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Chronology of the Facts
Fr. Gruner's difficulties with Vatican officials originated back in the late seventies, when the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, then the Vatican's Secretary of State, became the chief architect of the Church's "Ostpolitik," or Eastern policy.
This was an outgrowth of the notorious Vatican-Moscow Agreement, which sought to moderate the treatment of Catholics within the communist bloc by soft-pedaling the Church's opposition to communism. In common with many other Catholics, Fr. Gruner found this approach morally repugnant, and he spoke out strongly against it.
Opposition to communism as a moral evil has always been a fundamental part of the Fatima Crusade. As the chief proponent of accommodation with Moscow, Cardinal Casaroli found Fr. Gruner's persistent criticism troublesome, and looked for a way to silence him.
Lacking any official basis for moving against the "Fatima Priest," Cardinal Casaroli chose an indirect course of action. Archbishop Angelo Palmas, who had worked closely with Cardinal Casaroli on the elaboration of "Ostpolitik," was by 1981 serving as ProNuncio to Ottawa.
Acting on Cardinal Casaroli's instructions, ProNuncio Palmas met with Cardinal Silvio Oddi, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, to complain about Fr. Gruner. He implied that Fr. Gruner was a renegade priest, and claimed that no Canadian bishop would incardinate him. These unfounded allegations planted the seeds that were to grow into today's threatened suspension by the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal Oddi, however, was unreceptive to the ProNuncio's advice at that time, and the Congregation took no action on the matter. The rest of the decade of the eighties was to pass before Cardinal Casaroli's poisoned seeds bore fruit. Meanwhile, the Fatima movement continued to grow, and Fr. Gruner continued to campaign tirelessly for the Consecration of Russia according to Our Lady of Fatima's instructions. He also continued to denounce the Vatican-Moscow Agreeme.
In 1989, a new and more overt effort to silence Fr. Gruner began. The first move was a letter from the new Bishop of Avellino, Gerardo Pierro. Bishop Pierro was the successor to Bishop Pasquale Venezia, who ordained Fr. Gruner in 1976, and from whom he had written permission to work outside the diocese. Now, Bishop Pierro threatened to revoke that permission. Saying that he was responding to concerns expressed by the Vatican Secretary of State, Bishop Pierro wrote to both Fr. Gruner and the Bishop of St. Catharines, Ontario, the diocese where Fr. Gruner resides. Fr. Gruner could be incardinated by Bishop Fulton, the letters advised, but only on the condition that he abandon his Fatima apostolate. Otherwise, the implied threat was that he must return to Avellino immediately.
In making this quid-pro-quo proposition via Bishops Pierro and Fulton, the office of the Secretary of State laid bare its real intentions. It was not seeking simply to arrange for Fr. Gruner's incardination in a Canadian diocese. That could easily be accomplished without any other terms or conditions attached. Nor was the objective to return Fr. Gruner to Avellino to serve some useful purpose there. In the context of the offer, returning to Avellino was not presented as a useful alternative at all; rather, it was a potential punishment for failing to comply with the real objective, namely, that Fr. Gruner abandon the Fatima apostolate. That, unmistakably, was the ultimate edict: be silent about Fatima, or else.
In the belief that the matter might best be resolved in a face-to-face meeting, Fr. Gruner arranged to visit Bishop Pierro in Avellino two months later. He was accompanied by Fr. Paul Kramer, an Italian-speaking associate. In their interview, Bishop Pierro acknowledged Fr. Gruner's continuing permission to work outside the diocese, which he later confirmed in writing. The bishop also made an astonishing admission to the two priests. He told them that, if the Vatican ordered him to suspend Fr. Gruner, he would do it, even though he believed it would be a mortal sin! As events unfolded, Bishop Pierro was to be spared this agonizing decision.
The long hand of Vatican officialdom surfaces in Toronto
A few months later, the long hand of Vatican officialdom surfaced in a new location, the archdiocese of Toronto. Monsignor Allan McCormack, then chancellor of the archdiocese, sent an "advisory" memorandum to every priest saying that Fr. Gruner's status as a priest was "irregular," and discouraging support of the Fatima movement, headquartered in nearby Fort Erie. Stories in the Canadian and American Catholic press based on the Monsignor's advice implied that Fr. Gruner was a "vagus," or renegade priestechoing ProNuncio Palmas' original and utterly false allegation back in 1981. After being repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to meet with Msgr. McCormack's superior, Toronto's Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic, Fr. Gruner took the only action left to him, and filed a civil libel suit in Toronto, which is still pending.
Other forms of overt and covert interference with the work of the Fatima apostolate soon followed. When Fr. Gruner organized, at Fatima in the autumn of 1992, one of the largest private conferences of Catholic bishops ever held, powerful Vatican officials opposed the event in several ways. L'Osservatore Romano published a prior announcement to the effect that the conference was not officially authorized, even though such authorization is neither required nor given for such events. Both the Bishop of Fatima and the Director of the Fatima Shrine, with the obvious backing of certain Vatican officials, openly denounced the conference.
Fr. Gruner succeeded in mollifying these local prelates, merging the Fatima event with a smaller conference they had organized, but this peace was short-lived. At the Fatima Shrine a few days later, Fr. Gruner was physically attacked by two men. One of the men was questioned immediately after the incident, and admitted that he was employed by the Shrine's Rector, Monsignor Luciano Guerra. Msgr. Guerra's only response to inquiries was to suggest that the attack was staged by Fr. Gruner to obtain publicity.
Less than a year later, in the summer of 1993, Fr. Gruner obtained an offer of incardination from Bishop Gilbert Rego of the diocese of Simla and Chandigarh, India, whom he had met at the Fatima conference. It now appeared that Fr. Gruner would achieve incardination outside Avellino, as Bishop Pierro had repeatedly urged him to do. But Bishop Pierro was no longer in Avellino. Accordingly, Fr. Gruner wrote to his successor, Bishop Antonio Forte, requesting excardination from his diocese, which is normally a simple formality.
Three months later, he still had received no reply from Bishop Forte. Finally, a colleague, Fr. Paul Trinchard, was able to visit the Bishop in Avellino. A brief conversation there elicited a letter from the Bishop to Fr. Gruner, which was delivered a few weeks later. Much to Fr. Gruner's surprise, this letter advised that Bishop Forte declined to give a decision on the excardination. As justification for this unusual action (or inaction) he cited a direct order from Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe in the Vatican.
Like Archbishop Palmas, Archbishop Sepe also worked closely on "Ostpolitik" with Cardinal Casaroli, and shares his distaste for opponents of a soft line on communism. As of 1993, Archbishop Sepe was the de facto head of the Congregation for the Clergy. His instructions to Bishop Forte to withhold excardination were entirely outside his jurisdiction in that office, and had no legal validity. Nevertheless, Bishop Forte followed his instructions, and refused to act.
Early in 1994, Fr. Gruner once more returned to Avellino, and met with Bishop Forte in an attempt to resolve the matter. The bishop confirmed that Fr. Gruner remained a priest in good standing at that point, and directed him to return to Canada. He would be advised of further developments, he was told, by means of a letter.
When the promised letter arrived three weeks later, it delivered a profound shock. It contained a direct order from Bishop Forte to abandon the Fatima apostolate and return to Avellino, or face suspension of priestly faculties. Fr. Gruner describes himself as "scandalized" to find a bishop writing such a letter, threatening action clearly contrary to canon law.
"To suspend a priest," explains Fr. Gruner, "a crime must have been committed, it must become the subject of a court case, and there must be a hearing. None of these things has happened, yet they threaten to impose the penalty anyway. The letter treats suspension as if it were simply a weapon in their hands, which they can use whenever they like, without any justification in canon law." Fr. Gruner responded to Bishop Forte with a detailed defense of his position, which he carefully prepared in consultation with several canon lawyers. When 30 days elapsed without a reply from Bishop Forte, Fr. Gruner was obliged to file a formal appeal against the order, as required by canon law. Filing this appeal suspends the effect of the bishop's order until the appeal is processed, allowing Fr. Gruner to continue the work of his apostolate.
Unfortunately, Vatican interference with that work also continued. When a new Fatima conference of bishops was organized for the autumn of 1994 in Mexico, it quickly came under bureaucratic attack. This time, the action came directly from the Vatican Secretary of State, via the network of Nuncios in capitals around the world. The Nuncios sent letters to all Catholic bishops, advising that the Fatima conference was not approved by the Vatican, and discouraging attendance. The effect of this letter on attendance was substantial, but it angered some of those who were not intimidated.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Sepe was continuing to abuse his authority in the Vatican by blocking a second offer of incardination made to Fr. Gruner. In a letter delivered in May of 1994, Bishop Manoel Pestana of Anapolis, Brazil, officially offered to incardinate him in that diocese, effective July 16. However, three days before this could take effect, Fr. Gruner received another letter from Bishop Pestana. In it, the bishop advised that he was withdrawing his incardination offer. Bishop Pestana explained he did this as a result of the intervention of Archbishop Sepe of the Congregation for the Clergy.
In an effort to bring the machinations of these officials to the attention of the Holy Father, an open letter to the Pope was published in the summer of 1995 in Rome's largest daily newspaper, Il Messaggero. It appealed to the Pope, well-known to be a Fatima believer, to put an end to this bureaucratic interference and injustice. It also invited His Holiness to attend a third Fatima conference, which was to be held in Rome itself some time in 1996. The letter aroused considerable comment in the Italian media, but the Vatican made no official comment.
Towards the end of 1995, Fr. Gruner received a third offer of incardination, and this time, the Vatican seemed powerless to block it. On November 4, 1995, an official decree of incardination was received by Fr. Gruner from Archbishop Saminini Arulappa of Hyderabad, India. No additional document of excardination from the current Bishop of Avellino was required, since a letter from the previous bishop in 1989 had already given assent to Fr. Gruner's accepting incardination elsewhere. Under canon law, Fr. Gruner was now incardinated in Hyderabad, not Avellino, and he had his bishop's express permission to continue his Fatima apostolate as before, based in Fort Erie, Ontario.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Sepe turned his attention to attempting to sabotage the planned Fatima conference in Rome. In January of 1996, he issued a letter to all bishops from the Congregation for the Clergy in which he described Fr. Gruner's activities as "harmful," called his defense of his Fatima apostolate "a regrettable situation," and urged bishops not to "make matters worse" by attending the conference.
The Congregation for the Clergy also moved promptly to challenge Fr. Gruner's new incardination, claiming that the current Bishop of Avellino had revoked the previous bishop's assent to excardination. No document supporting this claim exists. To justify its position, the Congregation offered the twisted argument that the new Bishop of Avellino intended to revoke Fr. Gruner's excardination in a letter he had written in 1994, even though the letter in question makes no mention of this subject.
To believe the Congregation's claim, it is also necessary to believe that Bishop Forte of Avellino does not know what he intends until he is told after the fact what the Congregation wishes him to intend! Based on this fabricated argument, the Congregation issued a ruling to the effect that Fr. Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad was "tamquam non existans," meaning that its status is as if it did not exist. Fr. Gruner has, of course, appealed this ruling, and until the appeal is settled, he remains officially incardinated in Hyderabad.
In the autumn of 1996, Fr. Gruner's Vatican opponents made a second move to pre-empt the planned Fatima conference in Rome. This time, a letter to all Catholic bishops was issued from the offices of the highly influential Congregation for Bishops, urging them not to attend an "absolutely unauthorized" event. The letter was signed by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who is now a member of the Signatura panel judging Fr. Gruner's case.
The outcome of
these increasingly complicated machinations is still in doubt. Numerous
irregularities in the way Vatican officials have proceeded against Fr. Gruner
have created substantial grounds for appeal to the supreme court of the Church,
the Apostolic Signatura. Unfortunately, all indications are that the Vatican's
system of justice is as flawed at this highest level as it is at lower levels.
See "Respect Human Rights, says the Vatican to the world" in this article.