— Summer 2000 —
Part I

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 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.

by Christopher A. Ferrara, Esq.

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:

"It must be carefully distinguished between the impugned decisions and the reasons brought forth. Even if there should be errors in the exposition of the facts or the motives [reasons], the decision can nevertheless be just and legitimate."

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:

"This definitive decree deliberately deals only with all those matters which strictly pertain to the matter itself. Regarding the matters not dealt with in this decree, it certainly would not follow that the opinion of the Reverend Gruner on those matters left out are confirmed by silence."

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:

Canon 283 § 1: "Clerics . . . are not to be absent from their diocese for a considerable period of time, to be determined by particular law, without at least the presumed permission of their proper ordinary."

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:

Canon 299

Canon 299, §1. By private agreement among themselves, Christ’s faithful have the right to constitute associations for the purposes mentioned in can. 298 . . .

Canon 298

§1 . . . In these associations, Christ’s faithful, whether clerics or laity or clerics and laity together, strive with a common effort to . . . promote public worship or christian (sic) teaching. They may also devote themselves to other works of the apostolate, such as initiatives for evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with the christian (sic) spirit.

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:

Canon 299, §2. Associations of this kind, even though they may be praised by ecclesiastical authority, are called private associations.

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:

Canon 278

Secular priests have the right of association with others for the achievement of purposes befitting the clerical state.

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:

If Bishop Paul Reding does not have the possibility of consenting to your request [for incardination in the Diocese of Hamilton] you can always present my letter to another bishop who, according the Code of Canon Law in effect, can accept you in his diocese ... I hope that this decision of mine will meet with your satisfaction and can definitively resolve your situation in my diocese of Avellino.

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.

See Part II