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Court of Mirrors

A number of readers have inquired about the inner workings of Vatican tribunals' treatment of faithful priests and the God-given rights, as exemplified in Father Gruner's case. The last and newest chapter taken from the 3rd edition of Fatima Priest, just recently published, gives an accurate, fascinating summary of what is really going on. [Note: The subtitles to this article have been added by the Editor of The Fatima Crusader.]

By Francis Alban and Christopher A. Ferrara

For the past thirty-eight years Vatican emissaries have lectured the world on the need to respect "human rights" in the "civilization of love." But what of the Vatican's own tribunals? Even the aridly humanistic Universal Declaration of Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, recognizes that "Everyone is entitled in full equity to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations ..."1 John Paul II has hailed the Declaration as "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time."

Yet it appeared that the judges of the Vatican tribunals considered themselves exempt from the standard of justice the Vatican preaches to other men. Even godless civil tribunals recognize the right to an impartial judge; the right to a specification of charges; the right to a fair and open hearing; the right to confront witnesses; the right to appeal an unjust decision to an impartial appellate court. For Father Nicholas Gruner, however, none of these rights seemed to be operative in the chambers of the Congregation for the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura. How many other disfavored priests had been sucked into this human-rights vacuum, and then ejected with their reputations and priestly status in shreds?

The Sham

In the documents he had filed in the Congregation and the Signatura, Father Gruner had provided incontrovertible evidence that the canonical proceedings against him were an utter sham: that the orders recalling him to Avellino were not the bishop's orders, but those of Cardinal Agustoni, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Sanchez, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and Archbishop Sepe, the Congregation's Secretary — all of them secretly dictating the result in the very case in which they were sitting as judges.

Father Gruner had pointed out that such interference in the jurisdiction of a bishop over his own diocese was unprecedented in the annals of canon law, for the Church has always taught that the bishop is the monarch of his own diocese. That Agustoni, Sanchez and Sepe were Vatican prelates of higher rank than the Bishop of Avellino was beside the point. They had no right to tamper with the divine constitution of the Church by commandeering the Diocese of Avellino and turning its bishop into their puppet. On the contrary, their functions as members of Vatican tribunals was supposed to be the correction of abuses of power by bishops, not using a bishop to commit abuses themselves.

The "Smoking Gun"

Father Gruner's proofs had even included a copy of the providentially uncovered 1989 letter from Cardinal Agustoni to the Bishop of Avellino, directing the bishop to recall Father Gruner and pretend that it was all the bishop's idea. The discovery of that "smoking gun" had finally forced the removal of Agustoni from further consideration of Father Gruner's case in January of 1997 — the first time in the history of the Signatura that its Prefect had been forced to step down on grounds of bias. Yet Agustoni had already rendered his adverse decision of May 1995 upholding the Bishop of Avellino's first order to return — the very order Agustoni himself had secretly directed the bishop to issue.

Father Gruner had presented enough evidence of gross judicial misconduct to reverse any verdict in a secular, civil tribunal. But the judges of the Church tribunals who were executing the Plan for Father Gruner's demise were evidently unmoved by any sense that the justice of the Church should exceed that of the scribes and pharisees of the secular judiciary. No, the Plan would proceed unimpeded by the notions of "justice and solidarity" which the Vatican prescribed for the hypothetical "civilization of love."

In July 1997, some seven months after the Third Fatima Conference in Rome, Father Gruner would receive the Apostolic Signatura's decree on his recourse from the first order to return to Avellino. It was no surprise that the removal of Cardinal Agustoni had not altered the predetermined result. The matter had simply been turned over to Agustoni's right-hand man, Archbishop Zenon Grochelewski, Secretary of the Signatura, who rejected the recourse with the terse Latin phrase manifeste caret quolibet fundamento — manifestly without any foundation whatsoever. It was the Latinate way of saying: "We refuse to hear your case."

The Judge Admits the Case is
Entirely a Pretext
to Silence Father Gruner

Archbishop Grochelewski was another biased gatekeeper standing at the gateway of the tribunal. Several months before Archbishop Grochelewski's decree, Father Gruner had conferred in Rome with canonist Franco Ligi about taking his case. Ligi is an eminent attorney who practices in both the Vatican tribunals and the Supreme Court of Italy's civil judicial system.

After speaking with Grochelewski at the offices of the Signatura, Ligi had declined to take the case. Ligi told Father Gruner that Archbishop Grochelewski had audaciously admitted that the case was really not about Father Gruner's incardination in this or that diocese, but about "what he says. He causes division."

Division in what sense? Was there anything false in what Father Gruner said? Or was the "division" Grochelewski complained of the result of a priest speaking the truth about Christ the King and the triumph of His Queen Mother, in an epoch in which those subjects had become intensely embarrassing to the Vatican? Was it not the very division Our Lord Himself had predicted would arise from the preaching of the Gospel, as summed up with heavenly conciseness in the Message of Fatima?

Ligi had readily agreed with Father Gruner that if the case was really about what Father Gruner said, then it should be transferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, where Father Gruner could defend his preaching and teaching on their merits. That would never happen, of course.

A doctrinal examination of Father Gruner's work was the last thing Grochelewski and his fellow executors of the Plan wanted to see, for it would only lead to an acquittal of their target. The case would remain in the Signatura. And now it was in the hands of Archbishop Grochelewski, who had openly admitted to Ligi that the entire proceeding was a pretext for suppressing an apostolate that could not otherwise be suppressed.

On February 15, 1926, the Child Jesus asked Sister Lucy of Fatima, "What are you doing to promote devotion to My Mother's Immaculate Heart?" Indeed, He also asks each one of us if we are doing all we can to promote, defend, explain, advance, and live devotion to His Most Holy Mother as requested in the Fatima Message. (Watercolor by Joan Hoffsommer)

Unlawful "Technicalities"

Grochelewski's decree stated that Father Gruner's recourse had been rejected on the technical ground that it was not filed within fifteen days of Cardinal Agustoni's 1995 decision upholding the first order to return to Avellino. Yet Father Gruner had never received a copy of that decision from the offices of the Signatura in the first place, so how could he have known there was a decision to appeal? The answer given in the decree was that Father Gruner's canon lawyer had received a copy.

But the aged canonist was so gravely ill that he had failed to notify Father Gruner of the decision for nearly seventeen months after it was issued, and Father Gruner had not even known of the decision until it was published months later by the Blue Army in Soul Magazine. Too bad. Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento.

But even civil courts administered by unbelievers allow blameless litigants to reopen cases which are "defaulted" through a lawyer's illness or negligence. Surely a tribunal of the Catholic Church would be at least as just as godless civil tribunals in similar circumstances. Not so. Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento.

Yes, but seriously, how could Father Gruner be expected to appeal in fifteen days a decision of which he had no knowledge until its contents appeared, many months later, in the Blue Army's magazine? Most unfortunate. Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento.

Intolerable Injustice

Well, then, what about the intolerable injustice of the whole affair? Father Gruner had discovered and presented to the Signatura conclusive proof that it was Cardinal Agustoni who secretly instigated the order to return to Avellino, counseling the Bishop of Avellino to pretend that it was the bishop's own idea.

If Cardinal Agustoni was forced to step down now because of this discovery, should he not have stepped down before he had rendered his decision against Father Gruner? How could Agustoni be allowed to get away with the ruse of sitting in judgment on an appeal from what were, in essence, his own actions, falsely posing as an impartial judge of the "bishop's" order to return? Was not Agustoni's 1995 decree null and void as a fraud upon Father Gruner? Sorry, too late. Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento.

What, then, of Father Gruner's right to his good name? Father Gruner had pointed out that Cardinal Agustoni's self-serving decision was laden with easily demonstrable falsehoods, including the suggestion that Father Gruner was a "vagus" (wandering) priest, when in truth he had written permission from the Bishop of Avellino to reside in Canada. Was not Father Gruner entitled to repair the damage to his reputation which resulted when Agustoni's "confidential" decree was leaked to Soul Magazine, where it was published throughout North America? No, not at all. Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento.

Victim of Slander

Thus did Grochelewski's three-page decree dispose of the entire life's work and good name of a Catholic priest who had committed no offense against either faith or morals. The contrast with cases of real priestly misconduct was astonishing: Pedophile priests are moved from parish to parish by their bishops for years, until someone in their train of victims files criminal charges or a multimillion dollar civil suit.2 Preachers of the most outrageous heresy are left alone, or simply reassigned to another pulpit on belated orders from the Vatican, while remaining priests in good standing.3 But for Father Nicholas Gruner the wheels of Vatican justice were grinding away with a remarkable and remorseless efficiency which seemed to suggest that, as to him at least, the judicial machine was conscious, vigilant and determined to reach a final result.

And yet the case was not entirely over. There remained to be decided Father Gruner's second recourse to the Signatura, against the Bishop of Avellino's second order to return. It was this order which (unlike the first) carried an actual threat of suspension from the priesthood if Father Gruner did not agree to incarcerate himself forever in Avellino. Squarely at issue in the second recourse was Father Gruner's incardination by the Archbishop of Hyderabad, the third prelate in less than three years who had offered in writing to sponsor Father Gruner's work in a friendly diocese. Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe, in the Congregation for the Clergy, had already declared the incardination in Hyderabad to be "non-existent." What would the Signatura say about this unprecedented canonical magic of the vanishing incardination?

Public Slander Justifies Public Reply

As Father Gruner awaited the answer, the tide was beginning to turn in another forum: the forum of public opinion. When the executors of the Plan had leaked Agustoni's decree in the first recourse to the Catholic press, it was evidently expected that Father Gruner's apostolate would be mortally wounded by the mere disclosure in Soul Magazine that "the Church's highest court" (i.e., Cardinal Agustoni) had "ruled" that Father Gruner was a "vagus" who had "failed" to find a bishop to incardinate him, and that he was "disobedient" in failing to return to Avellino. Of course, Soul Magazine had not disclosed that the only reason Father Gruner had "failed" to find another bishop is that Agustoni, et al. had systematically prevented him from doing so.

But the resort to public opinion would prove to be a costly mistake. Publication of the decree in Soul Magazine had opened the door to a public reply by Father Gruner and the apostolate in The Fatima Crusader magazine and elsewhere. As the people learned the details of the Plan, a groundswell of outrage began to build on the part of bishops, priests and laity who had seen enough of the double-standard which sheltered pedophiles and heretics while mercilessly hounding a Marian priest.

Appeal to the Pope

Anticipating the inevitable decision in the second recourse, in mid-1997 the apostolate began circulating for signature a second Open Letter to John Paul II for publication in the Italian press, pleading once again for the Pope's intercession in Father Gruner's case. The response was galvanic: over several months, twenty-seven bishops — including ten archbishops — 1,500 priests and nuns and more than 15,000 members of the laity had signed the letter. The number of bishops willing to sign had increased more than thirteen-fold since the first Open Letter in 1995.

The bureaucrats' campaign to consign Father Gruner to oblivion was suddenly losing ground rather dramatically; the press leaks of the Signatura's decrees had only exposed the Plan to withering public scrutiny. Viewed in the public forum they had chosen to enter, the maneuverings of Sanchez, Sepe and Agustoni enjoyed no more respectability than any other abuse of power.

The Promoter's Window-Dressing

By early February 1998 Father Gruner had received the reply to his second recourse, containing the expected result. The Signatura's latest decree (issued by Archbishop Grochelewski in the absence of Agustoni) advised Father Gruner that his recourse would not even be admitted for discussion to the judges of the tribunal. The recourse had been stopped again on Grochelewski's desk with the same peremptory Latin phrase: Manifeste caret quolibet fundamento. This time, however, the executors of the Plan had felt constrained to drape their doings with a bit of window-dressing, in light of the unfavorable publicity they had brought down upon themselves. Enter the "promoter of justice."

In canon law the "promoter of justice" is ostensibly a neutral third-party who assesses the facts and law of a case and renders an independent opinion on how it ought to be decided. In this case, not surprisingly, the "promoter of justice" would serve as the Promoter of the Predetermined Result — the result which had already been ordained in the secret missive of Cardinal Agustoni to the Bishop of Avellino.


Unknown to Father Gruner the "promoter of justice" had issued "findings" of fact and law in Latin even before Grochelewski's decree was issued. Father Gruner's new advocate, Sandro Gherro, was supposed to answer the document and forward a copy to Father Gruner in accordance with the terms of his written mandate. In an astounding repetition of the former advocate's dereliction, Gherro simply filed the document away, offered no reply whatsoever and failed even to advise Father Gruner that the document existed.

This was malpractice of the grossest sort — rather like a civil lawyer accepting delivery of papers in a lawsuit against his client, failing to answer the suit in time, and then saying nothing to the client until after a default judgment is entered for millions of dollars. In Father Gruner's case, however, the matter at stake — the exercise of his sacred priesthood — was worth infinitely more than any sum of money.

A "default judgment" in this case could have spiritual consequences beyond all human calculation. The "promoter of justice" had issued his report on November 22, 1997 — the feast day of St. Cecilia, who was killed on that date by the repeated blows of an axe. Soon Father Gruner would learn that the first axe-blow had fallen on him.

Unjust Demands

In fourteen pages of tortured reasoning the "promoter of justice" — completely unopposed by Gherro — had "found" that it was perfectly just and proper that a priest of twenty years' standing, who had done nothing wrong, and who, moreover, had found three benevolent bishops willing to accept him in their dioceses, should be subjected to the following measures: (a) return to Avellino on 29 days' notice, after having resided in Canada without objection for more than 16 years; (b) immediate destruction of his entire life's work with the apostolate, even though three bishops were perfectly willing to foster it in their dioceses; (c) dismissal of the apostolate's 150 employees; (d) an end to subsidies for the orphanage caring for over 50 children which the apostolate's funds were supporting; (e) abandonment of his residence, his relatives and his personal affairs in Canada, and (f) virtual life imprisonment, under threat of suspension from the priesthood, in a foreign diocese whose bishop had not requested his services since 1978!

O Infant Jesus, have mercy on us.

"Grave Reasons"

And why would this horror be a "just" result, according to the "promoter of justice"? The document had not even attempted to develop a canonical rationale for treating a morally upright priest with vastly greater harshness than the roving pedophiles and public heretics who were afflicting the post-conciliar Church with near-impunity. All the "promoter of justice" could offer was the naked conclusion that "There were grave reasons for denying a letter of excardination" from Avellino, so that Father Gruner could be incardinated in Hyderabad.

And what were these "grave reasons" for denying excardination? Why, they were "the same grave reasons for recalling Father Gruner to the diocese." Alright, then: What were the grave reasons for recalling Father Gruner to the diocese? Moving on to the next paragraph, the "promoter of justice" had simply left the question unanswered.

But the answer was understood implicitly, not only by the "promoter of justice" but by everyone else who was collaborating in the execution of the Plan: The "grave reasons" for recalling Father Nicholas Gruner to the Diocese of Avellino, and preventing him from finding a home in any other diocese in the world, were these: First, Father Gruner had been far too effective, for far too long, in promoting the Message of Fatima. Second, the Message of Fatima was an intolerably embarrassing reminder that the interdenominational "civilization of love" being promoted by Vatican emissaries was not exactly the triumph of the Immaculate Heart which Our Lady had proclaimed at Fatima. Nor was the current agenda what Pope Pius XI had envisioned when he proclaimed the Feast of Christ the King and prayed before the whole world that God would rescue idolaters, Muslims and Jews from their darkness and bring them into the one true Church.

Traditional Teachings Ditched
in the Spirit of Vatican II

In short, Father Gruner and the apostolate were an annoyingly persistent reminder of the teaching of all the Popes before 1960 on the Social Kingship of Christ and the Queenship of Mary. But that teaching had been replaced by the "Spirit of Vatican II", by Ostpolitik and world ecumenism, by "dialogue", "human rights" and the "civilization of love." The new vocabulary could not be at home with the old. All the antiquated pre-conciliar talk of kings and queens, and every knee bending before the Lord, and Russia converting, and the triumph of the Immaculate Heart — all of it was hopelessly out of place in the new arrangements Vatican emissaries had forged with the powers of the world, and most especially the United Nations. It was necessary, then, that Father Gruner and the apostolate be silenced, but not in a way which would call any attention to the underlying questions.

The Plan

The "promoter of justice" had been called upon to do more than merely affix his stamp of approval to the Plan. For the Plan had fared disastrously in the court of public opinion, and its executors surely knew that the second Open Letter was circulating for signatures among clergy around the world, with publication in Rome imminent. Since early 1994, when the first order to return was issued, Agustoni, Sanchez and Sepe had counted on the "incardination game" to force a checkmate that would exile Father Gruner to Avellino or subject him to suspension if he declined exile. But now the situation was drastically different: Over the past six months a growing number of the apostolate's supporters, including twenty righteously angry bishops, were demanding to know why, in a Church ridden with unchecked scandal and heresy, a perfectly sound priest was being blocked by the Vatican itself from finding a friendly bishop to incardinate him. What in heaven's name was going on here?

The executors of the Plan were now confronted with their own failure to give any substantive grounds for all of their unprecedented actions against this one priest. After all, if Father Gruner hadn't actually done anything contrary to faith or morals, a reasonable observer could only wonder why his pursuers would not just leave the man alone and let him find another bishop — like all the other priests who transfer routinely from diocese to diocese throughout the Church without any objection from the Vatican, including the pedophiles and public heretics.

Promoter of Injustice

The "promoter of justice" had attempted to fix this lingering problem for his superiors: His "findings" asserted that Father Gruner had indeed done something wrong which justified his harsh treatment: Why, he had perpetrated a "fraud" on the Archbishop of Hyderabad in order to obtain incardination there. And what exactly was this "fraud"? According to the promoter, in November 1995 Father Gruner had "acted fraudulently" with the Archbishop by presenting him with the 1978 document issued by the Bishop of Avellino, which gave him permission to be incardinated in any diocese that would accept him. And why was this a "fraud"? Because the 1978 document "was already destitute of all juridic value", according to the promoter.

But the claim of "fraud" was obviously false: In the first place, Father Gruner had not presented the 1978 document to the Archbishop of Hyderabad at the time of his incardination, nor was there any evidence to suggest that he had. The "promoter of justice" had simply "promoted" a non-existent event into a "fact". Furthermore, even if Father Gruner had presented the 1978 document to the Archbishop in 1995, it could not possibly have been "destitute of all juridic value" at that time, because the opinion that it was "destitute of all juridic value" was not expressed by the "promoter of justice" until November of 1997, more than two years later. In essence, the "promoter of justice" had accused Father Gruner of "fraud" for failing to see into the future!

In an effort to make sense of his absurd accusation, the promoter further claimed that Father Gruner should have known the 1978 document was "destitute of all juridic value" because it had been "revoked" when the Bishop of Avellino issued his first order to return on January 31, 1994. But the first order to return did not even mention the 1978 document, let alone revoke it. Thus, despite the order to return, Father Gruner would have been free to find another bishop to accept him under the original terms of the 1978 document. He had indeed found another bishop in the Archbishop of Hyderabad. What is more, under canon law a priest has the right to transfer to another diocese whenever it would be in his best interest. It was clearly in Father Gruner's best interest to transfer from a diocese whose bishop was manifestly hostile, to a diocese where a benevolent bishop had offered to accept him.

All of this was evidently understood by the Bishop of Avellino: When Father Gruner informed him in writing (in early 1996) that he had achieved incardination in Hyderabad and need not return to Avellino, the bishop had offered no objection to the incardination for months.

In attempting to explain away these facts, the promoter had made some remarkable disclosures in his "findings": Sometime in March of 1996, about four months after Father Gruner's incardination in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad by Archbishop Arulappa, the Bishop of Avellino had sought "clarification" of Father Gruner's status from Cardinal Sanchez of the Congregation for the Clergy. This was a very odd request indeed, since Cardinal Sanchez would soon be required to serve as the "impartial" judge of Father Gruner's appeal from the bishop's second order to return to Avellino. How could Sanchez legitimately confer in private with the very bishop whose order was about to be appealed to Sanchez by Father Gruner? What about the requirement of neutrality on the part of an appellate judge?

Unprecedented Letter

The promoter also disclosed that Sanchez had thereafter (on March 18, 1996) issued a quite unprecedented letter to Archbishop Arulappa — a letter whose text Father Gruner had yet to see, but whose existence the promoter was now confirming. In this letter Sanchez had "advised" the Archbishop that Father Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad was tanquam nonexistens — non-existent.

According to the promoter, Sanchez's letter had also related how Sanchez "explained" to the Bishop of Avellino that when the bishop issued his decree of January 31, 1994, recalling Father Gruner to Avellino for the first time, he had intended by that same decree to "revoke" Father Gruner's 1978 permission to be incardinated in another diocese — even though the decree did not actually say so! Since the bishop himself had not given this interpretation to his own decree, Sanchez had "clarified the situation" for him. In other words, the Bishop of Avellino was privately instructed by Sanchez that he was to "intend" whatever Sanchez told him to intend, even if it was after the fact. Thus, not only the Bishop of Avellino's authority over his own diocese, but his very thought processes had been commandeered by the Plan.

The Second Smoking Gun

So the "promoter of justice" had done justice in spite of himself. His disclosure of the Sanchez letter uncovered the second "smoking gun" in the proceedings, and it explained a great deal: After having failed to object to Father Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad for several months, the Bishop of Avellino had suddenly issued his decree of May 16, 1996, declaring that Father Gruner's incardination in Hyderabad was tanquam nonexistens — precisely the same language which appeared in Sanchez's letter to the Archbishop of Hyderabad. Some five months after the promoter's disclosure of its existence, Father Gruner would finally receive a copy of the Sanchez letter from Archbishop Arulappa, in April of 1998. Only then would Father Gruner notice that not only the telltale phrase "tanquam nonexistens", but an entire paragraph had been lifted from the Sanchez letter and placed bodily into the Bishop of Avellino's May 16, 1996, decree, containing the second order to return to Avellino. The words of the Bishop's decree had literally been dictated to him by Sanchez.

Thus, the appellate judge, Cardinal Sanchez, had told the lower court, the Bishop of Avellino, exactly how to rule on the case even before Father Gruner's appeal from that ruling had come before Sanchez. The whole appellate process in the Congregation for the Clergy had been a fraud.

Behind the Scenes

It had already been proven that it was Cardinal Agustoni who secretly initiated the first order to return to Avellino, pretending it was all the bishop's idea when Father Gruner's appeal from that order came before Agustoni in the Signatura. Now it had just been established beyond doubt that it was Cardinal Sanchez who initiated the second order to return, even supplying its precise wording, only to pretend to be reviewing "the bishop's intervention" (as Sanchez called it) when Father Gruner's second recourse came to him in the Congregation for the Clergy, on its way to the Signatura.

Twice in the same case, therefore, judges of Vatican tribunals had engaged in the outrageous charade of "reviewing" the propriety of an order they themselves secretly had instructed the Bishop of Avellino to issue. And now the "promoter of justice" was defending that charade as perfectly fair and just.

The "promoter of justice" would end his "findings" with the amazing conclusion that "the Bishop of Avellino acted according to law when he (!) threatened the penalty of suspension" in the second order to return. Not once in his fourteen pages of "findings", however, did the "promoter of justice" even hint at the glaring truth: the Bishop of Avellino's every action in the case from beginning to end had been orchestrated from "on high" by Cardinal Agustoni, Cardinal Sanchez and Archbishop Sepe. The "findings" of the "promoter of justice" had been nothing more than a paper construct to cover over what was really going on beneath the surface of the case.

Legal Betrayal

Since Sandro Gherro had failed to offer any reply to the "promoter of justice," it had been a simple matter for Archbishop Grochelewski to reject Father Gruner's recourse from the second order to return, based on the "facts" as determined by the promoter — to which "facts", Grochelewski pointedly noted, "the advocate (Gherro) for the recurrent (Father Gruner) did not respond." When Gherro was confronted with this debacle, he would react in a manner which by now seemed rather typical of legal representation in the Roman tribunals of the Church: He sent a letter declaring that he intended to renounce his representation of Father Gruner unless Father Gruner expressed complete satisfaction with his "services", agreed not to question the legitimacy of any further proceedings in the Signatura, no matter what the outcome, and paid him $5,000 in additional fees immediately.

A Light on the Horizon

Within a few days Father Gruner flew to Rome and secured the services of another canonist: Alan Kershaw, an American living in Italy, and the only American regularly practicing in the Vatican tribunals. Kershaw evinced a keen intelligence in his immediate penetration to the heart of the matter: There had been a gross abuse of power which had been hidden from effective review by a series of peremptory rulings — issued by the perpetrators of the abuse themselves — that Father Gruner's recourses were "manifestly without foundation" (manifeste quolibet caret fundamentum). Father Gruner's case had been declared lacking any foundation even though he had yet to receive a hearing of his claims.

In addition to intelligence and an evident willingness to fight for his client, as opposed to rolling over and playing dead, Kershaw had the merit of being an American. As such, he had neither penetrated, nor been captured by, the network of obsequiously deferential "old line" Roman advocates of the Signatura — men who seemed to think their function was to provide a rather terse canonical burial service for their clients, in suitably dignified Latin, for which they expected to be paid rather large sums of money.

Bishop Orders Blatant Violation
of Italian Law

Kershaw had noticed something else about the case, one of those facts so obvious that it can easily be overlooked: The order to return to Avellino was a blatant violation of Italian immigration law.

Since Father Gruner had never been a citizen or permanent resident of Italy, the Bishop of Avellino had no legal right in the first place to order him to take up permanent residence in Italy! In fact, Kershaw was familiar with the cases of non-Italian priests and nuns who had been expelled from Italy precisely for attempting to take up permanent residence without the proper immigration status.

Father Gruner could literally be arrested at the airport and deported back to Canada for attempting to "obey" the order to return. So the Plan was not only a violation of canon law, but also Italian civil law — a point the executors of the Plan had never even bothered to consider. But Kershaw was about to bring it to their attention.

With only a few days remaining to meet the deadline for a final appeal, Kershaw and his assistant, Andrea Fuligni, agreed to accept the case during an emergency meeting at the Hotel Michelangelo, a few hundred feet from the Vatican walls.

Kershaw's strategy was simple: If the matter could only be gotten past Grochelewski and placed before all the judges of the Signatura for a full hearing, there was a chance that justice would result. Perhaps one or more of the judges would be repelled by the spectacle of the proceedings to date, and sway some of the other judges.

Or perhaps the Pope would finally and personally take action on the still-pending canonical lawsuit (against Cardinal Sanchez, Archbishop Sepe and their collaborators) that he had received during the third Fatima conference in Rome — assuming he had ever been allowed to read it.

To have any chance of succeeding, Kershaw knew that he would have to risk embarrassing the Signatura with the almost unbelievable malfeasance of its own functionaries — something that he, unlike the previous "advocates", was not afraid to do. He moved swiftly to file the necessary pleadings.

On March 28, 1998, Kershaw would submit his appeal to the Plenaria, the Latin term for the full bank of judges in the Signatura. In essence, Kershaw would ask all of the judges to examine the case themselves for the first time in the proceedings, instead of relying upon the "advice" of Grochelewski and the now-recused Cardinal Agustoni. This document would be followed by a petition for restitutione in integrem — an extraordinary plea to set aside all previous decrees in the case on grounds of newly-discovered evidence. That evidence was the actual text of the letter of Cardinal Sanchez to the Archbishop of Hyderabad, which Father Gruner had just received from the Archbishop. This new evidence demonstrated (if any doubt remained) that the entire canonical process so far had been a sham in which the Bishop of Avellino was reduced to a helpless puppet whose decrees were the void products of coercion from above, rather than his own decisions in the matter.

The appeal to the Plenaria included a statement by Father Gruner raising two simple questions he hoped the tribunal would finally answer:

Will the highest Tribunal of the Holy Catholic Church tolerate a proceeding in which the judges are allowed to act secretly as adverse parties against the very priest they are judging, preventing him from carrying out the very order they convict him of disobeying, while the nominal promoter of justice turns a blind eye to what they are doing?

Will this tribunal allow to stand clearly erroneous findings of fact and law which have resulted in part from the failure of two of its own certified advocates to perform their most basic duty?

Continued Next Issue


  1. 1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Article 7.

  2. 2. There are hundreds of examples - e.g.: The Diocese of Stockton, California, was recently subjected to a verdict of $23 million for harboring a pedophile priest. The diocese of Dallas, Texas, was subjected to a liability verdict of $123 million under virtually identical circumstances.

  3. 3. Richard Owen, London Times Foreign News Service, March 26, 1998.

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