspension from the priesthood, followed by reduction to the lay state6 — penalties which not even raving heretic priests are threatened with in the Church today. The destruction of Father Nicholas Gruner could thus be accomplished entirely in the realm of “administrative” decrees, without the slightest proof of any offense against faith or morals or any opportunity for Father Gruner to mount a defense. To be sure, The Plan would require the cooperation of the Bishop of Avellino, whose jurisdiction over a priest of his own diocese could not simply be usurped by Vatican bureaucrats. No matter: By judicious application of pressure from above, the bishop could be persuaded to go limp like a marionette and allow the bureaucrats to pull his strings. And while even an “administrative” decree must be founded on just cause and respect the natural rights of the priest, who would be looking over the bureaucrats' shoulders to make sure they had acted justly?

       In fact, the first attempt to implement The Plan had occurred back in May of 1989, when Father Gruner received a letter from the Bishop of Avellino warning of the “worried signals” he had been receiving from the Vatican “Secretary of State” and the “Congregation for the Clergy.”7 Thus the bishop was already being remote-controlled by “signals” from Vatican bureaucrats, broadcast on secret wavelengths to which Father Gruner would never be a party. Cardinal Innocenti would soon admit as much in his extraordinary July 1989 “intervention” referring to the secret “case” of Father Gruner which “arouses serious preoccupation on the part of the Holy See”. (See Chapter 9)

       By November 1989 the bishop had responded to the “worried signals” of the bureaucrats by writing Father Gruner in broken English as follows: “In the meantime decide what to do: or you make you hing (i.e. ‘hinge’ or incardinate elsewhere) or you come back to Avellino.”8 But the bishop did not seem to have his heart in The Plan; he could not bring himself to carry out the unjust execution of his own priest.

       In subsequent meetings and correspondence with Father Gruner and his friend, Father Paul Kramer, the bishop repeatedly reaffirmed Father Gruner's longstanding right to reside outside the diocese while seeking another bishop.9 During one of those meetings, just before cooking a steak dinner for his guest from Canada, the bishop had declared: “Father Gruner, to suspend you would be a mortal sin. But if the Vatican tells me to do it, I will do it.”10

       He was never put to that test. In February 1993 a new bishop was installed in the Diocese of Avellino. Now here was a man who would quite eagerly play the marionette. This became apparent almost immediately: In July of 1993 Father Gruner received a written offer of incardination from the Bishop of the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh, India, who was only too happy to sponsor Father Gruner and the Apostolate in his diocese.11 It would have seemed to any objective observer that Father Gruner's administrative problem was over: He had been directed to find another bishop, so he had found another bishop. Arrivederci Avellino.

       But the new Bishop of Avellino promptly took the unprecedented step of turning the offer of incardination over to the Congregation for the Clergy, waiting several months to advise Father Gruner that “the request for incardination has been passed to the Congregation and has (sic) put me in the condition of not being able to act. I await the instructions of Mons. Sepe [Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy].”12

       In other words, the new bishop had simply surrendered his jurisdiction over a priest of his own diocese to a Vatican Secretary who would now dispose of Father Gruner outside the proper channels of Canon Law.13 While Father Gruner waited months to hear from the Bishop of Avellino, the Bishop of Simla-Chandigarh was reached in his remote diocese and “informed” by the bureaucrats of Father Gruner's “situation”, and the offer of incardination was suddenly withdrawn. The Plan was proceeding to perfection.

       On January 31, 1994, just as The Plan required, the Bishop of Avellino issued an “administrative decree” ordering Father Gruner to return to the Diocese of Avellino in 30 days, after an approved absence of more than sixteen years.14 Father Gruner was evidently expected to abandon his life's work, close up his residence, leave his personal affairs in disarray and immediately enter lifetime exile in a remote foreign diocese which had never supported him nor required his services since 1976!

       The pretext for the decree was, of course, Father Gruner's pre-arranged “failure” to be incardinated in another diocese. But Father Gruner had met with the Bishop of Avellino only 18 days before to discuss, among other things, the offer of incardination from the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh which the bishop admitted had been blocked by the bureaucrats. How in conscience could the bishop issue a decree only days later pretending that Father Gruner had culpably “failed” to find another diocese to accept him?

       The bishop seemed to recognize that he needed a fig leaf to cover this atrocious fraud, as well as some pretext for the canonical “warning” contained in his January 31 decree. So he made reference also to unspecified “complaints” against Father Gruner. Yet during the meeting only 18 days before, the bishop had also admitted that there were no complaints against Father Gruner in his files, that Father Gruner was certainly a priest in good standing, and that it was only pressure from Vatican bureaucrats which was forcing the bishop's hand.15 How in conscience could the bishop now issue a decree pretending there were “complaints” against Father Gruner?

       And what was the evidence of these “complaints”? The decree mentioned nothing but an anonymous letter from 1978, regarding an unspecified complaint, not from any Church authority, but from someone within the Apostolate itself. The anonymous complaint apparently claimed that Father Gruner had somehow injured the Apostolate. Injured? Since 1978, the Apostolate had grown fifty-fold under Father Gruner's leadership, from a fledgling group of a few laypeople to one of the largest Fatima apostolates in the world.

       During those sixteen years, the Apostolate had produced and distributed around the world several million books, magazines, pamphlets and tracts on the Message of Fatima; had broadcast thousands of hours of radio and television programs in North America; had sent over 20 mailings to every bishop in the world, including six books; and had staged a conference in Vatican City itself, and another conference in Fatima to which the entire world episcopate was invited. Yet in this vast record of teaching and preaching, in the entire life's work of Father Nicholas Gruner, the current Bishop of Avellino could dredge up only a sixteen-year-old anonymous letter containing unspecified charges as “grounds” for the recall to Avellino!

       This lack of evidence was a major embarrassment to The Plan. Father Gruner had been conducting the Apostolate for the past 16 years without the slightest objection by three successive Bishops of Avellino. Apparently The Plan had no statute of limitations!

       It was obvious that the strings of the marionette were being jerked very violently indeed, for The Plan needed to be accomplished, and quickly. Since the result was predetermined, the quality of the evidence hardly mattered—anything at all would do, even a sixteen-year-old complaint about nothing in particular. Curiously enough, never once in the working out of The Plan would the bureaucrats ever make reference to Father Gruner's preaching and teaching on the Message of Fatima. It was as if they were deathly afraid to mention the true objective of their actions.

       Yet there remained a few more impediments to the destruction of Father Gruner and his work: there were other benevolent bishops willing to offer him sanctuary in their dioceses. On May 29, 1994, the bishop of the Diocese of Anapolis, Brazil, offered Father Gruner incardination in his diocese, commencing July 16, 1994.16

       Being mindful of the hostility of the bureaucrats, the bishop cautioned in his written offer that the incardination must remain confidential until its effective date. But it was not confidential enough. The bureaucrats soon contacted the bishop to “advise” him about Father Gruner's “case”. After receiving this “advice”, the bishop hastily withdrew his offer without explanation, telling Father Gruner only that he must “accept the decisions of the Congregation”. Decisions? What decisions?

       As Cardinal Innocenti had made clear in his 1989 intervention, a whole new mode of canonical procedure had been devised especially for Father Gruner: a secret “case” in the Congregation for the Clergy, culminating in secret “decisions” barring his incardination by benevolent bishops who would otherwise be happy to incardinate him in their dioceses.

       The 1983 Code of Canon Law specifically guarantees the right of a priest to transfer to another diocese should he find a bishop who would make better use of his priestly services.17 Yet Father Gruner would never be given even a glimpse of the secret proceedings by which this right was being denied him without due process. No mere law of the Church would take precedence over execution of The Plan.

       Meanwhile, Father Gruner had made a canonical appeal from the Bishop of Avellino's order to return. The Plan had taken account of this contingency as well, however, for the appeal would have to pass before the Congregation for the Clergy, where the judges would be none other than two of the same bureaucrats who had been orchestrating The Plan, Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe.

       It was they, of course, who had issued “declarations” in the Vatican media urging the entire Church to shun the Apostolate's conference at Fatima, thereby effectively interdicting Father Gruner and the Apostolate without even a semblance of canonical due process. At the same time, of course, heretical associations were staging conferences and issuing impudent manifestos throughout the world without a peep from the Congregation for the Clergy.

       It hardly required the gift of prophecy to predict that the same two bureaucrats would uphold the order to return to Avellino. In a perfunctory decree issued only days after Father Gruner's appeal was filed, they declared that the Bishop of Avellino had acted correctly in ordering his return—after all, Father Gruner had “failed” to find another bishop, had he not? They had seen to that. Thus was on display the marvel of “administrative law” in the Vatican bureaucracy: bureaucrats who had publicly condemned the accused without grounds or a hearing and had improperly interfered in his rights, were allowed to sit as judges on an appeal from their own actions.

       On June 7, 1994 Father Gruner made further appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church, next to the Pope himself. Here the Incardination Game would continue, as the Prefect of the Signatura, Cardinal Agustoni, would issue a decree which teemed with factual and legal errors and embarrassingly strained to reach the desired result: permanent exile of Father Nicholas Gruner to a place where, it was hoped, he would never be heard from again.

       More than two years would pass before Father Gruner received an official copy of the decree—he was literally the last to know. In the meantime, the Providential discovery of a “smoking gun” would ultimately force The Plan into the light of day. The canonical appeal process would reach a new level of complexity as the Incardination Game moved into its end-game sequence. But this is to anticipate. Only a few months after Father Gruner's appeal to the Signatura, there would be another Fatima conference: Mexico City, November 1994. What would the bureaucrats do about a second gathering of bishops to discuss the “forbidden” Message of Fatima?


1.  Pope John XXIII, opening speech to the Second Vatican Council; also, Ralph M. Wiltgen S.V.D., T he Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, pg. 15.

2.    Pope Pius X, Encyclical Letter, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, paragraph 3, promulgated July 3, 1907.

3.   Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, the autobiography, La Mia Vita, April 1997; also, The Wanderer, May 8, 1997, pg. 7.

4.    Latin Mass magazine, Win ter 1996, Vol. V Issue 1, pg.6.

5. 1983 Code of Canon Law, Cans, 212, 215, 216, 299.

6.   Can 290 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states “After it has been validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid.” A cleric can, however, lose the clerical state. This is not to say that the character of the priesthood is removed. The Council of Trent, Chap 3, Can 4, clearly teaches “... If anyone says that no character is imprinted by ordination: or that he who was once a priest can become a layman again: let him be anathema.”

7.  A Canonical Recourse To The Sacred Congregation For The Clergy, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 53, Summer 1996, pg. 21.

8.   Ibid.   9. Ibid.

10. Ibid, pg. 22.

11. Ibid, pgs. 23-24.

12. Ibid, pg. 24.

13. Can 384 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that the bishop “is to have a special concern for the priests to whom he is to listen as his helpers and counselors. He is to defend their rights...”

14. A Canonical Recourse To The Sacred Congregation For The Clergy, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 53, Summer 1996, pg. 24.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid, pgs. 24-25.

17. Cann 270-271 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law details Church law regarding incardination and excardination.


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