Some four months after publication of the Open Letter, Father Nicholas Gruner knew that he had not been left unaided by Her to Whom he had devoted his entire priesthood. On November 4, 1995, His Excellency Saminini Arulappa, the Archbishop of Hyderabad, India, handed Father Gruner a formal decree incardinating him into his Archdiocese.1 The two men were standing in St. Mary's Church. It was the First Saturday of the month. And not ten feet away was the Apostolate's Pilgrim Virgin statue, blessed by Pope Paul VI, of which Father Gruner had been the curator for nearly 20 years of travels in the cause of Our Lady of Fatima.
It was, appropriately, a Marian pilgrimage which had brought Father Gruner on this day to the teeming precincts of Hyderabad and St. Mary's Church. Over the years Father Gruner had made several pilgrimages to India, where hundreds of thousands of the Indian faithful had gathered to see the Statue, to receive Rosaries and Scapulars and to hear Father Gruner preach in his quiet way on the Message of Fatima.
In Hyderabad, the Apostolate supports an orphanage which has the care of fifty little souls. The welfare of these children is one of the many things at stake in the canonical struggle which began when the bureaucrats pulled the strings of their marionette, and the Bishop of Avellino suddenly recalled Father Gruner after an approved absence of more than 16 years.
The Plan for Father Gruner's virtual imprisonment in Avellino had depended, of course, entirely on the pretense that since Father Gruner had “failed” to find another diocese to accept him, he must return to the Diocese of Avellino. Yet here was the third benevolent bishop in succession to offer Father Gruner incardination outside Avellino. The bureaucrats had “persuaded” the first two bishops to withdraw their offers easily enough; the Nuncios had done their job of back-channel influence. This time, however, no less than an Archbishop of 25 years standing had gone so far as to issue a formal decree of incardination to Father Gruner, on the record, before the bureaucrats had been able to get to him.
But the Archbishop had done more than simply incardinate Father Gruner in his Archdiocese. With the full authority of his office, the prelate had extended his protection to the whole Apostolate and had condemned the bureaucrats who were trying to destroy it:
The Archbishop's decree was a canonical bombshell. At the very moment their carefully prepared circumvention of the Code of Canon Law had nearly succeeded in neutralizing its target, the Archbishop had rescued him with the stroke of a pen. To make matters worse, the Archbishop had just provided objective confirmation in an official ecclesiastical document that “bureaucratic forces” were engaging in illicit maneuvers against Father Gruner.
The Plan was at a standstill. Father Gruner could not very well be ordered back to Avellino for having “failed” to find another bishop, when an Archbishop had just incardinated him with a formal decree the bureaucrats would not be able to countermand. They had absolutely no power under the Code of Canon Law, much less the Divine Constitution of the Church, to dictate an Archbishop's decision about whom he could incardinate in his own Archdiocese; and they knew it. But they did have one tool at their disposal: fear.
The unexpected visit of a Papal Nuncio can intimidate even an Archbishop. When the clasps on a nuncial briefcase snap open, it would only be natural to cringe in apprehension over what might be inside. Sometime in January 1996 the Papal Nuncio to India, Archbishop Zur Giorgio, got aboard an airplane and flew from Delhi to Hyderabad—a most unusual expenditure of time and money for a Vatican ambassador with many pressing duties of state. The Nuncio's only purpose in making this extraordinary trip was to meet with Archbishop Arulappa concerning Father Nicholas Gruner. This was a most urgent meeting—so urgent it could not even wait for the Archbishop to recover from the heart surgery he had just undergone. When the meeting was over, the Archbishop had begun to view the matter of Father Gruner's incardination somewhat differently. He was afraid. And who could blame him? He had not seen behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.
On January 31, 1996, Father Gruner received a letter from the Archbishop: Did Father Gruner have a decree of “excardination” from the Diocese of Avellino, releasing him from the jurisdiction of its bishop?3 This was indeed a technical requirement for the transfer. But as providence would have it, the Bishop of Avellino had issued just such a decree to Father Gruner in 1989, before the bureaucrats began tugging on the strings of his more compliant successor. Father Gruner still had the document in his files. He had the decree of excardination hand delivered to Hyderabad. The technical requirements were complete. He was now a priest of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad—or at least he was according to the Code of Canon Law. For any other priest in the world, the matter would have ended there. But for Father Nicholas Gruner the Code of Canon Law was no longer operative, it had been suspended in his case.
The Open Letter to the Pope and the benevolent intervention of the Archbishop of Hyderabad had shown the hunters that their prey was not without resources. Father Gruner would not simply lie down and die. Something was keeping this priest on his feet and moving forward. The prey, then, would simply have to be crushed to death, rather less elegantly than anticipated, by the vast apparatus at their command. Of course, this would require further actions outside the normal channels of canon law, but The Plan could not otherwise be fulfilled. The law of the Church would not serve the hunters, so it would have to be discarded. Nevertheless, the appearance of following the law would be maintained as the “front end” of their operation. They must maintain their bella figura.
What followed over the next six months was a coordinated international campaign of punitive actions the like of which no priest in living memory had ever been subjected to—including the heretics and homosexuals who contentedly infest seminaries and parishes of North America without the slightest disturbance from Rome.
January 1996. The Papal Nuncios carry a new “declaration” from Archbishop Sepe, Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, to every bishop in the world. It concerns the Apostolate's upcoming Fatima Conference in Rome, which had been announced in the Open Letter. Sepe's decree is an incredible travesty of canon law: the interdiction throughout the entire Catholic Church of a priest who had done nothing wrong:
What exactly was “the Gruner case”? And what was contained in the “volumes of dossiers” at the Congregation for the Clergy? Sepe does not say. Better to create the false impression that there must be something pretty terrible in those records.
What “ecclesiastical permission” is needed to hold a conference on Fatima? None, of course, but Sepe does not mention this. The Literally Truthful Lie is launched around the world again. In a Church teeming with conferences and workshops—none of them with “ecclesiastical permission”, and many conducted by fulminating heretics—only one gathering consumes the attention of Archbishop Sepe and his fellow Vatican bureaucrats: a conference in Rome devoted to the Message of Fatima.
What “harmful activities” was Father Gruner guilty of? Archbishop Sepe has no particulars to offer. And neither did the Bishop of Avellino in his order recalling Father Gruner—the very order Archbishop Sepe himself had orchestrated by blocking Father Gruner's incardination in any other diocese but Avellino.
Why exactly is the situation “regrettable”? What would happen to any bishop who made “matters worse” by showing support for Father Gruner? Better to leave that threat sub rosa. End of letter.
What had Father Nicholas Gruner actually done to merit this unprecedented communication to every Catholic bishop in the world? Even a cursory reading of Archbishop Sepe's letter would reveal the answer: nothing. That is, nothing which the Archbishop could safely mention. For it simply would not do to admit that the “harmful activity” in which Father Gruner had been engaged for his entire priestly life was nothing more or less than teaching and preaching the Heaven-sent Message of Fatima—especially its now-intolerable claim that Russia must be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart and converted to the one true religion, so that the world would be saved from Russia's errors.
January 26, 1996. The Bishop of Avellino issues an “admonition” to Father Gruner that he must return there because “idle had been the various written interventions of my predecessors ... with which you were invited to look for another bishop.”5 Father Gruner sends two letters in February, pointing out that he has been incardinated in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, has therefore found another bishop, and is no longer bound to return to Avellino. The bishop offers no reply. He is clearly awaiting further orders about what to say regarding Hyderabad.
February 1996. A copy of the decree of the Apostolic Signatura upholding the first order to return to Avellino is published in Soul magazine, organ of the “World Apostolate of Fatima”—the new “Fatima Lite” version of the once-militant Blue Army, which now has direct ties to the Vatican anti-Fatima bureaucrats. Oddly enough, Father Gruner himself had not yet received a copy of the decree, although the “World Apostolate of Fatima” has obtained it from the Canadian Bishops' Conference. The decree is accompanied by a libelous error-filled “exposé” by E. William Sockey III, which portrays Father Gruner as a disobedient, schismatic cleric without priestly faculties.6 In the same month, a local affiliate of the “World Apostolate of Fatima” publishes the same decree, but includes a fabricated paragraph condemning Father Gruner which is nowhere to be found in the original document.7
March 1996. The bureaucrats attack the Hyderabad problem: Archbishop Arulappa receives a letter from Cardinal Sanchez advising him not to incardinate Father Gruner, even though he has already done so. The letter mysteriously lacks a protocol number which would place it in numerical sequence with the official documents of the Congregation8 —evidently because it is unofficial and quite outside the proper channels of canon law. Cardinal Sanchez has absolutely no authority to forbid an Archbishop to incardinate a validly ordained priest. He does so anyway. Who will stop him? Three months later the beleaguered Archbishop would write to Father Gruner: “I request you to understand my predicament in the present circumstances. I do hope, God willing, a satisfactory solution will be found.”9 He would also disclose through his assistant that he had been placed in fear of reprisals against his whole Archdiocese because of his support of Father Gruner.10 Still, the Archbishop would never actually withdraw the decree of incardination. There would have to be grounds to do so, and a hearing at which Father Gruner could present a defense.
By mid-spring of 1996, with the Rome Conference only six months away, the bureaucrats were ready to implement the final phase of The Plan. It commenced on May 16, 1996. On that date the Bishop of Avellino issued a further decree advising Father Gruner that unless he returned to the Diocese of Avellino in 29 days he would be suspended from the sacred priesthood.11 The decree claimed that the matter had been decided the day before at a “hearing” to which Father Gruner had not been invited. Actually, it had been decided years before in the offices of certain Vatican bureaucrats.
Yes, but what about Father Gruner's incardination in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad? Did it not place him beyond the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Avellino? The May 16 decree revealed the stratagem on which the bureaucrats had settled to deal with that particular problem: the incardination in Hyderabad was declared tanquam non existens—it was non-existent! Poof.
But on what basis had the incardination in Hyderabad been declared non-existent? According to the May 16 decree, Father Gruner was not “canonically set free” to be incardinated there. And why was he not “canonically set free”? Because he had been ordered to return to Avellino. But why had he been ordered to return to Avellino? Because he had not found another bishop. But was not the Archbishop of Hyderabad another bishop? Yes, but his incardination of Father Gruner was non-existent. The classic circular argument. Crude. Ridiculous. But it would do until something better came along. The main thing was to achieve, at last, the objective of The Plan: the exile or defrocking of Father Nicholas Gruner, preacher of the unacceptable Message of Fatima.
Father Gruner would appeal the preposterous decree of May 16 to the Congregation for the Clergy. There, once again, Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe, his executioners, would also be his judges. This time, however, Father Gruner would request their recusal. Perhaps even they would recognize the absurdity, if not the injustice, of sitting as judges in a case they had been stage-managing behind the scenes for years. To Father Gruner's request for recusal, the judges had a ready reply: “The request for disqualification cannot be taken into consideration because it is not foreseen in the legislation.”12 In other words, Father Gruner had no right to an impartial judge! But the right to an impartial judge is foreseen in “the legislation”, namely, Canon 1449. Also, natural law, common sense and basic decency all dictate that a man cannot judge a case in which he is an adverse party. But Canon 1449, natural law, common sense and basic decency were impediments to The Plan. The bureaucrats simply heaved them overboard.
On September 20, 1996, with the Rome Conference two months away, Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe upheld the May 16 decree of the Bishop of Avellino. That is, they upheld their own manipulation of the marionette whose strings they had been pulling since at least January 1994.
The End Game was now down to a few rooks and pawns on the board, and the pieces left were heavily weighted in favor of his opponents. The remaining moves seemed few, and too easily calculable for the other side, but Father Gruner would force them to make every move until checkmate. He would do so not out of any perverse stubbornness, but for the cause of Our Lady of Fatima, and because it was not in his nature to allow the truth to be subjugated to the crooked rules of a rigged game. He would later explain:
On November 15, 1996, the very day he boarded the plane for Rome, Father Gruner would appeal the Congregation's decision to the Apostolic Signatura. Not even the bureaucrats could do anything to alter the basic norm of Canon Law, that the appeal prevented the operation of all threatened penalties. Thus, there would be no suspension from the priesthood, nor any obligation to return to Avellino. When he arrived in Rome to address the Apostolate's Third Fatima Conference, Father Nicholas Gruner would be, as he had always been, a priest in good standing.
And when he arrived he would have with him a document as unprecedented as the illicit global campaign against him by the bureaucrats, yet a document expressly authorized by the Code of Canon Law Pope John Paul II himself had promulgated. That document, together with the appeal to the Signatura, would bring new complications to the End Game, prolonging it in ways his opponents had never anticipated.
November 18, 1996. Rome. The Apostolate's Third Fatima Conference begins. Across Piazza Euclide from the hotel where the Conference is being held is an impressive parish church in the Greco-Roman style. On its curved stone facade is an inscription in Latin: In Honorem Immaculati Cordis B. V. Mariae Reginae Pacis — “In Honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace.” At a conference entitled “World Peace and the Immaculate Heart of Mary”, the inscription is one of those signposts on the byways of Providence which encourage a weary traveler.
By now the bureaucrats' strange preoccupation with the Canadian priest and his Marian apostolate had become almost laughable. Ten months earlier the Nuncios had delivered the urgent missive of Archbishop Sepe to every bishop in the world, stating that the Conference was “without permission of ecclesiastical authority.” A week before the Conference began the Nuncios delivered yet another priority bulletin to the entire world episcopate. This one was from Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops, who conveyed the alarming news that:
The Literally Truthful Lie had been given added emphasis in the latest communiqué: the Conference was absolutely without the “approval of ecclesiastical authority”. Since it was absolutely without approval, no bishop should go to Rome to discuss World Peace and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But since no ecclesiastical approval was required in the first place, why exactly should the bishops stay away? Why, because of Father Gruner's “situation” and “activities”, the communiqué suggested. What “situation”, and what “activities”?
The bureaucrats had already seen what happens to bishops who are provided with the full Message of Fatima: they listen. And once they listen, they tend to become supporters of the Apostolate's work in making known to all the faithful the urgent nature of the Message in its entirety, despite the negative implications of that Message for the grand human scheme embraced by the Vatican-Moscow Agreement, Ostpolitik and the Balamand Statement.
At the 1992 Conference in Fatima 60 bishops had politely insisted that the Bishop of Fatima give his approval to the conference. After Father Gruner was assaulted in the sacristy of the Fatima Shrine by thugs in the employ of its rector, two prelates who had attended the Conference vowed to petition the Pope for the retirement of the Bishop of Fatima, who had clearly lost control of the Shrine. Three months later the Bishop of Fatima was retired. Had the Apostolate been heard, with sympathy, by the Pope?
At the Mexico conference in 1994, the assembled bishops had drafted and approved 14 Resolutions which constitute a veritable charter for promulgation of the Fatima Message in its entirety, including the Consecration of Russia and disclosure of the Third Secret. The Resolutions were a statement of uncompromising Catholic militancy in an era of ecclesial accommodation and retreat. These 14 Resolutions were published in Rome on July 12, 1995, as part of the Open Letter to the Pope. Had not the Holy Father become aware of the consensus of these bishops?
By autumn of 1996 the bureaucrats could not have failed to notice that the Conferences and related activities of the Apostolate had marshaled the support of some 1400 bishops, about 33% of the total world episcopate, for the collegial Consecration of Russia. The Conference in Rome could not be interdicted by any legitimate means, because nothing about it was doctrinally, canonically or morally objectionable — nor could the bureaucrats credibly claim otherwise. But it would not do to have an end run of bishops, priests and laity around the Vatican-Moscow Agreement, Ostpolitik and the Balamand Statement, which the bureaucrats evidently considered better policies than the words of the Queen of Heaven. Thus, the Third Bishops' Conference obviously loomed large in the bureaucratic radar: the full Message of Fatima was going to be discussed again. With bishops. Once again, therefore, measures had to be taken.
As with the Mexico conference, the nuncial apparatus had managed to block the issuance of visas to many of the bishops who had committed to being in Rome. But, as in Mexico, a few determined prelates avoided diplomatic confinement and made their way to the Conference. One of these was His Excellency Benedict To Varpin, Archbishop of Madang, Papua New Guinea. He had made the journey despite a seemingly endless series of phone calls, faxes and letters from the Nuncio pressuring him not to go.13 On the ride from Leonardo da Vinci Airport to Piazza Euclide, Archbishop To Varpin explained that he had seen enough carnage among the warring factions of his own island nation to recognize that the promises of Our Lady of Fatima could not possibly have been fulfilled. He had come to Rome to find out why. Over the next few days he would know the answer.
And so they came for a third time: bishops, priests and laity from around the world. A modest group, really, but large enough to cause the mobilization of a worldwide apparatus against the gathering. Most curious. Or rather not so curious when one considered that the list of topics to be covered by the speakers at the Conference read like an Index of Forbidden Subjects in the Church today:
Throughout the world today conferences, congresses and “workshops” devoted to undermining the Holy Catholic Church convene and spread their errors with impunity: women priests, the end of priestly celibacy, the ‘coming out’ of homosexual clergy, changes in the teaching on marriage and procreation, celebration of the ‘gay and lesbian communities’, inclusive language, goddess worship, Wicca, popular election of the Pope, use of polls and petitions to determine Catholic doctrine—the heresies and absurdities freely discussed, diffused and demanded are uncountable.
This unprecedented situation in the Church suggested a thought-experiment to more than one of those who had come to Piazza Euclide that week in November: Suppose they had gathered, not to discuss the Message of Fatima, but to revel at yet another festival of heretics. What would the world's Nuncios have done to stop them? The results of the experiment registered almost instantly in the mind: Why, the Nuncios would have done nothing! For there would have been no communiqués from the Vatican Congregations to deliver to every bishop in the world; nor would the Nuncios have been ordered to engage in the arduous work of denying travel visas to descendants of the Apostles. The slumber of the bureaucrats in the face of ecclesial chaos would have continued serenely.
Since 1965 exactly one Catholic has been excommunicated by the Vatican for heresy: an obscure and laughably clumsy “theologian” in Sri Lanka. The subtle heretics, who pose the real threat to the faith, have remained ensconced in seminaries and universities throughout the Church. Meanwhile, at a bookstore only a few paces from the perimeter of Vatican City, one can purchase theological texts propounding any number of propositions that were once condemned. Adoring crowds wave to the Pope on his various motorcades, but when they go home they ignore his teaching on contraception or divorce and remarriage. The pollsters who interview papal fans when the outdoor Masses in the football stadiums are over, find that most of them “disagree” with the Pope on other matters of the Faith as well.
In the 33 years since the Bronze Doors closed on Vatican II the clamor of dissent from both clergy and laity has become the baseline; a constant “white noise” like static on a television set when a station has gone off the air. As anyone who has fallen asleep with that noise in the background would know, it is a very soothing noise to sleep by. Today it would seem that only a confluence of the zealously orthodox is capable of producing a sound to rise above the static and waken a bureaucrat or two in the Vatican. For a zealous orthodoxy is not content to attribute the crisis in the Church merely to Original Sin, and to inquire no further. Those who love their Church with a fierce love will tend to ask questions about what has gone wrong; and those questions will invariably lead them to Fatima, and then to Rome.
The clergy and laity assembling at Piazza Euclide had come, therefore, to ponder embarrassing questions: Why had the Church descended into this fugue state of chaos? Why, eighty years after the Virgin appeared at Cova da Iria, had the promises of Our Lady of Fatima not been realized? Why had those promises instead been allowed by the sacred pastors to recede beyond the memory of nearly everyone, while the world succumbed to an ever-expanding holocaust of the unborn and a violent disintegration of nations which the Church seems powerless to arrest—no matter how many papal trips are made to the areas of distress.
There was something else these Catholics had come to Rome to consider; a matter which caused perhaps the greatest agitation among the bureaucrats who had tried to keep the bishops from attending:
Some forty years ago the auxiliary bishop of Fatima held a sealed envelope up to the light and tried to discern the writing inside. He counted 24 handwritten lines on a piece of paper which he could not read: the Third Secret of Fatima. Those 24 lines had been written by Sister Lucy after three months of being terrified to commit them to paper. Only after January 2, 1944, when the Virgin had appeared again to tell her that it was Heaven's will, was Sister Lucy finally able to write the Secret down and deliver it in a sealed envelope to the Bishop of Fatima.
The Third Secret was to have been revealed to the world not later than 1960. Sister Lucy had explained that by then the meaning of the Secret “would be more clear.” The Secret was delivered to the Vatican under seal in April, 1957, and the faithful of the world waited. In February, 1960, Pope John XXIII, having read the Secret, caused worldwide dismay by announcing through an anonymous press release, which no one took responsibility for, that the Secret would not be released that year and possibly not ever. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger have since read the Secret, along with several other current members of the hierarchy, but none of them has divulged its contents.
By those who have read the Secret we have been told, in turns, that it is not sensational, and that is sensational; that it is not apocalyptic, and that it concerns what is already revealed in the Book of the Apocalypse; that it does not predict a world catastrophe, and that it predicts the sudden loss of millions of lives. The one thing we have not been told—as we have in the case of every other Marian warning of the past century, no matter how dire—is what the Third Secret actually says.
It is a common perception among Catholics that the world began to come apart in earnest around 1960. It is the year that seems in retrospect to mark a great divide beyond which the exhausted remnants of Christendom lost their remaining power to restrain evil, and all that had been unthinkable quickly became commonplace. The year before, Pope John had convened his Council with the promise that it would mark the opening of the Church to the “modern world”. He illustrated his intention in a famous incident: a reporter had asked what His Holiness hoped to accomplish at the Council, whereupon the Pontiff strode across the room and threw open a window. Yes, that musty old Catholic Church needed some fresh air.
On June 30, 1972, thirteen years after Pope John opened his window, Pope Paul VI would lament that “from somewhere or other the smoke of Satan has entered the Church.”14 Pope Paul too had read the Third Secret. He would die wearing a hair shirt, it is said, having wept over the establishment of an abortion mill in Rome. Like the others who have read the Secret, Pope Paul would not disclose its contents; but who could doubt that his terrifying and wholly unprecedented remark about the state of the Church reflected something in those 24 lines in the handwriting of Sister Lucy. Sister Lucy had said that the meaning of the Secret would be clearer in 1960. Many Catholics who attended the Conference, and millions more around the world, had long suspected that they knew why: Because the Secret predicted an unprecedented debacle in the Catholic Church beginning around that year.
In the decades before the Council a line of Pope Pius had warned us of the shoals ahead which threatened the bark of Peter. After 1960 every one of those warnings would be forgotten:
While none of these reversals of Church policy compromised directly the deposit of the Faith or negated the charism of papal infallibility, never had the constant judgement of so many popes in so many matters been in practice so completely reversed. Every reversal occurred within a few years of 1960.
If the Third Secret of Fatima does indeed speak to the post-Conciliar period—to the unprecedented destruction of the Roman liturgy, the universal collapse of Church discipline, the pandemic of dissent, the softening of the Church's obdurate opposition to communism—then its disclosure would be nothing less than the unsealing of a Heavenly indictment of the governance of the Church since Vatican II. That indictment would implicate some of the very bureaucrats who had tried to interdict the Conference. It would condemn what had been wrought by the architects of the Vatican-Moscow Agreement, Ostpolitik, and Balamand who still walk the corridors of the Vatican. Those implicated in the indictment would naturally do everything in their power to prevent it from being unsealed.
Here, then, lies the beating heart of the bureaucrats' constant opposition to the work of Father Nicholas Gruner; for nothing else about this mild-mannered priest could explain the concentration of forces against him. The heart of the matter is simply this: To view the crisis in the Church from the perspective of Fatima is inevitably to realize that the crisis is a failure of the upper hierarchy.15 To stand in Cova da Iria and look toward Rome in 1996 is to see that the premonition of Pius XII, spoken at the edge of that great divide of 1960, was a true prophecy:
November 20, 1996. Paul VI Audience Hall. If one walks down the Via Aurelia, along the south wall of Vatican City, one will see something quite startling jutting above the wall: a huge concrete shell with a drooping roof line, and set in its wall a great squashed ovoid of a window, the modern notion of a clerestory, its concrete muntins describing counterpoised ripples which meet in the center and cancel out. You will have found Nervi's Paul VI Audience Hall, a Vatican tribute to that great age of architectural renewal: the Sixties.
The participants in the Conference would go to the audience hall on this day to see their Pope. Once they were inside they would be appalled; because the place is indeed appalling. The vast sterile space is oriented downward toward the stage on which the Vicar of Christ appears for his Wednesday general audience. The holder of the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven will be looking up at the spectators as they look down upon him. The enormous expanse of concrete floor is studded with thousands of steel pedestals on which thousands of small, armless seats are perched like mushrooms. Beneath each seat is something very curious: a metal drain grate. Is the Papal audience hall hosed clean?
After the hall was completed in 1971 papal audiences would no longer be held in St. Peter's Basilica. The audience hall of the Vicar of Christ in this post-conciliar era is devoid of any sign of the Catholic Faith. It is a sparsely furnished living room for a conversation with the world, designed neither to offend nor to awe any non-Catholic guest.
And then there is The Thing. At the rear of the audience hall's enormous stage, spanning most of its great width, sits a mass of twisted shards of metal, resembling a giant thorn bush; and in the midst of the thorn bush, the huge figure of an emaciated man, limbs and torso grotesquely attenuated, hair gathered in an undulating rope which streams off to its left, as if the figure were being sucked into a vacuum located offstage. The Thing is horrifying. The Thing is Pericle Fazzini's “Resurrection of Christ.”
Soon the Pope will enter from stage right, sit in front of this embarrassing monstrosity, and deliver his weekly audience talk. But first the prelates who have come to see the Pope will be given seats on the stage. Among them are two attending the Conference at Piazza Euclide: Archbishop To Varpin and Bishop José Alfonso Ribeiro.
The Pope arrives on the stage, and it is clear that the Holy Father is terribly ill. He shuffles when he walks, and his posture is severely stooped. His face shows little expression. His limbs appear rigid, so much so that he must fall backward into the papal chair. His left hand trembles uncontrollably, and his speech is slurred. One can barely make out the words of his brief address. The Vatican has ceased denying that the Pope has Parkinson's disease, and indeed the standard medical description of the progress of the disease is a description of the man on the stage:
Throughout 1996 the Pope had seemed to be moving in his audience addresses toward an infallible definition of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces and Coredemptrix. In audience address after audience address the Holy Father had been explaining the virtues of Mary, as if to instruct the faithful in preparation for a definitive pronouncement on Her role in the economy of salvation. The preparation would have to be extensive indeed, for the infallible definition of this Marian dogma might trigger a storm of protest from the forces of world ecumenism which would make the worldwide dissent from Humanae Vitae seem like papal allegiance by comparison.
Were the Pope to proclaim that Mary is Mediatrix and Coredemptrix he would remind the world that the Catholic Church is different in essence, not merely in appearance, from any other organization on earth which calls itself a church. No human institution could possess such countercultural audacity. Ironically, he would also be bringing to a screeching halt the very “ecumenical venture” to which he had wedded his pontificate.
But such surprises are not uncommon in the history of the Church, given the influence of the Holy Spirit on her course. The world was surprised and outraged when Pope Paul VI, acting against his own advisors, affirmed the constant teaching of the Magisterium against the contraceptive act. Similar outrage greeted Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors, written by the once-liberal pontiff after he had been driven from the Quirinal palace in 1848 by Mazzini's Masonic army, fleeing for his life in disguise after his personal secretary had been shot to death. Through such surprises does the Holy Spirit govern the Church in times of gravest crisis.
There are no doubt bureaucrats in the Pope's retinue of advisors who vigorously oppose the Marian definition: “Holy Father, it would not be opportune. The consequences for ecumenism would be disastrous. We urge you to wait, Holy Father.” Many of those who were attending the conference, including Father Gruner himself, could well envision the same advice being given by the same advisors regarding the Collegial Consecration of Russia. On May 18, 1936, Sister Lucy related to Father José Bernardo Gonçalves, S.J., her spiritual advisor, an intimate conversation with Our Lord in which He had said: “Pray very much for the Holy Father. He will do it (the Collegial Consecration of Russia) but it will be late.” On November 20, 1996, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, it was very late indeed, yet still not too late.
Were the Pope to proclaim this Marian dogma infallibly he would surely roll back many of the gains of the post-conciliar revolutionaries. But if he were to insist upon the Consecration of Russia as well, he would annihilate the Revolution completely and bring on the Reign of Mary, as She had promised at Fatima on the authority of Her Divine Son. He would put to an end the dark time prophesied by Pius XII and likely also predicted in the Third Secret; the time when “the Church herself would doubt as Peter had doubted.” The consecration of Russia was the fervent hope of those who had come to Rome for the Third International Fatima Conference; it was their prayer for an ailing Pope.
The papal audience moved toward its conclusion, with various groups, including some Texas Baptists, leaping to their feet and waving, singing or whooping when their names were read from a list of attendees. In an age when the Pope is viewed as a celebrity, rather than the anointed Vicar of the King of the Universe, papal audiences had come to resemble high school pep rallies. But then, what would one expect to see in a place that resembled nothing so much as an outsize high school auditorium?
As the audience concluded, however, something happened which reminded the spectators at the pep rally, for a moment at least, of that ancient unity of divine worship which had been destroyed by the post-conciliar “reforms”: the Our Father was prayed in Latin. Many in the vast crowd still remembered, and the majestic words rose up into the hall and toward Heaven: advéniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra.17 There would be no Hail Mary, lest the Protestants in the audience be offended, but for that moment there was Catholic worship in the unity of Faith. There was also a sense of loss for what had been toppled over and shattered by the violent winds blowing into the Church through Pope John's open window.
The members of the Conference had come to see their Pope, but they had come to do something else. They had come to exercise a God-given right, infallibly defined as such by two Ecumenical Councils: the right of the faithful to petition the Supreme Pontiff for redress of just grievances in the Church.
At the end of the audience a line of prelates and disabled people moved past the Pope on the stage to receive his personal greeting. When Archbishop To Varpin and Bishop Ribeiro reached the Pope they each handed him a document. A companion document was handed to the Pope by Joseph Cain, a worker for the Apostolate who was pushing Ed Reczak, a disabled lay member of the Conference confined to a wheelchair.
The document the Pope had just received was specifically authorized by Canons 1389 and 1405 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by John Paul II himself. The document was a libellus, a canonical lawsuit. The defendants were Cardinal Sanchez, Archbishop Sepe and all those who had collaborated with them in the attempted destruction of Father Nicholas Gruner and the Apostolate. The plaintiffs were Father Gruner and several lay directors of the Apostolate, who had devoted their lives to its work.
The libellus set forth in painstaking detail the proof of what Canon 1389, enacted by their Pope, was designed to punish: the abuse of ecclesiastical power by high-ranking prelates in the Church. It detailed the illicit execution of The Plan; the unprecedented interference with the rights and jurisdiction of the benevolent bishops who had wished to incardinate Father Gruner or attend the Fatima Conferences; the outrageous attempt to interdict throughout the entire Church a Marian priest, and a Marian apostolate of faithful clergy and laity, who had done nothing wrong. And, finally, the libellus pleaded for relief from all the actions of those who had abused the authority of their high ecclesiastical offices to crush that priest and that Apostolate, while heresy and scandal run riot in the Church.
Under Canon 1405 this case was reserved exclusively to the Roman Pontiff. Only Pope John Paul II could hear it. And now the Pontiff had received the case from the hands of an Archbishop, a bishop and a humble young man pushing a wheelchair. The case was before the First See; there would be no biased judges passing judgment upon the validity of their own illicit acts. The judge would be the Pope—judge of the judges in the Church. In a most righteous sense, then, the hunters had become the hunted.
Before the Pope received it, Father Gruner presented a copy of the libellus to a distinguished Monsignor residing in Rome, a holy cleric of great learning who had found a niche in which to weather the post-conciliar storm. The Monsignor had been involved in the drafting of Canon 1405. As he read the libellus he smiled. Yes, it was for the redress of grievances such as these that Canon 1405 had been written, he confirmed. Father Gruner had understood well, and had proceeded correctly.
In three days the Third International Fatima Conference would end with a blessing by the bishops in attendance. Replicas of the Pilgrim statue would be distributed and the Memorare recited. The participants in the Conference would return to their homes and their dioceses around the world, renewed in their commitment to keep alive the Message of Fatima. The Message would not die with them.
Father Gruner would return twice more to Rome in the next six months to search for canon lawyers who were not afraid to assist him in resisting The Plan. Several had seemed interested but had hastily backed away after consulting with certain bureaucrats at the Vatican tribunals.
Before Father Gruner returned to Canada to await the outcome of the End Game he would have another surprise for his opponents across the board. He had found the proverbial “smoking gun”. Civil litigation in Canada had uncovered in the files of the Archbishop of Toronto a most interesting letter, dated October 27, 1989, from Cardinal Agustoni, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, who in 1989 was Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy. The letter was addressed to the Bishop of Avellino. Entirely in Italian the letter secretly instructed the Bishop to revoke Father Gruner's permission to live outside the diocese, recall him to Avellino, threaten him with suspension, and if necessary to silence him, reduce him to the lay state. The letter cautioned that the bishop was to act as though these measures had been his own idea and not the Cardinal's. The very judge who was about to decide Father Gruner's case in the Apostolic Signatura had been the one to devise “The Plan.”
The Code of Canon Law requires that any request for recusal of a Cardinal from judging a matter in a Church tribunal be made directly to the Pope.18 Father Gruner would dispatch to the Pope from a Roman post office a copy of Cardinal Agustoni 's 1989 letter and implore His Holiness to remove the Cardinal from his case. The smell was too putrid for even the bureaucrats to hide. It was announced several days later that Cardinal Agustoni had stepped down, marking the first time in the history of the Apostolic Signatura that its Cardinal Prefect had been recused. Another unprecedented turn in the unprecedented case of Father Nicholas Gruner.
The Signatura, minus Cardinal Agustoni, would now decide the two appeals which Father Gruner had placed before it: The first was an appeal from the original decree of the Signatura upholding the 1994 order to return to Avellino, which decree Father Gruner had finally received. The second was an appeal from the 1996 order to return to Avellino, which order had simply ignored Father Gruner's incardination by the Archbishop of Hyderabad. And then there was the canonical lawsuit now before the Pope. The End Game had become vastly more complicated than the opponents had imagined it would be. One could hope that Our Lady of Fatima was smiling down upon the chess board.
Father Gruner had done all that was humanly possible within the law of the Church. It was time for him to go home. To wait. To work. Above all, to pray.
1. Christopher A. Ferrara, Esq, Archbishop Shows: “There is a Conspiracy Against This Priest”, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 54, Winter 1997, pgs. 73-74.
2. Ibid, pgs. 74-75.
3. January 10, 1996 letter from Archbishop Arulappa is filed with Father Gruner's personal records.
4. Quoted from the letter of Archbishop Carlo Curis, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio of Canada, Protocol No. 8007/95, taken from original letter from Archbishop Sepe.
5. The January 26, 1996 statement from the Bishop of Avellino to Father Gruner is filed with Father Gruner's personal records.
6. Soul Magazine, Vol 47, No 1.
7. Father Zweber of the local chapter of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Blue Army Newsletter.
8. Christopher A. Ferrara, Esq, op. cit., pg. 75.
9. The letter of Archbishop Arulappa to Father Gruner is filed with Father Gruner's personal records.
10. Christopher A. Ferrara, Esq, op. cit., pg. 76.
12. The Sept 20, 1996 decree of the Congregation for the Clergy, signed by Archbishop Sepe and Cardinal Sanchez, Protocol No. 96002499, pg. 11.
13. Archbishop Benedict To Varpin, Welcome to Fatima 2000, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 54, Winter 1997, pg. 32.
14. Pope Paul VI, discourse of June 29, 1972; also Frère François de Marie des Anges, Fatima: Tragedy and Triumph, pg. 273.
15. Amerio, Iota Unum, Sarto House, Kansas City, MO (1996), pg. 6. First published in Italy, 1985.
16. Msgr. Roche, Pie XII devant l'histoire, pgs. 52-55: also, Inside the Vatican, January 1997, pg. 7.
17. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth, as It is in Heaven.