A Law For One Man
Many people have opinions about the priestly standing of Father Nicholas Gruner, but very few of them know the facts. The following article sets forth in a compelling narrative of the unprecedented interventions by Vatican bureaucrats against a priest who has violated no law of the Church nor committed any offense against faith or morals.
Father Gruner's persecution is attested to by the Archbishop of Hyderabad, who has incardinated Father Gruner in his archdiocese and praises and supports his Fatima apostolate. In his formal decree incardinating Father Gruner the Archbishop declared: “Evil forces have conspired to destroy your work of love . . . Bureaucratic forces cannot stifle God's work.”
Father Gruner's one “offense” has been his insistent preaching and teaching of the Message of Fatima over the past 22 years, including his call (in which millions of Catholics have joined) for the Vatican's release of the Third Secret.
Now that Pope John Paul II has ordered publication of the Secret after 40 years of Vatican silence, those who have disparaged Father Gruner and his apostolate as “kooky” or “irrelevant” will be forced to confront the continued vitality of the Fatima Message to which this priest has dedicated his life. They will also have to contend with the Pope's own evident dedication to Our Lady of Fatima as Heaven's prophet for our age.
As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in his Summa Theologica, human law is useless and unjust unless it provides a common standard on which all the members of a community can rely in governing their conduct: “For if there were as many rules or measures as there are things measured or ruled, they would cease to be of use, since their use consists in being applicable to many things. Hence law would be of no use if it did not extend further than to one single act.”
A practical example suffices to demonstrate the truth of St. Thomas' teaching on human law: Imagine a highway with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour. A motorist driving at 50 miles per hour is stopped by a police officer, who issues him a ticket for speeding. “But officer, I was only doing fifty!”, protests the motorist. “Yes, I know,” replies the officer, “but I have decided that for you the speed limit should be forty.” A speed limit which applied to only one motorist would obviously not be a law, but an abuse of authority pretending to be law; and any court which sustained a conviction for speeding in such circumstances would also be acting lawlessly.
Law, if it be law, must apply to all. Even God Himself is bound by this axiom of justice: On Judgment Day the Lord will not announce to some poor soul that he had failed to abide by an eleventh commandment, never before revealed, which did not apply to the rest of humanity.
Yet, for the past five years, Father Gruner had found himself in the ecclesiastical equivalent of the situation faced by the hypothetical motorist. Thousands of other priests could live and work outside the dioceses in which they had been incardinated in perfect conformity with the Code of Canon Law, but not Father Gruner. Permissions and arrangements completely commonplace for priests on every continent, were deemed illegal in his case. For him, and him alone, the speed limit was 40, not 55.
October 14, 1998, Fort Erie, Canada. Father Gruner receives word from his advocate, Alan Kershaw, that the process of fashioning a law for one man was continuing. A new Promoter of Justice, Frans Daneels, O. Praem, had been assigned to the case and had just a few days earlier issued a 40-page document purporting to set forth additional facts to justify the actions taken against Father Gruner.
The “Promoter of Justice” had taken almost five months to prepare his “votum”, a supposedly impartial summary of Father Gruner's case. It was soon obvious that the document, and its author, were not impartial at all, but that Daneels was acting as a partisan of Father Gruner's adversaries.
There was also a 12-page Latin document prepared by Carlo Martino, who had been retained by the Congregation for the Clergy as the “patron” or advocate to defend the positions taken by the Congregation.
Kershaw advised Father Gruner that the two documents had been issued under a restriction: Father Gruner could not have copies of the documents unless he first signed a written oath to keep them secret! At first Father Gruner could not believe the Signatura was serious, but the requirement of secrecy was confirmed in a letter from the Signatura, signed by none other than Promoter Daneels— who was also acting as secretary of the Signatura! The Promoter of Justice was supposed to be a neutral party in the case, yet here he was signing letters on behalf of the tribunal. This was akin to the prosecutor in a criminal court simultaneously serving as the judge's law clerk. In any secular court such a blatant conflict of interest would be prohibited, but in the Vatican tribunals it was just another day at the office.
Daneels had even written out the oath for Father Gruner to take, which included the promise that “I will not in any way make known said information to third parties.” Father Gruner promptly declined to take the oath, especially considering that the Signatura had already allowed its 1995 decree against Father Gruner to be published to the whole world in Soul Magazine. Why should secrecy be a one-way street? Not even a secular criminal court would require the accused to swear secrecy before he could have a copy of the complaint against him. What were Daneels and the Signatura trying to hide?
The Signatura could hardly claim that the requirement of secrecy was for Father Gruner's benefit, given that its prior decree had been published to the world. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, was that the Signatura was seeking only to protect itself, that there was something about these documents it considered highly embarrassing to the tribunal. Father Gruner would soon learn that the Signatura had good reason to fear embarrassment.
Since he was unwilling to swear an oath which would bind him but not the Signatura, Father Gruner was reduced to reading the documents in the presence of his advocate, without keeping copies for himself. This meant that Kershaw would have to travel 6,000 miles from Rome to Canada, exhibit the documents to Father Gruner long enough for him to make notes, and then whisk them back to Italy, where they would presumably be kept under lock and key. By the time Kershaw could rearrange his affairs and travel to Canada, only a few days remained to translate, digest and respond to 50 pages of Latin text from Daneels and Martino.
Martino's document posed little difficulty, since it consisted of nothing more than twelve pages of unsubstantiated invective bordering on the hysterical, including the following: “All the bishops who are knowledgeable of the operations of Father Gruner with one voice say that Father Gruner should be cast forth from the bosom of the Catholic priesthood!” All of the bishops? With one voice? And what of the three bishops who had offered Father Gruner incardination in their dioceses, including the Archbishop of Hyderabad, who had said of Father Gruner's work:
“Evil forces have conspired to destroy your work of love ... Bureaucratic forces cannot stifle God's work.” Contrary to Martino's denunciation, the bishops most knowledgeable of Father Gruner's “operations” were precisely the ones who wished to incardinate him—in the bosom of the priesthood.
In keeping with the general tenor of the proceedings against Father Gruner, Martino had not bothered to state exactly why Father Gruner should be “cast forth.” Meanwhile, the “bosom of the priesthood” harbored innumerable open heretics, homosexuals and child-molesters who had neither been “cast forth” nor even reprimanded for their crimes.
So much for Martino. But why had the Signatura allowed such an embarrassingly inept document to be filed in defense of “ecclesiastical authority”? The answer probably lay in the fact that Martino was none other than the brother of Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican Secretariat of State's observer at the United Nations. It had been “worried signals” from the Secretary of State in 1989 (and pressure from Cardinals Innocenti and Agustoni) which first provoked the Bishop of Avellino to apply pressure to Father Gruner. Over the years since then, Father Gruner and the apostolate had been reporting constantly on the dangers of the New World Order steadily emerging under UN auspices, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) created with the assistance of none other than the Vatican Secretary of State.
It was Archbishop Martino who had publicly praised the new super-court as a great advancement for human rights, even though it would have the power to arrest and try Catholics of any nation for vague offenses yet to be defined in its statutes. Since Father Gruner's return to Canada after the meetings with Kershaw, the drafters of the ICC statutes had already proposed that priests be compelled to violate the seal of the confessional in ICC investigations of “crimes against humanity.” It had also been announced that the ICC would be headed by the U.N.'s “High Commissioner of Human Rights”, Mary Robinson, the pro-abortion former President of Ireland. The ICC was hardly shaping up as the human rights haven extolled by Archbishop Martino.
Alarming developments such as these had prompted the apostolate to criticize the Vatican's whole involvement with the United Nations and its one-world agenda. That criticism inevitably focused on the Vatican Secretary of State and the work of Archbishop Martino at the UN. The assignment of Archbishop Martino's brother to defend “ecclesiastical authority” did not appear to be a coincidence.
The document of Promoter Daneels would be far more difficult to answer quickly simply because of its length. Daneels had managed to churn out 40 pages of wandering, convoluted reasoning in Latin, which drifted almost aimlessly from one point to another, and then back to the same points all over again. This document represented the first effort by “ecclesiastical authority” to provide the appearance of a substantive case against Father Gruner. On close examination, however, the “case” was nothing but a large collection of trivia and hearsay unsupported by any evidence, combined with outright errors of fact. For example, Daneels suggested that Father Gruner had dishonestly published in his magazine a certificate of good standing from the Bishop of Avellino when he already knew that the bishop (under pressure from the Congregation) had requested that the certificate be returned. In truth, the issue of the magazine in question had been published prior to the bishop requesting the certificate's return, and before Father Gruner had received the bishop's request in the mail. Moreover, no reason had been given for demanding the return of the certificate other than Father Gruner's publication of it to prove his good standing. It was hardly improper to use a certificate of good standing to prove one's good standing.
In another example, the Promoter referred to an alleged request by the Papal Nuncio to the Bishops of Canada for “information” about Father Gruner, as if to suggest that the bishops had evidence of wrongdoing. And what “information” was provided? Apparently none, since the Promoter's document failed to mention any particulars. The Promoter did allege, however, that the bishops had requested that Father Gruner stop “his insane and damaging activities.” Not surprisingly, the Promoter failed to specify what was “insane” or “damaging” about the work of the apostolate. On the other hand, the Canadian bishops had plenty of truly insane and damaging activities to handle in their own dioceses, where pedophile priest scandals were erupting with almost metronomic regularity.
The Promoter's document did make two important admissions: The first was that the previous Promoter of Justice had erred when he accused Father Gruner of “defrauding” Archbishop Arulappa by exhibiting the 1978 decree of Bishop Venezia at the time of his incardination in Hyderabad. It was now admitted that this “fraud” could not have occurred, because Father Gruner had no way of knowing that the Congregation would later declare the document to have been revoked before the incardination in Hyderabad. Besides, Father Gruner had not shown the document to the Archbishop in the first place.
The Promoter had made an even more important admission: In attempting to buttress his case the Promoter identified at least ten private interventions by the Congregation and other Vatican officials, which had been taken without notice to Father Gruner and did not allow him to exercise his right of appeal. These included secret directives imposing restrictions on Father Gruner's incardination which would have required him to abandon his apostolate (and in particular The Fatima Crusader magazine) before any other bishop could accept him. There was also mention of a secret “resolution” with another Vatican congregation, that was never reported to Father Gruner or otherwise officially disclosed in Church records. The Promoter did not specify the exact nature of this mysterious “resolution.” Also mentioned for the first time was a letter sent by the Congregation to the Nuncio of Canada on January 3, 1989, containing the incredible accusation (unsupported by any facts) that Father Gruner had “extorted ordination to the sacred priesthood.”
As the Promoter had revealed, the process of secret decisions and denunciations was even more extensive than Father Gruner had suspected. He wrote immediately to the Signatura and the Congregation, requesting copies of the various letters and other documents the Promoter had disclosed. They would never be provided.
On the whole, the Promoter's rambling collection of irrelevancies had little to do with the rather simple matter at hand: the Congregation's unprecedented interference in Father Gruner's basic priestly right to attach himself to a benevolent bishop, and (like any other member of the Church) to participate in a private apostolate without the formality of episcopal approval. In four years of proceedings that were little more than a sham designed to give the appearance of due process, “ecclesiastical authority” had not provided a single concrete reason why Father Gruner could not do what other priests were doing routinely around the world. Neither had the Promoter. Nevertheless, Daneels had to be answered, lest it be declared that Father Gruner had admitted his allegations.
Working around the clock for nearly two weeks, Father Gruner and at least two typists were able to prepare a 100-page typewritten reply to the Promoter's document and transmit it to Kershaw in Rome, who filed it on December 10, 1998, literally 30 minutes before the deadline expired.
Father Gruner's reply meticulously refuted every one of the Promoter's allegations (as well as those he reported coming from others) and pointed out that the Promoter had failed even to make a proper accusation against Father Gruner in due canonical form, specifying which law of the Church Father Gruner was supposed to have violated. The reply amply demonstrated that the Promoter's document was factually unfounded and legally vacuous.
After Father Gruner's reply was delivered, the document of Promoter Daneels would never again be mentioned by the Signatura. Although the Signatura had demanded Father Gruner reply to Daneels in a matter of days, it would take nearly nine months for the Signatura to prepare its next pronouncement.
Nine months after Father Gruner's reply to Daneels was filed, the apostolate had nearly completed preparations for its fourth international bishops' conference to be held in Hamilton, Ontario, from October 11-17, 1999. In a few days, archbishops, bishops, priests and laity from around the world would assemble to consider the Message of Fatima in relation to a world whose decomposition had only accelerated since the third Fatima conference in Rome in 1996.
In the fall of 1999 Catholics were being slaughtered in East Timor by Muslim fanatics, missionaries were being murdered by Hindu nationalists in India, and Russia had not only failed to show any signs of conversion, but had continued its rapid material and spiritual decline (while its military might continued to increase). Since 1996 it had become all the more apparent that the pan-religious “civilization of love” promoted by Vatican functionaries was nothing more than that same pan-religious utopia Saint Pius X had condemned in Notre Charge Apostolique as a delusion which undermines the integrity of the Catholic Faith. Yet the Vatican was proceeding with its plans for another World Day of Prayer for Peace with the “representatives of the world's great religions” in late October. This time the prayer meeting would take place at the Vatican itself, followed by a pan-religious bus caravan to earthquake-ravaged Assisi, the site of the original World Day of Prayer for Peace.
On October 1, 1999, two weeks before the bishops' conference in Hamilton, the Synod of European Bishops got underway in Rome with the publication of a “working document.” The Synod's candid admissions would have been condemned as doomsaying and “bishop-bashing” had they been stated in an article in The Fatima Crusader. The Synod recognized that the seemingly encouraging events since the “fall of communism”, including the demolition of the Berlin Wall, had proven to be only “weak hopes and disappointments.” As one commentator observed, the Synod was now confronted with the reality that the moral conscience of post-communist Europe had “crumbled in the East and the West, giving way to consumerism, violence, loss of meaning . . . while the Church grew ever more timid, abstract or sentimental in her words and in her witness.” [Zenit news agency report, 9-3-99]
But the Synod's proposed solution for this belatedly admitted crisis was just another large dollop of the same abstract and sentimental mush the Synod itself was decrying: “To overcome ‘a widening separation between private conscience and public values’, which is emptying the existence of the European individual and the witness of the Church, the working document proposes ... personalism, in its relation with the community; family; youth; solidarity.”
Personalism? Solidarity? What about that ancient prescription for social decline, commonly known as the Catholic Faith? What about the simple truth that violation of God's law through personal mortal sin, not a lack of “solidarity”, was the principal cause of Europe's terminal decline? What about the restoration of Christendom? What about Fatima?
The European Synod had only demonstrated why there had to be a Fatima conference in Hamilton, and conferences like it all over the world: the Church was losing her witness because too many of her prelates had forgotten the very vocabulary of the Faith. This is precisely why Our Lady had conducted Her heavenly tutorial at Fatima.
It was of course completely predictable that only days before the October 1999 conference in Hamilton, Father Gruner would receive in the mail what appeared to be the Signatura's final decree in his case. Nor was there any surprise in reading, yet again, that the case had been refused admission for a discussion by all the judges of the tribunal. At the end of the document appeared the same dismissive Latin phrase which appeared at the end of all the Signatura's decrees in the proceedings: manifeste quolibet caret fundamento. “Manifestly without any foundation whatsoever.” Oddly enough, the Signatura had required 26 pages of dense Latin to explain why there was absolutely no merit to Father Gruner's claims.
The decree had been signed by five prelates, including Archbishop Zenon Grochelewski, who had replaced Cardinal Agustoni as Prefect of the Signatura. This was the same Archbishop Grochelewski who had freely admitted to canonist Franco Ligi two years earlier that Father Gruner's case really had nothing to do with his incardination in this or that diocese, but rather with “what he says; he causes division.” In other words, the Prefect of the very tribunal considering Father Gruner's case had admitted that the proceedings were nothing but a pretext for the desired result: the silencing of a priest who could not otherwise be silenced. What did the particular facts and circumstances matter if the proceedings were a mere pretext? Father Gruner was going to be sent back to Avellino in order to shut him up, and that was that. There was no need for a hearing by the full tribunal, because that hearing could not possibly alter the preordained result.
Amazingly enough, in this latest decree the Signatura openly conceded its indifference to the facts and even the ostensible reasons on which the decisions against Father Gruner had been based:
In other words, the decisions against Father Gruner were “just and legitimate” even if they were based on errors of fact and reasoning! All that mattered was the result. So declared the five members of the Signatura—“having only God before their eyes”, as the decree exclaimed just above the signatures.
This statement was an implicit admission that the Congregation's facts were wrong, as Father Gruner had shown in his various recourses. Now the Signatura was declaring that the Congregation's decisions would stand despite these errors because, in effect, it did not care about the facts but only the result.
But how could a decision be just and legitimate if it was not based on the true facts? The application of the law always turns upon correct factual determinations; if a judge errs in his fact-finding, an erroneous decision will necessarily follow. The Signatura's statement was akin to saying that a conviction for speeding at 80 miles per hour would be “just and legitimate” even if the evidence showed that the convicted motorist was traveling only 40 miles per hour.
Furthermore, if the administration of justice in the Church did not depend on the true facts of a case, what need was there for tribunals in the first place? Some prelate could simply issue a decree based on his sense of what the “just and legitimate” result should be, without any reference to the facts. That is precisely what had happened to Father Gruner, although the pretense of due deliberation and consideration of the facts had at least been maintained until now.
Since the Signatura was no longer interested in factual accuracy in Father Gruner's case, it had also dispensed with any consideration of the matters raised by the Promoter of Justice:
Here the Signatura was referring obliquely to Father Gruner's 100-page reply to Daneels'. The tribunal had suddenly decided that the matters addressed in the reply did not “strictly pertain” to the case. If that were so, then why had the Signatura engaged Daneels in the first place to write forty pages of Latin on precisely the same matters?
The Signatura clearly did not wish to step into the quagmire of an attempted defense of Daneels' document. Yet the tribunal refused to concede that Father Gruner had refuted Daneels: “ . . . it certainly would not follow that the opinion of the Reverend Gruner on those matters left out are confirmed by silence.” Rather than addressing the allegations its own “promoter of justice” had raised, only to be soundly refuted, the Signatura had resorted to a lame general denial that Father Gruner could possibly be right about anything.
In a secular court, the accuser has the burden of proving that his accusations are true. If the accused demonstrates that the evidence produced against him is false, then the accuser cannot simply remain silent. He must come forward with a rebuttal, or else his accusations must be dismissed. But the judges of the Signatura evidently did not feel themselves bound by this basic norm of justice.
Confronted with proof that Daneels' accusations against Father Gruner were false, the Signatura would remain silent, offer no rebuttal, and then assert that its silence did not mean that Father Gruner had been vindicated. Even in a secular court this would be viewed as a dereliction of judicial duty. In the highest tribunal of the Catholic Church it was inexcusable.
Having dispensed with any real analysis of the facts, the Signatura now proposed a minimalist version of the case against Father Gruner: the sole grounds for Father Gruner's return to Avellino after an approved absence of sixteen years was the need to correct his “condicio irregularis”, a portentous Latin phrase meaning “irregular condition.” This “irregular condition” consisted of Father Gruner residing outside the diocese of his incardination while conducting an apostolate—an arrangement no different from that enjoyed by priests around the world.
After years of proceedings, and thousands of wasted hours, this claim of an “irregular condition” was all that remained of the case against Father Gruner. Daneels' totally discredited allegations had been abandoned. Also abandoned were the vague and never specified allegations of “scandals” and “outrages” upon which the Bishop of Avellino had supposedly based his original decree of January 31, 1994, ordering Father Gruner back to Avellino for the first time. The Signatura now tacitly conceded that “ecclesiastical authority” never had any evidence of “scandals or outrages” in the first place. The charge was but an empty pretext for recalling Father Gruner to Avellino.
What, then, of Father Gruner's alleged “irregular condition”—whatever that meant?
In the first place, the law of the Church contains no reference to the supposed offense of having an “irregular condition.” The phrase does not even appear in any of the canons governing the rights and duties of the clerical state. While a priest might incur a particular irregularity due to a proven grave offense against faith and morals—for example, that the priest had attempted marriage after ordination—no such offense could be charged to Father Gruner, whose moral and doctrinal probity had never even been questioned. A priest is either guilty of a particular offense against Church law or he is not. The phrase “irregular condition” was canonically meaningless. It made no more sense than charging a motorist with “irregular driving” when he has not violated any traffic law.
The proper inquiry in Father Gruner's case, therefore, was not whether his “condition” was “irregular”, but whether he had actually violated any law of the Church by residing in Canada while conducting an apostolate. Under the laws which applied to every other priest in the Catholic Church, the answer had to be in the negative.
First of all, the 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II made it quite clear that priests could reside outside the dioceses of their incardination so long as they had their bishop's permission:
Father Gruner had not only the presumed permission of his bishop to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino, but also formal written permission by way of Bishop Venezia's 1978 decree. In fact, the Bishop of Avellino had denied any canonical parish mission to Father Gruner because he could not speak the obscure local Italian dialect. Due to the language barrier, he had not been allowed to hear confessions or even to deliver a sermon unless it was written out and approved in advance. The only reason Father Gruner had been ordained in Avellino in the first place was to enter the English-speaking Franciscan community in Frigento, Italy. When that community did not materialize as he had expected, he was unable (despite a diligent search) to find an English-speaking Franciscan community which would afford a Marian apostolate. Among the other problems he encountered was that none of the Franciscan communities he investigated could ensure that he would not be compelled to distribute the Blessed Sacrament in the hand—a practice he was bound in conscience to regard as a sacrilege.
Under these circumstances, Bishop Venezia had been only too happy to allow Father Gruner to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino, at no cost to the diocese. Thus, Father Gruner had not violated Canon 283 by residing in Canada; on the contrary, the canon permitted the arrangement.
What about Father Gruner's involvement in the apostolate? Wasn't this “irregular”? Hardly. John Paul II's Code of Canon Law was equally clear that every member of the faithful has a natural right—that is, a right endowed by God—to form private associations with other Catholics for various apostolic works:
Furthermore, while these private associations of the faithful may be approved by ecclesiastical authority, such approval is not required, because the natural right to associate with others comes from God, not from the permission of bishops:
Do priests have the same right as the laity to be involved in private associations? The Code of Canon Law leaves no doubt of it:
A “secular priest” means a diocesan priest or other priest who lives in the world and is not bound by a special vow of obedience to the superior of a religious order, such as the Dominicans or the Franciscans (which Father Gruner had legitimately declined to join). Priests who belong to orders voluntarily surrender their natural right of association with groups outside the order, and must receive special permission for such associations. But Father Gruner did not belong to any religious order. He was undeniably a “secular priest” who retained the same rights as any other secular priest, including the natural right to establish or join private associations of the faithful.
What is more, Father Gruner's participation in the apostolate had been on the recommendation of a Catholic Eastern Rite bishop, who was the spiritual advisor to the apostolate and who told its Board of Directors that a priest should be placed on the Board. In fact, upon his election to the apostolate's Board, Father Gruner received written congratulations and a blessing from none other than Pope John Paul II's personal secretary. This had been followed by two apostolic benedictions (in 1990 and 1993) from the Pope himself! The Signatura would dismiss these as mere empty gratuities.
Thus it was manifest that there was nothing “irregular” about Father Gruner's “condition” in any legal sense: he had his bishop's permission to reside in Canada as well as a natural right to engage in a private association of the faithful without episcopal approval. Under the actual facts and the law, the Signatura's charge of “irregular condition” was—to use the Signatura's own phraseology—manifestly without any foundation whatsoever.
But this was to assume that the Signatura would accept the facts and the law as they were. In the Signatura's latest decree, however, the facts and the law had been amended to fit the preordained result.
Addressing Father Gruner's permission to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino, the Signatura had now decided—for the first time in the entire proceedings—that Bishop Venezia's 1978 decree “does not by any means say [Father Gruner] was given permission to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino, regarding it, the bishop did not intend anything except ‘ad experimentum' to receive an order of incardination.” In other words, the Signatura was now claiming that the bishop had given Father Gruner permission to reside in Canada only if another bishop had first accepted him ad experimentum (as an experiment) or had formally incardinated him.
This amazing claim had never occurred to Bishop Venezia himself—or, for that matter, to anyone else in the 21 years since the decree had been issued. Not even the Congregation for the Clergy, in its relentless pursuit of Father Gruner, had taken this position. Now, in its final decree from which there could be no further appeal, the Signatura had conveniently adopted an entirely new position to which Father Gruner would be unable to respond. An examination of Bishop Venezia's decree showed that the Signatura's new reading of it was a pure invention:
Nowhere does the decree even suggest that Father Gruner's permission to live outside the Diocese of Avellino was conditional upon some bishop first accepting him. On the contrary, the decree specifically acknowledges that Bishop Reding had not accepted Father Gruner and quite possibly might never accept him, but that some other bishop might do so in the indefinite future. Meanwhile, Father Gruner could “always present” the decree to obtain incardination and would obviously be allowed to remain in Canada, where the decree had been mailed to him from Avellino. Another small but telling fact became apparent upon a reading of the 1978 decree: although Bishop Reding was the Bishop of Hamilton, Ontario, the decree had been mailed to Father Gruner in Montreal, Quebec, where Father Gruner had gone with permission. This fact alone negated the claim that Father Gruner had been given permission to reside only where a Canadian bishop had already accepted him.
Since the Signatura had now dispensed with the requirement of getting the facts right before issuing a judgment, the latest decree failed to note (among many other crucial facts) a letter to Father Gruner from Bishop Venezia's successor, Bishop Pierro, dated November 11, 1989. This letter refers to “the permission to stay in Canada that my predecessor Mons. Pasquale Venezia gave you” and threatens to revoke the permission unless Father Gruner found another bishop—the very directive which the Congregation for the Clergy had made it impossible for Father Gruner to obey by secretly pressuring benevolent bishops to withdraw their offers of incardination.
The “permission to stay in Canada” acknowledged by Bishop Pierro was also reflected throughout the sixteen years of written correspondence as well as personal conversations between Father Gruner and the Bishop of Avellino, none of which was mentioned in the Signatura's latest decree.
So, while in 1989 the Bishop of Avellino expressly referred to Father Gruner's longstanding permission to stay in Canada, in 1999 the Signatura was suddenly claiming that the Bishop had never given such permission. In so doing, the Signatura was not only contradicting all the evidence, but also what the Signatura itself had stated before. In its decree of January 20, 1998, denying Father Gruner's recourse from the first order to return to Avellino, the Signatura conceded that Father Gruner had permission to reside in Canada since 1978, but claimed that the permission was revoked in November 1989, “renewed” on April 8, 1990, and then finally revoked again on July 18, 1990. This finding was also false (there was no attempt to revoke the permission until January 31, 1994), yet it did at least recognize that the permission to reside in Canada had existed in the first place, and had continued to exist for more than ten years.
Thus, the Signatura of 1998 said Father Gruner had permission to reside in Canada between June 5, 1978, and November 15, 1989, and again between April 8, 1990, and July 18, 1990, but the Signatura of 1999 said there was no such permission. The Signatura had blatantly contradicted its own official version of the facts.
A close student of the case would notice something very suspicious in this contradiction: if the Signatura had simply continued to maintain that Father Gruner's permission to reside in Canada was “revoked” in July 1990, then its 1999 decree would have been consistent with its 1998 decree. Why had it gone further in the later decree, claiming there was never any permission in the first place? What did the Signatura have to gain from a self-contradiction that was not even necessary to reach the result it desired? The answer to the question would only be apparent to someone familiar with recent developments in a certain litigation in Canada.
Back in June of 1990 the Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Msgr. A. McCormack, published a “clarification” in the archdiocesan bulletin which stated (among other things) that Father Gruner's “status is irregular”—a phrase remarkably similar to the one now being used by the Signatura—and that no Catholic should make donations to the apostolate. Yet only two months before, the Bishop of Avellino had sent Father Gruner, in Canada, a certificate attesting to his good standing as a priest. McCormack's accusation of “irregular status” was therefore demonstrably false. “Irregular” priests do not receive certificates of good standing from their bishops. McCormack's “clarification” had been circulated in the secular press throughout North America, shaking donor confidence and causing severe damage to the apostolate. When McCormack refused to make a retraction of his patently false statements, the apostolate's directors authorized the filing of a libel suit to protect the apostolate's good name—an action fully in keeping with Catholic moral theology in the case of a calumniator who refuses to retract.
In August of 1999 Father Gruner testified under oath at a deposition in the suit. By this time McCormack had been rewarded with a promotion to the Vatican. Father Gruner testified that as of June 1990 (the date of McCormack's “clarification”) his status could not possibly have been “irregular” because he had Bishop Venezia's permission to reside in Canada and the bishop's successor had given him a certificate of priestly good standing as recently as April 1990. After Father Gruner's deposition it was clear that McCormack was at serious risk of a judgment against him for libel.
From these facts, certain conclusions seemed highly probable: McCormack (or someone else in the Vatican) had read the transcript of Father Gruner's deposition and realized that Father Gruner was likely to prevail in the libel litigation. Therefore, in order to protect McCormack, who was now a Vatican functionary, Father Gruner's status in 1990 would somehow have to be declared “irregular” by the Signatura. This could be accomplished by holding that Father Gruner never really had permission to live in Canada, so that his presence there had been “irregular” from the start. Then McCormack could claim—nine years after the fact—that his libelous accusation of an “irregular status” in 1990 was “true” after all, because the Church's highest court had just said so.
This would explain the appearance of the novel and canonically meaningless concept of “irregular condition” in the Signatura's latest decree; the language mimicked McCormack's phrase, “irregular status.” It would also explain why the decree was dated in July even though it was not issued until September: If the decree had been given a September date, it would have been all too apparent that it had been written with a view to helping McCormack overcome Father Gruner's deposition testimony in August. So the decree was backdated to July, before the deposition took place.
None of this is to suggest that all five of the prelates who signed the decree knowingly engaged in such a deception. It was entirely possible that they signed a decree prepared for them by someone else (perhaps Grochelewski) without reading it very carefully, following the Signatura's newly-enunciated principle that the accuracy of the facts does not matter so long as the result is “just and legitimate.”
Now that the Signatura had revised the facts to dispense with Father Gruner's 1978 permission to reside in Canada, what would it say about his involvement in the apostolate?
While not denying that Canon 278 guaranteed the natural right of secular priests like Father Gruner to associate with others in private apostolates, the Signatura cited Canon 278, §3, which states that “Clerics are to refrain from establishing or joining associations whose purpose or activity cannot be reconciled with the obligations proper to the clerical state.” How could an apostolate devoted to Our Lady of Fatima possibly be irreconcilable with the obligations of the priesthood? The Signatura offered no explanation. On the contrary, for the first time in the entire proceedings, the Signatura had actually conceded that the apostolate itself was legitimate:
If the legitimacy of the apostolate was conceded, if it was conceded that the Church did not require permission for it, then how could Father Gruner's involvement in the apostolate be inconsistent with the priestly state? More to the point: How could a priest's legitimate apostolic work constitute an “irregular condition”?
Here the Signatura offered a further non-answer: “The Second Vatican Council teaches that priests . . . are collaborators of the bishop in the service of Christ . . . Incardination since the Second Vatican Council is especially understood as incorporation into a particular church (diocese) and its presbytery (priesthood) with the service of the same church under the leadership of its pastor . . .” Yes, and so what? All of this was equally true before the Council, but it was also true that priests have the natural right to engage in apostolates without episcopal permission, and that the Signatura did not even question the legitimacy of Father Gruner's apostolate.
The Signatura had avoided these obvious objections, resting on its mere ipse dixit that an admittedly legitimate apostolate was somehow inconsistent with incardination “since the Second Vatican Council.” Yet it was the Pope, not the Signatura, who had the authority to interpret and implement Vatican II's purported teaching on incardination. The Pope had exercised this authority by promulgating Canon 278, which guarantees the right of secular priests to establish and join private associations of the faithful—all the more so, associations conceded to be legitimate!
As if this were not enough to sustain Father Gruner's position, three different bishops had offered to incardinate Father Gruner with permission to continue his work in Canada, precisely because they deemed it a service to their own particular churches. In fact, Father Gruner was already serving the “particular church” of Hyderabad by building an orphanage and supporting the orphans with the apostolate's resources, and by conducting Marian pilgrimages which had attracted tens of thousands of potential Hindu converts, drawn by devotion to the Virgin Mary as fostered by the apostolate's papally blessed Pilgrim Virgin statue. These were among the reasons which led Archbishop Arulappa to issue Father Gruner a decree of incardination for the continuation of what the Archbishop himself had called “God's work.” The same Archbishop had been the first signatory on the Open Letter to the Holy Father, protesting Father Gruner's mistreatment. Clearly Archbishop Arulappa recognized in Father Gruner precisely the sort of “collaborator” his diocese needed, in keeping with “the teaching of Vatican II” on incardination.
If no fewer than three bishops viewed the apostolate as consistent with Father Gruner's priestly obligations, on what basis could the Signatura say otherwise? Yet another non-answer: “Leaving aside the question by which the bishop in India or Brazil could permit a priest incardinated in his diocese to reside in Canada and be active in a private apostolate”—leaving aside, that is, the very crux of the matter!—“it is clear that, hypothetically, in no manner would this have rectified Reverend Gruner's condition.” And why was that? If the Signatura did not question the apostolate's legitimacy; if the apostolate was already performing major corporal and spiritual works in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad; if the Archbishop of Hyderabad considered it “God's work”—if all this was true, then why would incardination in Hyderabad not rectify Father Gruner's alleged “irregular condition”?
These facts had not impressed the Signatura. Evidently, the members of the tribunal had concluded—having only God before their eyes—that building orphanages and feeding orphans in a poverty-stricken Third World diocese did not constitute a service to the local church. No, it was all very “irregular.” As the Signatura would have it, Father Gruner had much more important works to perform in the Diocese of Avellino: the work of keeping quiet about the Message of Fatima; and, of course, the work of curing his “irregular condition” by remaining in Avellino for the rest of his life, doing nothing. The orphans would have to find another benefactor.
Throughout its discussion of Father Gruner's status, the Signatura had completely ignored a basic norm of canonical interpretation, most recently expressed in Canon 17 of the 1983 Code: favorabilia amplianda, odios restrigenda—rights and privileges are broadly interpreted, while restrictions on rights and privileges are narrowly interpreted. In other words, the presumption in canon law is in favor of proper liberty and against the undue restriction of liberty. In Father Gruner's case, however, the Signatura had given the narrowest possible interpretation of Father Gruner's liberty to engage in an apostolate under Canon 278 §1, and the broadest possible interpretation of the restrictive phrase “cannot be reconciled with the obligations of the clerical state” in Canon 278 §2. That is, the Signatura had turned the law on its head, taking a narrow view of rights and a broad view of restrictions in the Code.
The Signatura maintained the same upside-down approach to the law in addressing the related question of the Congregation's unprecedented directive that the Bishop of Avellino deny excardination to Father Gruner, so that his incardination in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad could be blocked.
Canon 270 states that:
This canon reflects the truth that when a priest is incardinated in a particular diocese he does not become an indentured servant for life to his original bishop, but rather has the right to transfer to another diocese where his talents and particular priestly charisms would be better used—not only for the good of the Church but for his own personal good. In short, priests are not chattel slaves, but human beings like everyone else. This is why Canon 270 provides that a priest may not be refused excardination to another diocese without “grave reasons.”
What exactly were the “grave reasons” for denying Father Gruner excardination from Avellino, where he could not speak the dialect and had never been given a canonical mission in the first place? The only reason now given by the Signatura was Father Gruner's “irregular condition.” But the “irregular condition” consisted of nothing more than engaging in the very apostolate which the Archbishop of Hyderabad (not to mention two other bishops) was happy to sponsor. It was only the intervention of the Congregation, not any “grave reason”, which was at work here. The Signatura had never denied that the Bishop of Avellino admitted to Father Gruner that he himself had no cause to deny excardination.
In short, there were no grave reasons to deny excardination. In fact, there were no reasons at all, only the determination of the Congregation and the Signatura that Father Gruner must be confined forever to the Diocese of Avellino.
But the travesty would grow even deeper. The Signatura still had to address the matter of the Congregation's deliberate interference in offers of incardination by three successive bishops, as well as the request for excardination from Avellino.
Throughout the proceedings thus far, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Signatura had taken the position that the Congregation was merely advising the bishops on what to do, and merely upholding the Bishop of Avellino's own decrees against Father Gruner. In the latest decree, however, the Signatura had finally abandoned this pretense. It now asserted that all along the Congregation had been acting directly against Father Gruner “in the name of the Supreme Pontiff with ordinary executive vicariate power . . . as the hierarchical superior of the bishops.” This might explain why the Promoter of Justice had disclosed the existence of numerous written and oral interventions by the Congregation against Father Gruner with the bishops of Anapolis, Simla-Changidarh and Hyderabad. These interventions no longer had to be hidden, because under the new theory of the case they were only routine exercises of the Congregation's vicarious papal authority as the “hierarchical superior” of every Catholic bishop in the world.
The problem with this breathtaking claim is that the Congregation itself had never mentioned it. All of its prior decrees were cast entirely in terms of merely upholding decrees of the Bishop of Avellino. In fact, the Congregation had passed over in silence Father Gruner's objections to its interference in his excardination and incardination, never once claiming that it had the right to interfere in the name of the Pope.
To this the Signatura replied that in July of 1989 the Congregation did indeed openly assert its supposed vicarious papal authority when Cardinal Innocenti (then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy) issued his letter ordering Father Gruner to return to the Diocese of Avellino by September 30, 1989, if he had not found another bishop. But the Signatura failed to mention that Father Gruner had immediately appealed this directive both to the Congregation and the Pope himself on grounds that it was clearly outside the Congregation's authority, since the Bishop of Avellino had never given any such order himself and the Congregation did not have the right to run his diocese. The Signatura also failed to mention that after Father Gruner's appeal to the Congregation and the Pope, neither Innocenti nor the Congregation itself ever mentioned the 1989 directive again, nor is there a single reference to it in any of the Congregation's subsequent decrees or announcements against Father Gruner over the next ten years. The Congregation's silence spoke volumes.
To this the Signatura could only reply that “the argument from silence proves nothing.” On the contrary, it proved everything. For if Cardinal Innocenti's 1989 intervention had been a valid exercise of the Congregation's alleged vicarious papal authority, the Congregation would certainly have relied upon it in declaring Father Gruner “disobedient” to “ecclesiastical authority”—indeed, the “vicarious” authority of the Pope himself! But the Congregation had said nothing about the decree from August 21, 1989 to the present. Nor had the Congregation ever responded to Father Gruner's 1989 appeal against the decree. The Congregation having received the appeal, its ten-year silence could mean only one thing: that the Congregation knew it had acted outside its authority and that Father Gruner had been correct in asserting the illegality of its action.
The Congregation's total retreat from the 1989 intervention demonstrated (better than any argument) that the Congregation knew it was not the “hierarchical superior” of the Bishop of Avellino (or, for that matter, any other bishop) and had no right to issue orders to Father Gruner without the bishop's approval. This was precisely why, in his subsequent letter of October 28, 1989, Cardinal Agustoni (with Cardinal Innocenti as co-signer) merely requested that the Bishop of Avellino recall Father Gruner to the diocese, while pretending that it was the bishop's own idea. Meanwhile, having been forced to retreat after Father Gruner's appeal to the Pope, Cardinal Innocenti let it be known that the name of Father Gruner was never to be mentioned in his presence again—hardly the behavior one would expect from a man who thought he was acting with the Pope's own authority.
It did not take a very deep knowledge of Catholic teaching to recognize that the Signatura's newly expansive view of the Congregation's authority would wreak havoc with the divine constitution of the Church. As the First Vatican Council solemnly defined, the primacy of Peter in no way detracted from “that power of ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction by which the bishops, who ‘placed by the Holy Spirit’, have succeeded to the place of the Apostles as true shepherds, individually feed and rule the individual flocks assigned to them . . . ” As the Council further declared, the local sovereignty of bishops “is asserted, confirmed and vindicated by the universal shepherd ...” And what of Pastor bonus, John Paul II's apostolic constitution defining the authority of the Congregation for the Clergy, which states that the Congregation was formed “without prejudice to the right of bishops . . .”?
While the Pope can (and, indeed, must) delegate certain limited functions to the congregations which make up the Roman Curia in order to be able to govern a vast Church, even the Pope must respect the “ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction” of local bishops as successors of the Apostles, as Vatican I solemnly teaches. By what right, then, did the Congregation for the Clergy dictate to the Bishop of Avellino whom he would excardinate, or to the Archbishop of Hyderabad whom he would in cardinate?—especially when the Congregation had no reason for its interventions beyond “worried signals” from the Vatican Secretary of State?
When he was ordained a priest Father Gruner had made a promise of obedience to his bishop, not to the Congregation for the Clergy. Yet the Signatura had now effectively declared that the Congregation acts as a kind of super-bishop or junior pope, exercising original papal jurisdiction over every priest in the world, even if there was no recourse before it. And this is why, according to the Signatura's newly announced theory, the Congregation had the right to “order” Father Gruner to return to Avellino on its own initiative in 1989, even if the Bishop of Avellino had never given such an order himself.
If the Congregation for the Clergy could issue direct orders to priests on such matters as where they would reside and which apostolates they could conduct, and priests had no choice but to obey these orders, what was left of the ordinary power of episcopal jurisdiction over dioceses? Clearly, it would become an empty formality. The bishops in each diocese would be merely caretakers of their respective territories whose judgments could be overruled by the Congregation whenever the Congregation deemed it expedient.
The Signatura contended that its expansive interpretation of the power of the Congregation “would not mean that the bishops are mere delegates to the Congregation or that the Congregation can act arbitrarily.” Given that the Signatura acknowledged that the Congregation could not act arbitrarily, how could the Signatura uphold the following sequence of actions: (1) ordering a priest to find another bishop to incardinate him, then (2) ordering any interested bishop not to incardinate the priest, then (3) ordering the original bishop not to ex cardinate the priest, and then (4) declaring that the priest is “disobedient” because he had “failed” to find another bishop. Did the Congregation's alleged “vicarious papal authority” include the right to engage in such shamelessly tyrannical maneuvers? If such actions were not arbitrary, then what would be?
Thus it seemed that even the Divine Constitution of the Church would have to be adjusted to allow for the disposal of Father Nicholas Gruner. Naturally, the Signatura had concluded that the Congregation “rightly carried out the office commissioned to it by the Supreme Pontiff ” when it employed secret interventions, levelled false accusations and browbeat bishops in order to prevent Father Gruner's incardination in any diocese in the world except Avellino. And why was this whirlwind of global activity necessary to prevent the otherwise routine incardination of one priest? Because the bishops should not be allowed to confirm “de facto his [Father Gruner's] irregular condition.” In a Church convulsed by crisis and scandal in so many dioceses throughout the world, the one thing bishops could not be allowed to do was confirm Father Gruner's “de facto irregular condition.” The Congregation simply had to act in this emergency! In the name of the Pope, of course.
The phrase “de facto irregular condition” was yet another novelty which seemed to have been coined especially for Father Gruner's case. There is a distinction in jurisprudence between matters de facto and matters de jure. Matters de facto are matters of fact; matters de jure are matters of law. Violation of the law is a matter de jure, not de facto. For example, one cannot be a de facto speeder. One has either violated the speed limit or he has not. To say, then, that Father Gruner was guilty of only a “de facto irregular condition” was to admit that he had not actually violated any law of the Church, and that as far as the law of the Church was concerned, his “condicio” was perfectly legal and thus certainly not “irregular”. The charge made no more sense than a summons for de facto speeding.
In sum, the Congregation for the Clergy had spent ten years under three successive Cardinals, engaging in and upholding utterly unprecedented interventions to address the situation of one priest whose situation was not even illegal to begin with, in order to put a stop to an apostolate whose legitimacy was not even denied. This had to rank as one of the greatest puzzles in the annals of canon law. Or rather, it was no puzzle at all: The apostolate was, of course, at the very heart of the matter, but the Signatura could never admit this. Nor could the Congregation. For how could it be admitted that all of these factual and legal contrivances had been aimed at destroying promotion of the Message of Fatima by the only priest who was doing it effectively on a worldwide basis? To admit this would be to open the door to a hearing on what the case was really about: the fundamental opposition between the Message of Fatima and the current agenda of the Vatican bureaucracy, which was heir to the Vatican-Moscow Agreement and the entire post-conciliar “opening to the world”—an enterprise whose failure had been nothing short of catastrophic.
All that remained now were a few loose ends. There was the matter of Father Gruner not being an Italian citizen. How could he be expected to take up permanent residence in Italy after an absence of more than twenty years? The bishop's order to return was legally impossible to fulfill. Illegal aliens are expelled from Italy just as they are from Canada or the United States.
Undeterred by this legal reality, the Signatura simply observed that many foreign-born priests live and work in Italy, without mentioning that these priests have proper immigration status and cannot be expelled. Since 1994 the Bishop of Avellino had taken no steps to obtain the proper visa for Father Gruner, which would require that the bishop give the Italian consulate in Canada written guarantees of Father Gruner's financial support and medical coverage. Acting under coercion from the Congregation, the bishop had simply issued orders to return without any thought to the legalities involved.
But while the Signatura evinced no concern about Father Gruner's immigration status in Italy, its own prior decree in 1997 cited supposed problems with Indian immigration law as just reason to deny incardination in the Diocese of Hyderabad. So, when it came to Father Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad, immigration laws were a major impediment, but when it came to incardination in Avellino (after an absence of more than 20 years), immigration laws were no problem at all. Straining to reach the preordained result, the Signatura had contradicted itself again.
But the fact remained that without the Bishop of Avellino's guarantees of financial support and medical coverage, Father Gruner could not obtain the necessary visa for a permanent return to Italy. Yet, incredibly, the Signatura had declared in the same decree that Father Gruner was not entitled to these very things: “The conditions were not fulfilled according to which Father Gruner would have merited remuneration for his ministry or social assistance in case of infirmity or old age.” So, according to the Signatura, Father Gruner was supposed to return to Italy immediately without a proper visa, without salary, without medical coverage, and without any provision for his old age. Presumably, Father Gruner, now almost sixty, could spend five years or so in the Diocese of Avellino as an illegal alien harbored by the bishop (a period just long enough to ensure the total destruction of the apostolate, not to mention Father Gruner's personal estate), after which it would not matter if he was arrested by the Italian police and deported to Canada in the condition of a pauper.
The Signatura turned, finally, to Father Gruner's objection that he had never received a hearing before an impartial tribunal because the very members of the Congregation who were blocking his excardination to another diocese were acting as the judges of his recourse from the denial of excardination. Shifting ground yet again, the Signatura announced that Father Gruner was not entitled to an impartial judge in the Congregation because the Congregation is not a tribunal. Rather, it was the “hierarchical superior” of all bishops and priests in the Catholic Church.
But the Congregation itself had never denied that it was acting as a tribunal in Father Gruner's case, nor had it ever claimed that it was acting as Father Gruner's hierarchical superior. Rather, the Congregation had declared that the right to an impartial judge in “administrative proceedings” in the Congregation was “not foreseen by legislation”, and the Signatura had upheld that position in one of its earlier decrees. The Signatura had contradicted itself yet again.
To conclude this point, the Signatura declared that, in any event, Father Gruner had received a hearing before an impartial tribunal—none other than the Apostolic Signatura! But the Signatura had yet to grant Father Gruner a hearing, having decided at every juncture of the proceedings that Father Gruner's case was not worthy of discussion—“manifestly without any foundation whatever.”
As the Signatura's final decree had made clear, for Father Gruner an “irregular condition” meant any condition in which he would be able to engage in his apostolate, while a “regular” condition meant only one thing: permanent confinement in Avellino as a virtual pauper and slave of the bishop with no prospect of excardination to any other diocese. And this preposterously restrictive view of incardination had been presented in all seriousness as nothing more than the teaching of Vatican II—the most liberalizing council in Church history!
Merely to summarize the Signatura's final decree against Father Gruner was to demonstrate the shameless injustice of the entire proceeding against him:
1. While the law of the Church states that priests can live outside their dioceses with merely presumed permission, Father Gruner could not do so even with written permission repeatedly affirmed over 16 years by three successive bishops of Avellino.
2. While the law of the Church (as well as natural law) states that priests can engage in private apostolates without episcopal approval, Father Gruner could not do so even with episcopal approval (from no less than three bishops), even though his apostolate is admittedly legitimate, supports orphans and is considered God's work by an Archbishop of more than 27 years' standing.
3. While excardination cannot be denied except for a grave reason, Father Gruner's excardination could be denied without any reason, besides an “irregular condition” consisting of nothing more than conduct which the Code of Canon Law not only does not prohibit, but positively allows.
4. While Italian immigration law prohibited Father Gruner's permanent residence in Italy, Father Gruner must still return after an absence of 20 years—without a proper visa, without salary, without medical insurance, without provision for his old age. This he was expected to do even though under Canon Law (Can. 22) the Church agreed to be bound by Italian Civil Law on immigration, and even though Father Gruner could be arrested and jailed as an illegal alien on Italian soil.
5. While claiming that Father Gruner had been given an “impartial” hearing in the Signatura, Grochelewski had refused to admit the case for discussion by the judges of that same tribunal.
For Father Gruner only, Vatican II and the Code of Canon Law comprised a straitjacket no other priest in the Church was wearing. Meanwhile, priests truly in need of straitjackets were roaming the Church out of control, demanding, and getting, freedom for all kinds of private undertakings, many of them openly inimical to the Church's teaching on faith and morals. Knowledgeable Catholics were well familiar with the cases of globetrotting dissident priests and nuns who were allowed to inflict incalculable damage on the Church for years and even decades without the slightest disciplinary action being taken against them by the Vatican: the Boffs, the Kungs, the Foxes and the Currans of the post-conciliar Church had the whole world at their disposal, including the mass media, for the spreading of their poison. Not one of them had ever been threatened with the suspension from priestly orders about to be imposed on a priest from Canada whose only offense was to conduct a legitimate Fatima apostolate rather too effectively for the Vatican Secretary of State.
As the Signatura's final decree against Father Gruner was being readied in the summer of 1999, the supposed “resolution” of the case of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick provided an apt example of the invidious double-standard at work in Father Gruner's case.
Since 1977 Nugent and Gramick had traveled the globe under the auspices of their so-called “apostolate”, New Ways Ministry, openly contradicting the Church's settled teaching on the intrinsically disordered nature of the homosexual condition. It took seven years for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to order Nugent and Gramick to sever their ties with this “apostolate”, whereupon they simply resigned as officers but continued their involvement in the organization in open defiance of the Vatican's order. Another four years elapsed before the Vatican established a commission to “study” the teaching of Nugent and Gramick. Another six years went by before the commission issued its 1994 “findings” that Nugent and Gramick's “ministry”, while exhibiting “positive aspects”, had “serious deficiencies” which were “incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality.” In other words, Gramick and Nugent were spreading immoral teaching throughout the Catholic Church.
Having received the Vatican Commission's findings, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “recommended” disciplinary measures, including “some sort of notification”—some sort of notification, after seventeen years of open disobedience and contradiction of Church doctrine.
Then the Congregation discovered, to its great surprise, that Nugent's and Gramick's false teachings involved doctrinal matters which should be considered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). It promptly turned the whole matter over to the CDF, having failed to impose any discipline whatsoever on Nugent or Gramick.
I n 1996—after nineteen years of spreading error in the Church— Gramick and Nugent were asked by the CDF to answer questions about their erroneous views and to affirm the Catholic teaching. The CDF deemed their responses “not sufficiently clear”, at which point it opened—opened!—a doctrinal investigation of the two, after a mere nineteen years of complaints about them.
Another year went by before the CDF announced what has been known from the beginning, that Nugent's and Gramick's teachings were “erroneous and dangerous.” Instead of imposing discipline, however, the CDF asked them both to respond to the CDF's conclusions.
Still another year passed before the CDF received Gramick and Nugent's responses, which it deemed “unacceptable.” But still no discipline. Instead, in 1998—after 21 years of false teaching and disobedience—Nugent and Gramick were asked to formulate declarations expressing their agreement with Catholic teaching! They sent in their statements, but neither declaration was acceptable.
Finally, on July 14, 1999—twenty-two years after Nugent and Gramick began their career of dissension from Church teaching—the CDF announced that their false doctrine had caused “confusion among the Catholic people and harmed the community of the Church.” And what was to be the penalty for all the 22 years of confusion and harm they had caused to souls? No suspension or reduction to the lay state for either, but merely an order that they cease ministering to homosexuals or holding offices in their respective religious institutes! They were not ordered to cease preaching their errors against the Faith, which had been published in two books, or even to retract their errors. And this was all the Vatican was willing to do to remedy nearly a quarter century of serious damage to the Church.
The comparison with Father Gruner's case was nothing short of sickening. Unlike Father Gruner, Gramick and Nugent were never even threatened with suspension or reduction to the lay state. Unlike Father Gruner, Gramick and Nugent did not suffer any interference in their basic canonical rights on the theory that the pertinent Congregation was acting in place of the pope with direct authority over their immediate superiors. Unlike Father Gruner, Gramick and Nugent were not subjected to secret interventions, secret letters, or secret “resolutions”; they had been notified of every step in the proceedings and given opportunity to respond. Indeed, throughout the Nugent and Gramick affair obsequious deference was shown to their rights. After 22 years of brazen disobedience and heterodox teaching, they suffered minimal punishments and remained, respectively, a priest and a nun in good standing, free to continue undermining Catholic moral teaching on the grave disorder of the homosexual condition—with untold damage to the faith and morals of Catholics, especially the young.
Yet Father Gruner, a morally upright and orthodox priest, had been summarily pronounced “disobedient” and subject to suspension from the sacred priesthood without ever having been shown to be in violation of any law of the Church, much less a basic moral teaching. As Cardinal Agustoni had stated in his letter to the Bishop of Avellino in 1989, Father Gruner would even be defrocked and reduced to the lay state if he would not agree to be silenced. Defrocked for preaching the Message of Fatima, while public heretics received a slap on the wrist after decades of dancing with the Vatican.
The conclusion was inescapable: There are two standards for the administration of justice in the post-conciliar Church. The first standard is for those who preach heresy and violate Church law. These are given every available procedural right before any sort of minimal penalty is imposed, if indeed there is ever a penalty at all. The second standard is for those who incur the wrath of certain Vatican functionaries by too successfully promoting some element of traditional Catholicism. These are deprived of due process and subjected to an absurdly strict and unjust interpretation of the law.
The net result was an intolerable paradox in the post-conciliar Church: Those who violate the law are given the benefit of the law, while those who obey the law are deprived of its benefit.
And so the triumph of Father Gruner's opponents in the Vatican Secretariate of State would appear to be complete. Five members of the Apostolic Signatura had signed a “definitive decree” which contradicted not only the law and the facts, but the Signatura's own prior pronouncements. Never mind that this final decree had changed the rules of the game and shifted ground to entirely new arguments that Father Gruner would have no opportunity to answer. Although the proceedings had been a travesty, the preordained result had finally been obtained. Now it would simply be a matter of announcing to the world that Father Gruner had been “suspended” for his “disobedience”.
But it would not be so simple as that, after all. For there was yet another surprise in store for Father Gruner's canonical executioners—another gift, perhaps, from Our Lady of Fatima. It would come once again from the Archdiocese of Hyderabad.
Some four months before the date of the Signatura's final decree, Archbishop Arulappa had sent to Father Gruner his own decree in the matter of Father Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad. The Archbishop's decree was a forthright rejection of the Congregation's arbitrary declaration that the incardination of Father Gruner in Hyderabad in 1995 was “non-existent”:
The Archbishop had taken a stand against the corruption of justice in the Church, again giving objective confirmation to the reality of Father Gruner's persecution.
The Archbishop's decree had been forwarded to the Bishop of Avellino in August of 1999, and the bishop has yet to reply. Would the Congregation exercise its newly-acquired “vicarious” papal authority, issuing a “papal” order nullifying an Archbishop's decree? Or would it concede that it had no authority to do so and remain silent, as it did after the 1989 intervention? If so, how could it be claimed that Father Gruner had been “suspended” for “disobeying” the Bishop of Avellino, when an Archbishop in India had decreed that Father Gruner was a priest of his Archdiocese, not Avellino?
The Congregation and the Signatura had embarked upon a travesty with their first unprecedented decrees against Father Gruner in 1994 and 1995. Now the travesty had acquired a dimension they could not have anticipated when they first began to interfere in the rightful jurisdiction of bishops.
For years Father Gruner had been made the victim of a law written for just one man. The Archbishop of Hyderabad had recognized the divine truth that a law for one man is no law at all, but lawlessness. Since Vatican II the Church has been plagued by lawlessness and scandal in places high and low. But here, now, in the case of this priest, the laws of the Church—laws which applied to all the faithful—were being upheld by a prelate who would not tolerate their corruption any longer, not even by his fellow prelates in the Vatican.
The case of Father Nicholas Gruner has not yet been closed. Nor has the cause of Our Lady of Fatima been ended, for Heaven will not allow it to end until Her promise has been fulfilled. “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph” .