Window On The Arena
Rome. July 3. 1995. 6:30 a.m. The Bridge of Angels has carried countless armies across the Tiber over the centuries. They have strolled, strutted and goose-stepped onto the cobblestones before Castel St. Angelo with remarkable frequency, carrying onto the north bank of the river all manner of ferocious determination. But it is doubtful if even one of their number did not sense a dent in his resolve when the ancient street beneath his feet deposited him on the edge of St. Peter's Square. The vision in marble staring back at him represents the most awesome power on earth, the dome of the Fisherman, the incomparable St. Peter's, the earthly intersection of Time and Eternity.
To comprehend the character of Father Nicholas Gruner, one can do no better than to see him, alone, an army of one, stepping off the Bridge of Angels, and contemplating the dome before him. It cannot be said that he too is not intimidated. No one born of woman could resist recognizing his smallness before this treasured dome rising above the very center of all Christendom. The old Borgo that once obliterated the view of the dome from the Bridge of Angels is no longer there. Today the Via Della Conciliazione, designed at Mussolini's request in response to Pius XI signing the Lateran Pact of 1929, gives a clear view of the breathtaking outline of the historical center of Christianity. Bramanti, Michelangelo, Della Porta knew how to intimidate.
Rome has been civilization's center of gravity for so long that, should it cease to exist, civilization would be knocked off its axis. Countless intersecting prophecies of the end times do predict the earth being knocked off its axis. Some interpreters of the Fatima phenomenon read the Miracle of the Sun as a depiction of that coming catastrophe, when order will be restored to the globe through the intercession of the Virgin.
This July morning, the rising sun warms the dome with a golden stroke of the brush. In ancient days, the Romans watched the sun pass overhead on its way to slumbering the night away in Lusitania. Today, the sun watches Romans pass from Christianity back to a long-slumbering paganism. The Church has been knocked off its axis and is rolling crazily out of orbit. Only Christ can save her. When He comes to do so, as He promised He would, He will come from the East, like a flash of sunlight. That is why throughout its history, churches were built facing eastward, for Christ was their hope. Then modern liturgists turned everything around. Now, when Christ returns, the priests will not see Him coming. They will have their backs turned, paying tribute to “the dignity of man”; for according to what can be glimpsed through the modernist theologians' fantasy threshold, man, not God, is the new hope.
The neo-modernist debacle of the past 35 years reminds us of the warning given by Pope Pius XII in light of the Message of Fatima:
Father Nicholas Gruner is not shaken at the prospect of being in this city of cities. He lived here during his early seminary days and afterward, he knows the sounds, the smells, the pace of the streets. He knows also that the Church was put in the hands of Italians, among other reasons, because of their unrelenting ability to endure the vicissitudes of time.
This day Father Gruner shares a goodly portion of that patience. He has come to Rome on a mission as bold as any he has ever pursued since the day he first offered himself to Our Lady of Fatima. He moves through the streets as one who knows he has no time to lose. That, of course, is the ultimate reality — there is no time left. Not for the world, not for Rome itself.
Christ promised that when He returned, it would be terrible, with all the power and might of Heaven armed for battle, more terrifying than the sun falling from the sky at the Cova da Iria. Mankind has this escape — the Virgin. Just as at Fatima, when the sun obeyed Her command, the Virgin in the end will bring us to safety. For She and She alone is our threshold to Christ.
All of Father Gruner's efforts over the years in promoting the consecration of Russia had brought to bear on his life and his Apostolate the full weight of the bureaucracy that plans and labors in the offices and corridors and meeting rooms circling the great piazza of St. Peter's. For centuries the famous obelisk now standing in the center of that piazza marked the spot where St. Peter was crucified upside down in A.D. 67 in the area where now stands the sacristy. Then it was moved to center stage of the new St. Peter's landscape, carved out of Vatican Hill in the 16th Century.
Today the obelisk makes of the cobblestone surface of the piazza a great sundial. Upon the rising of the sun, the shadow of the obelisk points directly at the balcony from which the reigning Pontiff has delivered his New Year's blessing Urbi et Orbi for the last four hundred years. Atop the obelisk stands a cross which contains a sizable portion of the True Cross brought back from Jerusalem by St. Helena. Each day, the shadow of the True Cross is drawn over the cobblestones by the passing overhead of the sun. Many a penitent pilgrim has deliberately positioned himself motionless in prayer in the piazza where the shadow of the True Cross would roll ever-so-slowly over his legs, arms, shoulders, bowed head.
When the shadow of the True Cross leans exactly north-northwest it points directly at the window of the Papal apartment, known simply as “the Pope's window”—second from the end on the top floor. Each Sunday, the Holy Father stands in full view of the pilgrims gathered below and leads them in the Angelus from that window. The daily shadow on the window reminds us that inside is a man to whom Christ said: “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”2 For, yes, that man is Peter.
If the man behind that window were the only man on earth who could bind and loose, all men who understood the nature of sin would come to this piazza and never again leave it. Alas, in today's Church the true nature of sin is scarcely understood by a large number of its members. Still, the man who resides behind the window remains the earthly head of legions of men to whom Christ, through Holy Orders, extended the same power to bind and loose in the Confessional that He had given to Peter. Father Nicholas Gruner is but one of them; but there in the shadow of the obelisk, he is as much at home as any priest who has walked these cobblestones over the centuries, looking up at that window.
During World War II, Pius XII looked out the window at a city in the grip of Nazi rule. On February 11, 1929, Pius XI looked out the window on the anniversary of the first appearance of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes, toward the Lateran Palace where Mussolini and the Pope's envoy, Cardinal Gaspari, were signing the Lateran Pact which ended the Roman Question, the relationship between the government of Italy and the Holy See, and sixty years of the Pope being a “prisoner of the Vatican”. But that piece of paper did not end the phenomenon of the Pope as prisoner.
Many Catholics today believe that the current Pope is a “prisoner of Vatican II”. The commitments made to Ostpolitik and world ecumenism by his predecessors and their bureaucrats have trapped him in a never ending round of concession-making to non-Catholic and non-Christian peoples. Catholics may differ in their view of the ecumenical venture of John Paul II, but what is not in dispute is the present-day crisis of faith around the world.
This much was admitted without ambiguity by the Cardinal Prefect of the Holy Office, which is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1985, for the first time in the history of the Church, the man in charge of defending Her doctrine for the Pope published a book explicitly and repeatedly stating that the faith of Catholics is under severe attack and is weakening around the world. The Ratzinger Report was published in a number of languages and sold over 1 million copies. No one in the know has refuted Ratzinger's thesis. According to Father Alonso and Frère Michel this crisis of faith is the main subject of the Third Secret of Fatima. It is certain that many Catholics agree that the looming crisis in the Church and the world is the direct result of not fulfilling the precise requirements of Our Lady.
Even so, for Father Nicholas Gruner, there has always been hope that his efforts on Her behalf, however small, will help bring the desperately needed about-face. After all, Our Lord did not say His Church would last until the Age of Aquarius and then be given away by resident aquarians. He said it would last until the end of time.
It was directly below the Pope's window, on May 13, 1981, just a little east of north by northwest, that John Paul II felt Mehmet Ali Agca's bullet tear into his body. That bullet, taken from the abdomen of John Paul II, now rests in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima standing at the Capelinha in the Cova da Iria on the exact spot She hallowed with Her presence in 1917. What greater verification could the faithful need that the Message of Fatima and the crisis in the Church intersect in time and space?
On July 3, 1995, as Father Nicholas Gruner moves through Rome on a private mission, the shadow of the True Cross on the obelisk in the piazza pointed at the Pope's window:12:30 noon. Father Gruner is very aware on this day that the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican, a few paces from the obelisk, has been charged with the duty to uphold the rights of priests against the abuse of ecclesiastical power. And yet an abuse of power had emanated from that very Congregation against him. Not once, but at least six times. What are Diocesan priests to do when it is the bureaucrats in that same Congregation who persecute them? It is in the defense of priests whose rights are not defended, that Father Gruner goes on this mission.
A brisk fifteen minutes' walk from the obelisk, across the Bridge joining Via St. Pius X, down the Corso Vittorio, is the Piazza della Cancelleria. There, the Apostolic Signatura meets to consider appeals from the Congregation for the Clergy. There Father Gruner had made his appeal from the self-affirming decree of Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe. What he did not know on that day in July, 1995, was that the Signatura had already implemented the next phase of The Plan for his destruction; the punishment for his proclamation of the Heavenly Message which had been “overruled” by the theological negotiators at Balamand.
The decree of the Apostolic Signatura, dated May 15, 1995, would soon be leaked to the anti-Fatima forces. It would appear in Soul magazine, the publication of an organization once known as The Blue Army, but which had recently taken to calling itself “The World Apostolate of Fatima”, as if to hide its embarrassment over once having been a part of the outdated Church Militant. Soul, now duly “approved” by “ecclesiastical authority”, had become the mouthpiece of the forces which had produced the Vatican-Moscow Agreement and the sell-out at Balamand. Soul was delighted to announce that the Signatura had agreed with Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe: there was indeed “just cause” to consign Father Gruner to oblivion in the Diocese of Avellino. He had, after all, “failed” to find another bishop to accept him. No matter that the “failure” had been orchestrated by Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe themselves, in an arrogant suspension of proper canonical procedure. Soul was not interested in the justice of the matter. The important thing was to declare Father Gruner a non-person, so that the New Fatima, the “Fatima Lite” of the Carlos Evaristo pamphlet, could be peddled to a narcoticized public in place of the real thing.
The decree of the Signatura would not be the end of Father Gruner—not yet. His case would return to the Signatura on new grounds.
And there would be further complications to The Plan. Those complications would lead to further canonical appeals which could not be so easily disposed of. It would seem as though Our Lady were politely tripping Father Gruner's pursuers, sending them sprawling to the ground each time they were about to lay hold of their prey.
Long ago, at the crossroads in old Jerusalem where the thoroughfare coming in through the Damascus gate goes toward the marketplace, and intersects with the Via Dolorosa, Our Lord met His Mother. There Mary gave the future priesthood of the Church a gift of Her own will and action to keep them free of doubt for all time. She went up the hill to Calvary with Him. There's only one way for today's priest to know for sure which way to go in today's Church. Stay with Mary. She has no doubts about which way to go. And stay close to those priests who visibly and openly serve Her. Father Gruner was in Rome in Her service.
On the lower floors below the Pope's window, behind the Bronze Doors, lay the Vatican Secretariat of State which had long ago taken notice of the Canadian priest with the worldwide following. This day its power seemed even more overwhelming, because on this day the Pope was out of town. It is always unsettling to know that the Pope is out of town. There is about the papacy a sense that Peter should always be here, where the Church of Christ on Vatican Hill rises from the spot where the blood of Peter soaked the soil of Nero's Circus. The Pontiff will return for the Wednesday General Audience, but his momentary absence prompts the question, “What is a Pontiff?”
“A bridge builder,” wrote Anne O'Hare McCormick in her Vatican Journals. “For he comes from farther back in time and sees farther into the future than other leaders”, at the service of what she calls, “...the only unbroken tradition left in the world.”
This bridge builder, John Paul II, knows that he has not yet fulfilled the command to consecrate Russia. On March 25, 1984, after he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart, the Holy Father said twice to Our Lady and to thousands of the Faithful that, although he had consecrated the world, still he had not done what Our Lady of Fatima commanded to be done. This was openly repeated on the 26th of March in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. It was this fact, more than the injustice of his particular case, which had brought Father Gruner to Rome for the job he had to do.
Not only by personal observation and reflection, but also by reliable reports of the Pope's own words, Father Gruner is convinced that the Pope feels he needs more support from the Catholic bishops of the world before he can actually consecrate Russia as Our Lady asked at Fatima. For this reason, Father Gruner had sought and received confirmations from more than 1500 bishops that they supported Our Lady's command. If the Pope gave the order to consecrate Russia, these bishops would obey, of that Father Gruner was certain. It was the bureaucrats, the technicians of Balamand and the Vatican-Moscow Agreement, who were striving to keep from the bishops the whole truth about Fatima; it was they who had convinced the Holy Father that his bishops would not obey. How does one penetrate this phalanx of bureaucrats to tell the Pope that his bishops will obey him?
Father Gruner reached a print shop within walking distance of the Vatican and made his way to the back rooms where layout and design are finalized. He spread out, before the workers, the text of the letter he had carried to Rome. He had picked them especially for their skill and professionalism, and their ability with languages, for this letter was intended for His Holiness, John Paul II himself. It was not intended for mailing. It would appear as “An Open Letter To The Pope” in a two-page spread in Rome's largest daily newspaper, Il Messaggero. And the deadline was fast approaching.
To catapult over the heads of the bureaucracy surrounding the Pope has been a fantasy engaged in by many a priest over the centuries. Few have ever succeeded. Father Nicholas Gruner knew that he must, for he was all too aware that he represented not only the membership in his Apostolate, but the entire beleaguered priesthood of the Catholic Church. The Open Letter would serve not only his mission, but countless priests who were being ground up in the bureaucrats' inexorable machinery of intimidation and reprisal.
Father Gruner was not daunted by the gamble. A priest, he always insists, is within his rights to demand that the law be upheld. So too are the laity. Two ecumenical councils of the Church have indeed defined as a doctrine of the Faith—the right to petition the Pope for redress of just grievances in the Church.3 But how does one exercise this God-given right when the Pope is immured in layers of bureaucracy which filter out the pleas of the faithful? The Open Letter seems the only way.
And so, on a hot July day in Rome, the leverage of the press is about to be employed to plead a case to “the final judge”. No one, not even His Holiness, could overlook a request so public, though the format of the appeal was bound to trod on the feet of nearly everyone in the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura.
Father Gruner's right to do so has never been in doubt. “It is Catholic dogma that Catholic priests are members of the hierarchy and our God-given rights in the Natural Law cannot be morally or legally taken away by anyone, not even by a bishop's decree.”
Nor would the false “obedience” to ecclesial bureaucrats which had surrendered Romania and the Ukraine to the dictates of the Balamand Statement prevent Father Gruner from petitioning his Pope in this way. He would later explain that his belief in the right, and duty, of licit resistance to abuse of authority in the Church had been formed in him during his days at seminary:
Throughout the day Father Gruner comes and goes from the back room, studying proofs, giving them a meticulous scanning. A day is consumed by attention to minuscule details: translating, re-translating, spell-checks, leaving not one punctuation mark to chance. The Open Letter is finally put to bed. It is late evening. Daylight lingers late in the sky over Rome. Time to walk where saints and apostles have walked.
St. Paul's Outside the Walls, Rome. Midnight. For centuries this location defended Rome from attacks from the sea. It perfectly befits, therefore, the site for the massive enclosure named after the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the distinctive Roman moonlight, the hooded statue of St. Paul stares directly at the silhouette of a cassocked priest at the gate. Slivers of moonglow outline the two edges of St. Paul's upright broadsword.
Two thousand years of efforts by dissenters from the True Faith have failed to imprint on mens' minds the image of St. Paul as an opponent of Peter's. Other religions have tried to adopt Paul as their very own; Protestant efforts to make him their Peter have consistently come to naught. The unshakable integrity of Saul of Tarsus resists all attempts to paint him as disloyal. When he challenged Peter, it was out of love for the purity of the faith, not in opposition to it.
St. Paul's Outside the Walls is a fitting place for Father Nicholas Gruner to contemplate his priesthood, his past as a seminarian, his present as a promoter of the Fatima Message, and the future that he will have to endure, now that the ‘Open Letter to the Pope' has gone to press. He, too, has had his loyalty to the Pope impugned by his critics. He directs those critics to examine his record. He readily admits that, so long as God permits, there will be one unalterable purpose to his Apostolate—the collegial consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In spite of endless criticism, and the risk of losing his audience, he has continued for two decades his repetition of the words “the consecration of Russia”, hoping to keep that divine imperative before the minds of the faithful and the hierarchy.
His choice of approach has been misconstrued as an “attack” on the Holy Father. There are reasons to believe that John Paul II does not see it that way at all. There are reasons to believe that Father Gruner has been surreptitiously targeted by the bureaucracy for extinction precisely because the Holy Father harbors sympathy for the work of Father Nicholas Gruner. Father Gruner explained it this way:
The Vatican-Moscow Agreement and the Balamand Statement have given the most voracious hunter in history an open field in which to pursue the hunted. Men of blood, atheistic power mongers, seek to victimize and control the whole of the world. Abortion, socialism, liquidation of the middle class, God excluded from public affairs, immorality, immodesty.
A new world order with a one world religion is the goal of these internationalists. They are dead of soul, and work to impose their godlessness, their coldness, their emptiness on all of us. In their language, they want to proclaim the world “God-free”. What they really want is to tyrannize the rest of us, but as long as we have God, we have our God-given rights. If they succeed in taking faith in God away from us, then they succeed in enslaving us. The number one bastion of defense, the Catholic Church, has suffered insidious attacks by infiltrators, as St. Jude warns in his Epistle. Those interlopers have lowered the drawbridges, drained the moats and left the flock very vulnerable.
Whether the hunter will succeed in capturing and killing all but a remnant of the prey will, of course, depend finally upon the correspondence of the man in the pew with the graces he is given. In any other century but this one, perhaps, that might have been a reliable ingredient in the equation. But the man in the pew is no longer encouraged to be Roman Catholic. He is being told that he must apologize for 2,000 years of Catholic history, learn to have more respect for Martin Luther, forget his liturgical heritage, assume personal responsibility for the holocausts of madmen, and stop speaking of conversion to the one true religion. That he is expected to continue to believe in and remain loyal to a Church which could have insisted upon such disastrous reversals as these, surely ranks as one of the great enigmas in recorded time.
As Sister Lucy said, “The devil is in the mood for engaging in a decisive battle against the Virgin. And a decisive battle is the final battle where one side will be victorious and the other side will suffer defeat.” Each man must choose sides. If he chooses the side of God, his weapons have already been issued to him. The Rosary. The Scapular of Mt. Carmel. Daily sacrifices. The Five First Saturdays. But the climate in today's Church is not conducive to the promotion of devotions such as these. Some Cardinals, bishops, priests shun anything that smacks of pre-1960 piety. That the Rosary, daily sacrifices and the Five First Saturdays are uniquely Roman Catholic practices makes them totally unwelcome in certain quarters of the Church. In today's ecumenical Disney park, anything goes as long as it is not Roman Catholic.
Bureaucratic anger at the placing of the ad in Il Messaggero would be ignited because it had provided John Paul II with an opportunity to intervene and settle one of the most contentious battles raging in the Church today. And therein lies the cause of so much of the bureaucratic opposition to Father Nicholas Gruner: such a show of authority by John Paul II would cure, at one stroke, the ecclesiastical paralysis resulting from the fatally flawed principle of collegiality operating through bureaucracy.
Retaliation for the printing of the Open Letter will surely be aimed hot and heavy at Father Gruner by the unseen bureaucrats in the Vatican. They will go as far as they can, as long as they don't risk losing their anonymity.
“In the end, Our Lady will triumph,” Father Nicholas Gruner repeats again and again. “But enough people must be on the right side. If you are not on Jesus and Mary's side, you are on the side of the Evil One and his earthly allies.”
Down along the embankment from the grilled entrance to the courtyard of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, several cars of midnight revelers enjoy the late night and one another's company. As Father Gruner walks back to his car, eyes pick up his cassocked figure walking through the moonlight. For a brief moment he stands motionless, an icon of the besieged priesthood of Our Lady in today's tormented Church. The cassock bridges the centuries linking together those countless men who have exhausted their lives in the order of Melchisedech. He is just one in the long line of those who undertook untold risks to serve their Master, and spread His precious Word.
Saint Isaac Jogues, a veritable mirror reflecting the daring character of St. Paul himself, gave his life for the baptism of native Americans. Nothing could deter him from returning to his Indians again and again, even though they despised him so much that he was made to curl up and sleep with their dogs. Even while Father Jogues was in North America, it was known throughout Europe that his Indian captors had chewed his fingers off. They would chew down to one knuckle, let it heal, then chew down to another. Rescued by Protestant Dutch merchants, he made his way back to France. Upon being received in the foyer of his former Jesuit residence, he was bundled up against the cold, arms held tight under cover for warmth. Upon hearing that a missionary had returned from America and was in the foyer, the Superior came running into the room and cried aloud asking if the stranger had any news to relate about Isaac Jogues. Father Jogues did not answer. He merely unfolded his arms and extended toward the Superior the stumps of his fingers. The Superior fell on his knees, kissing the mangled hands, and showered the priest with his tears. Shortly after, Father Jogues returned to his Indians and to his martyrdom.
There is no happiness in today's world for the priests of Mary. She did not promise them any. Bitten off little by little each day in this era of the “dignity of man” is the dignity of God's ordained. Nowhere in today's world can the Marian priest be sure of a welcome. Not even in the Church they serve. That is all part of the “persecution of the Church” that was spoken of at Fatima in 1917. No one who truly understands the Fatima Message should be surprised at it. Persecution from within would not have occurred to anyone before 1960. But after the last thirty-five years of turmoil, lies and betrayal, no one any longer looks exclusively outside the Church for the enemy.
From St. Paul's Outside the Walls to St. Cecilia's in Trastevere is a short drive that leads through the ruins left behind when the Church of Christ conquered pagan Rome. Outside the gate of St. Cecilia's, the sounds of Trastevere remind the tourist that there is a Left Bank in every city that has a “soul”. How perfect that the great Saint who was martyred here should be the Church's patron of music.
Here in this church is where it really all began for Father Nicholas Gruner. It was here that his father, Malcolm, was instantly converted to Catholicism so many decades ago, and it was here that St. Cecilia was sealed inside a steam room to suffocate, or so the persecutors of the faithful virgin hoped. When the door was unsealed to ascertain her fate, there she sat, breathing freely, a mystery memorialized by artists who so often place a calliope in her hands. So she was beheaded. But she survived the first two strokes of the axe, living for two days during which she dictated her spiritual and legal legacy. Then she died. Sculptors depict her prone, offering her throat to the blade yet one more time.
For nearly six years, Father Gruner has survived the steam room in which the bureaucrats have placed him. Now that the Open Letter was about to be published, the question remained: Would he be able to survive the axe blade the anti-Fatima bureaucrats were sharpening in the Vatican?
1. Msgr. Roche, Pie XII devant l'histoire, pgs. 52-53; also, Inside the Vatican, Jan 1997, pgs. 6-7.
2. St. Matthew 16:19.
3. The Second Council of Lyons (1274 A.D.) teaches, “Anyone who is aggrieved may appeal to it (the Holy Roman Church) in matters pertaining to the ecclesiastical court; and in all cases that require ecclesiastical investigation, one may have recourse to its judgement”, Denzinger, thirtieth edition, paragraph 466; also, Vatican Council I (1870 A.D.) says “And because, by the Divine right of Apostolic primacy the Roman Pontiff is at the head of the whole Church, we also teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the Faithful and that one can have recourse to his judgement in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical jurisdiction”, Denzinger, thirtieth edition, paragraphs 1830-1831; also, see 1983 Code of Canon Law, Cann 221; 1405 No. 1.