Catholic Priest Fights for His Work and Career

Contact: Chris Ferrara
Good Counsel Publications,
P.O. Box 203, Pound Ridge, NY 10576
Telephone: (905) 871-7816,
Fax: (905) 871-5274,

Pound Ridge, NY, January 8, 1998

A Canadian Catholic priest is facing the threat of imminent suspension of his priestly faculties by Vatican bureaucrats, while local church authorities turn a blind eye to the growing controversy surrounding this arbitrary action.

The punishment about to be inflicted on Montreal-born and educated Father Nicholas Gruner, now residing in Fort Erie, Ont., is more severe than the treatment given many priests convicted of criminal acts - yet he is accused of no crime whatsoever. Instead, he has incurred the wrath of the powerful Vatican bureaucrats by his strong and persistent advocacy of a return to Church traditions abandoned in recent decades by Vatican reformers.

Father Gruner leads a movement known as the International Fatima Rosary Crusade, which has become a rallying point for a growing number of conservative Catholics who are disenchanted with the various Church reforms introduced in recent decades. The Vatican's own statistics show these reforms were followed by plummeting Mass attendance, the defection of millions of Church members and a drastic decline in the number of priests and nuns.

The Fatima Center takes its name from the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to three Portuguese peasant children in 1917. While the movement is headquartered in Fort Erie, it is not officially linked to any Canadian Catholic diocese, and has a large non-Canadian following. In his conflict with the Vatican, Father Gruner has received no official support from Canadian church authorities. On the contrary, a number of Canadian pastors and bishops have unquestioningly accepted and repeated unfounded Vatican accusations against him.

Meanwhile, four Catholic Archbishops, eight Catholic bishops, over 800 priests and nuns, and over 14,000 Catholic parishioners have signed letters supporting Father Gruner. These numbers are continuing to grow, as word of the Canadian priest's predicament spreads throughout the worldwide Catholic clergy. The majority of supporters at the moment are United States residents, but many are from lands as distant as Brazil and India.

Reformists in the Vatican have opposed Father Gruner's movement since it was founded in Canada two decades ago. Early indications of disapproval took the form of unofficial actions, but have since escalated into a technical challenge to Father Gruner's status as a Catholic priest in good standing. A Vatican tribunal - which has already issued one judgment against him - appears ready to issue a final ruling that would result in Father Gruner's suspension. Suspending a priest's faculties is the clerical equivalent of disbarring a lawyer, or revoking a physician's license to practice.

Unlike the official bodies governing other professions, the Vatican's governance of the Catholic clergy leaves little room for modern notions of justice and human rights. The tribunal which regulates the status of priests considers cases and renders its judgments entirely in private, without ever providing the accused with a face-to-face hearing. Father Gruner has been forced to fight for his priestly status entirely through legal correspondence.

Effectively "blackballed" by the Canadian Church hierarchy for his staunchly traditional views, Father Gruner faced his detractors alone until the recent wave of support emerged. A letter-writing campaign, as well as the recent publication of a book on Father Gruner's life, Fatima Priest, (by Francis Alban, Good Counsel Publications, Pound Ridge N.Y.) have been instrumental in rallying people to his cause. Many priests who have expressed support also view the procedures being used against Father Gruner as a potential threat to their own fundamental rights as priests. As more priests adopt this view, the pressure mounts on the Vatican to justify its actions, which many now view as a form of political repression.

An order suspending Father Gruner could be issued at any time. At that point, Father Gruner's last resort would be an appeal directly to the Pope.