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THIS DOCUMENT IS WRITTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE TO FATHER
GRUNER’S CIVIL, CANONICAL AND NATURAL RIGHTS

 

May 16, 2001


II.

Is Entirely Consistent With Church Law
Father Gruner’s "Canonical Situation"

A. The original accusation of "disobedience"
has been abandoned.

In the canonical proceedings against Father Gruner we see a kind of "evolution" of the accusations against him, a constant shifting and changing of grounds. When one accusation is shown to be false, unfounded and even ridiculous another springs up to take its place. In the letter of February 16th alone three entirely new accusations—all spurious—suddenly appear for the first time. (We discuss these new matters below.)

The original accusation against Father Gruner, back in 1994, was that he was justly ordered to return to Avellino because of his "disobedience" in "failing" to find another bishop to incardinate him. But once it was demonstrated that this "failure" to find another bishop was caused by the illicit interventions of the Vatican Secretariat of State and your predecessors in the Congregation, who were systematically blocking all offers of incardination through browbeating and intimidation, this accusation became untenable in the eyes of the many faithful who support Father Gruner. After all, how could Father Gruner seriously be accused of "disobeying" an order by the very people who were preventing him from obeying it?

Then, more than four years later (and some two years after Your Eminence became head of the Congregation) a new accusation was devised. In 1998 it was claimed (for the very first time) that the Congregation had the right to block any and all incardinations outside Avellino because it allegedly possesses the "ordinary vicariate power" of the Pope himself. [This claim is discussed under Point II (E).] The exercise of this alleged "ordinary vicariate power" was supposedly justified on the basis of the claim (also newly introduced) that Father Gruner was guilty of being in an "irregular condition"—a condition which (conveniently enough) could not be corrected by any incardination that would allow him to continue his apostolate. As we will now demonstrate, the new accusation of "irregular condition" is just as groundless as the old accusation of "disobedience" in "failing" to find another bishop.

B. The alleged "irregular condition"
is an invention designed for Father Gruner’s case.

Under the first heading of the February 16th letter, there is a discussion of what is now the basic claim against Father Gruner in the canonical proceedings: that he is guilty of being in an "irregular condition." The term "irregular condition" appears nowhere in the Code of Canon Law. We are not aware of any priest (besides Father Gruner) who has ever been punished for an "irregular condition." The alleged offense of being in an "irregular condition" appears to have been devised solely for Father Gruner’s case.

An examination of the facts shows that this "irregular condition" consists of nothing more than Father Gruner’s full-time engagement in a Marian apostolate while living outside the diocese of his incardination with the express written permission of his bishop. Relying on some passages from a Decree of the Apostolic Signatura dated July 10, 1999 (which for some reason was not published until September 8, 1999), the February 16th letter asserts that this "irregular condition" in and of itself justified recalling Father Gruner to the Diocese of Avellino in 1994 after an approved absence of some 16 years.

In the first place, the law of the Church makes it clear that no diocesan priest needs permission to join or found any private association of the faithful whose activities are consistent with faith, morals and the priestly state. This is not simply a matter of canon law, but the natural law itself. Priests are human beings who have the same right of association as other human beings, unless they freely renounce that right by taking some special vow of silence or enclosure, as do the members of some religious orders. Diocesan or "secular" priests like Father Gruner are ordained to live in the world and are under no such special vow. Thus, as stated in can. 278: "Secular clerics (i.e. priests ordained for a diocese) have the right of association with others for the achievement of purposes befitting the clerical state." The Code of Canon Law (can. 299) further provides that "by private agreement among themselves, Christ’s faithful have the right to constitute associations for the purposes mentioned in can. 298 . . ." No decree of any tribunal, civil or ecclesiastical, can take away a priest’s God-given natural right of association with other human beings in legitimate undertakings, and no one has ever questioned the legitimacy of the apostolate in itself.

Indeed, the February 16th letter does not deny that Father Gruner has the God-given right to be involved in a Marian apostolate. Nevertheless, it tries to impose a false limitation on that right when it says that Father Gruner’s full-time involvement in the apostolate constitutes the so-called "irregular condition." According to the February 16th letter, such involvement "precludes him [Father Gruner] from being entrusted with a responsibility by the competent authority."10 This contention is false for three reasons, all of which are amply and repeatedly proven in the canonical proceedings:

First, the Bishop of Avellino made it clear from the start that Father Gruner could never have a canonical mission in Avellino, where he had been incardinated only in anticipation of joining an English-speaking Franciscan community in nearby Frigento, oriented around a traditional religious life and dogmatic orthodoxy. When it became clear that this English- speaking community was not going to materialize, the Bishop was only too happy to release Father Gruner from service to him, since Father Gruner could not speak the local dialect and could not even deliver a sermon unless it was written out in advance and checked for linguistic errors. Therefore, Father Gruner had no "responsibility" in Avellino which would be incompatible with a full-time Marian apostolate.

This is precisely why, in 1978, the Bishop gave Father Gruner a written decree granting him permission to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino—where he was not needed—until he could find some other bishop to incardinate him. No time limit was placed on this permission. Again and again Father Gruner repeats these (and many other) basic uncontested facts; again and again they are ignored.

Regarding the 1978 permission, we must note that the February 16th letter attempts to rewrite its terms some 23 years later in order to prejudice Father Gruner’s position. Quoting from a purported decree of the Signatura, Your Eminence contends that Father Gruner never had permission as such to reside outside the diocese of Avellino, but only permission to reside in a diocese which had first accepted him "ad experimentum with a view towards incardination." Not only does the 1978 permission impose no such restriction, but earlier documents of your own Congregation admit that Father Gruner’s permission to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino was unrestricted.11 That the Congregation should have to resort to misrepresenting a crucial document, while contradicting its own prior statements about the same document, only demonstrates the lack of any sound basis for the claims against Father Gruner.

Second, even if Father Gruner could have had some canonical mission within the diocese of Avellino, his canonical "condition" is no more "irregular" than that of thousands of other diocesan priests whose bishops allow them to live and work full-time outside the diocese of incardination in a wide array of occupations, many of them entirely secular. In this age of jet travel and high speed communications, including the internet, it is commonplace to find priests formally incardinated in one diocese while living and working thousands of miles away as students, teachers, university professors, scientists, writers (even of popular novels!), members of various sacred and secular institutes, heads of private apostolates and so forth. The city of Rome itself is full of priests who maintain only a formal connection with their bishops while pursuing full-time activities having nothing to do with parish work in their dioceses of origin. During the meeting on February 20th the Archbishop Secretary of your own Congregation admitted to Father Gruner the undeniable truth that this sort of arrangement is commonplace not only in Rome, but throughout the entire Church.

As Your Eminence knows, these commonplace arrangements are fully consistent with a priest’s obligation to serve the bishop who incardinates him. Incardination has never meant a requirement of literal physical presence within the borders of a diocese. Indeed, the canon pertaining to the residence of incardinated clerics provides merely that: "Clerics, even if they do not have a residential office, are not to be absent from their diocese for a considerable time, to be determined by particular law, without the at least presumed permission of their proper Ordinary." (Cfr., can. 283) This canon explicitly recognizes the reality that a priest may live and work outside his diocese indefinitely so long as he has the permission of his ordinary, yet still be serving the diocese as envisioned by the law. Again, thousands of priests do precisely that. What is more, can. 283 requires only presumed permission for residence outside the diocese, whereas Father Gruner had written permission from the Bishop of Avellino by way of the 1978 decree, as well as oral and written affirmations of that permission over the next 16 years.

Third, no one has ever disputed that at least three benevolent bishops were willing to incardinate Father Gruner with permission to pursue his apostolate in Canada. There can be no denying that it is well within the authority of any bishop to allow one of his priests to engage in apostolic work in some other place as a form of service to the diocese. Whether work outside the diocese benefits the diocese is for the local bishop to determine by agreement with his priest, just as it should be in the case of Father Gruner.

In fact, at this very moment a portion of the donations flowing to Father Gruner’s apostolate supports an orphanage in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, where Father Gruner was duly incardinated in November 1995, as discussed at Point I (F). In addition, Father Gruner has conducted Marian pilgrimages in that Archdiocese, which have enlivened the faith of tens of thousands of Catholics in the region while attracting throngs of potential converts, drawn by the apostolate’s Pilgrim Virgin statue which was blessed by Pope Paul VI. Father Gruner’s apostolate has also distributed hundreds of thousands of scapulars and millions of copies of traditional Catholic devotional literature around the world. No wonder the Archbishop of Hyderabad declared in his decree of incardination: "Bureaucratic forces cannot stifle God’s work."12

It is simply not honest to contend that Father Gruner performs no service to the Archdiocese of Hyderabad with all these good works, but that he would be "serving" the Diocese of Avellino in the status of an illegal alien who cannot even speak the local dialect. The current Bishop of Avellino freely admitted that Father Gruner’s only function in Avellino, were he to return, would be to "say your prayers." That is, Avellino would be nothing more than an ecclesiastical jail where Father Gruner would be wrongfully imprisoned for the rest of his life. This is not to suggest that a priest should not say his prayers (including the Divine Office) every day. But Father Gruner was ordained to do more than say his prayers. As a diocesan priest, he has the God-given vocation of being in the world to spread the Gospel. He did not take a vow of enclosure or silence, and it is contrary to divine justice itself to impose enclosure or silence upon him when he has done nothing to justify such punishment.

Ignoring all of these facts, the February 16th letter asserts that no matter what the benevolent bishops were willing to approve, the Congregation had the right to block Father Gruner’s incardination outside Avellino in the exercise of its "vigilance over the fruitfulness of the pastoral ministry" of priests. This claim implicitly denies the divine right of a local ordinary to reach agreements with his priests on how they will serve the diocese. According to this claim, the Congregation would literally have the right to dictate which parish or other assignment would be most "fruitful" for each of the world’s 250,000 diocesan priests at any given moment in their careers, overriding the decisions of the local bishop whenever it pleased. This notion that the Congregation micro-manages the "fruitfulness" of the ministry of 250,000 individual priests would in practice amount to a total absurdity. It appears to be another invention for the case of Father Gruner.

Besides, Father Gruner’s pastoral ministry is manifestly one of the most fruitful in the Church today. Yet it is proposed to destroy that ministry and reduce Father Gruner to the status of a manservant and pauper, living out his life in a diocese which has no mission for him but to sit in a room and "say your prayers."

The False Claim of "Acephalous Activity"

The February 16th letter claims that Father Gruner’s conduct of a Marian apostolate in Canada constitutes "acephalous activity" or activity "without reference to the legitimate authority of the Church." This is obviously false, for three reasons:

First, the Code of Canon Law gives priests the right to join and establish such apostolates without any further permission of Church authority. Thus, the Code itself constitutes permission of "the legitimate authority of the Church"—namely, the Supreme Pontiff, who promulgated the Code.

Second, as we have already shown, three bishops were willing to authorize the apostolate as a valid form of service to their dioceses, and the Archbishop of Hyderabad has specifically authorized it by written decree. These bishops all represent "the legitimate authority of the Church." [It should be noted here that even if a bishop merely gave Father Gruner permission to reside in Canada without any particular assignment beyond offering Mass for the diocese, absolutely nothing would prevent his engagement in the apostolate as a private activity permissible under the law of the Church (cfr. Cann. 298, 299, etc.) which would ipso facto have "reference to the legitimate Authority of the Church."]

Third, as Your Eminence knows, the problem of "acephalous clergy" addressed by the requirement of incardination refers only to priests who would presume to exercise a priestly ministry on a "wandering" basis, taking to themselves without express permission works that are reserved to the pastor of the parish. This situation has absolutely nothing to do with Father Gruner engaging in a private apostolate in Canada, which is no different in principle from the activities of thousands of other priests who live and work outside the dioceses of their incardination.

On the other hand, if it is being suggested that a bishop cannot allow one of his own priests to engage in an extra-diocesan apostolate under any circumstances since this would always constitute "acephalous activity," that suggestion ignores Church law, immemorial custom and the reality of life in the Church today, as we have shown.13 Furthermore, if an extra-diocesan apostolate or other full-time assignment per se constituted illegal "acephalous activity," the Congregation for the Clergy would logically be obliged to discipline thousands of priests engaged in "acephalous activity" throughout the world, including Rome itself. How many of the innumerable priests engaged in full-time work outside their dioceses of incardination has the Congregation threatened with excommunication, defrocking or any penalty on grounds of "acephalous activity" constituting an "irregular condition"? We are confident the answer is none—except for Father Gruner.

The Spurious Citation to Vatican II

Amazingly enough, the February 16th letter cites the teaching of Vatican II, the most liberalizing Council in the history of the Church, for the proposition that a diocesan priest—by which is meant only Father Gruner—must serve his bishop by performing strictly diocesan functions within the physical confines of his diocese.

For all of the reasons just cited, neither the Code of Canon Law (which definitively interprets Vatican II’s teaching on incardination) nor the immemorial custom and common practice of the Church, nor the concrete circumstances of the priesthood today, lend any support to this notion. Again, it seems to have been invented solely for the case of Father Gruner.

A "Law" that Applies Only to Father Gruner

When all is said and done, the question of Father Gruner’s "canonical situation" is really quite simple: Can a bishop give one of his priests permission to reside and conduct a full-time apostolate in some other place? The answer, obviously, is yes. Yet this question is the very one which the Congregation and the Signatura have refused to address in seven years of canonical proceedings. As the February 16th letter (quoting the Signatura) states: "Indeed, leaving aside the question of by what right a Bishop in India or Brazil could permit a priest incardinated in his diocese to remain in Canada to pursue an apostolate there, it is immediately apparent in such circumstance the condition of Father Gruner would in no way have been corrected."

Your Eminence, we ask you with all due deference: How can you "leave aside" the question whose answer would extinguish the entire claim that Father Gruner’s "condition" is "irregular"? How in good faith can you simply ignore the very heart of the matter?

But it is clear why the heart of the matter is ignored: Once it is conceded that the three bishops who wished to incardinate Father Gruner had the right to authorize his apostolate in Canada—and it must be conceded because the law, immemorial custom and common practice of the Church allow it—then what remains of Father Gruner’s "irregular condition"? Absolutely nothing. What does remain is the only possible motive for all of this striving to contrive a canonical offense where none exists: It is not that a priest is forbidden to engage in a private apostolate, but rather that certain members of the Vatican apparatus do not like this apostolate, yet do not have any real grounds for suppressing it. Therefore, suppression is being attempted under the false pretense of merely applying general principles of Church law. If only there were such determination to punish the many purveyors of heresy and scandal throughout the Church today!

From all of this one can only conclude that Father Gruner is being judged under a special rule of law which applies only to him. He, and he alone, is prohibited from pursuing an apostolate outside the diocese of his incardination—even with the permission of three successive bishops who offered him incardination with the intention that his apostolate would continue.

As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, a "law" which applies only to one person is no law at all, but an unjust and arbitrary measure. Such a measure is contrary to the very purpose of law, which is to set a standard of conduct equally applicable to all the members of a given community, so that they will be able to govern their behavior without fear of arbitrary punishment. But arbitrary punishment is, we respectfully suggest, the very aim of the actions now being taken against Father Gruner.

C. A false and misleading chronology
which omits all the crucial facts.

As shown in the preceding discussion, Father Gruner had written permission to reside outside the Diocese of Avellino from 1978 until January 31, 1994, when the Bishop, bowing to the coercive measures we have described, first recalled Father Gruner to the diocese.

Contrary to the plain facts, however, the February 16th letter asserts that "the first instructions to return were made in 1977," and that your Congregation has "acted pastorally, with patience and moderation, for more than twenty years." These assertions are supported with a highly selective "chronology" of correspondence which is easily exposed as a deceptive contrivance:

First, the chronology cites a letter from the Bishop of Avellino in August 1977 advising Father Gruner to find a bishop within 30 days, but the same chronology conveniently omits Father Gruner’s two letters in reply, asking whether he should return to Avellino, and the Bishop’s ultimate answer in the form of the aforesaid June 5, 1978 decree giving Father Gruner permission to remain outside the Diocese of Avellino until he found another bishop. The omission of these three crucial documents does not serve the cause of honest discussion.

Second, the chronology cites a letter from the Nuncio to Father Gruner in October 1978 which wrongly accused him of being outside his diocese without permission. But it fails to mention that Father Gruner immediately telephoned the Nuncio, told him of his written permission to reside in Canada, and arranged a meeting in January 1979, at which Father Gruner showed the Nuncio the Bishop of Avellino’s decree of June 5, 1978. At this, the Nuncio acknowledged that Father Gruner had the right to be in Canada and that he was not a "vagus" priest. Father Gruner heard nothing further from the Nuncio or any other Church authority for nearly three years.

Third, the chronology quotes a letter from the same Nuncio in December 1981, advising that the Congregation had instructed him to intervene "to regularize your stay in Canada." But it fails to mention that Father Gruner had already sent a written appeal to the Holy Father, Cardinal Oddi (then head of the Congregation) and the Bishop of Avellino when he heard of rumors to suspend him, evidently because his staunch pro-life activism had offended Cardinal Carter of Toronto.14 During a visit to Rome in August 1981, Father Gruner met with the Pope’s personal secretary, Father McGee, who told him that he had read Father Gruner’s appeal aloud to the Pope while His Holiness was recovering in Gemelli hospital after the assassination attempt. During the same visit to Rome, Father Gruner was told personally by Msgr. Usai, then an official of your own Congregation, that it was "the Nuncio"—that is, the Vatican Secretariat of State—and not the Congregation that was causing problems for Father Gruner in Canada. After brief inquiries from the Nuncio in December 1981 and March 1982, Father Gruner had no further difficulties for the next six years.

Fourth, while the chronology strives to create the false impression of constant conflict with your Congregation for "more than twenty years," it fails to mention that during the period 1982 to 1988 Father Gruner repeatedly went in person to the Congregation to speak with its Undersecretary, Msgr. Zanone, about what he should do. On each occasion Msgr. Zanone told Father Gruner that the Congregation had no problem with his activities and that he should carry on as before.

Fifth, continuing the suppression of crucial evidence, the chronology fails to mention that Father Gruner had various faculties from Canadian bishops (for preaching, hearing confessions, etc.) from 1978 to 1988, even though such faculties were never legally necessary for his work. Why would bishops extend faculties to a priest who was supposedly in a state of "disobedience" and conflict with your Congregation since 1977?

Sixth, the chronology quotes a letter from the Bishop of Avellino to Father Gruner in May of 1989, reciting "worried signals" from the Vatican Secretariat of State—which is true enough!—and vague complaints that certain nameless Canadian bishops "did not like" Father Gruner’s apostolate. But the chronology fails to mention that what these nameless bishops "did not like" was the apostolate’s steadfastly traditional Catholic orientation in a country whose hierarchy had openly dissented from Humanae Vitae, and which to this day is deeply afflicted with heterodoxy and sexual scandal. These anonymous accusers also did not like the presence of a traditional Catholic priest in a cassock, who will not distribute communion in the hand. For that matter, much of the Canadian hierarchy (like the German hierarchy) "does not like" the teaching of the Pope himself on various matters of faith and morals, as Father Gruner’s apostolate has pointed out more than once.

Seventh, the chronology cites a letter from the Bishop of Avellino to Father Gruner, dated November 15, 1989, which is offered to suggest that the bishop "revoked" Father Gruner’s permission to remain in Canada. But the chronology leaves out the next five years of correspondence and events! Why? Evidently, because subsequent correspondence from the Bishop confirms Father Gruner’s continued permission to reside in Canada. For example, on December 23, 1989 the Bishop wrote to thank Father Gruner for his good wishes and to advise him to continue to look for another bishop while residing in Canada. There is not the slightest suggestion that Father Gruner was obliged to return to Avellino. This letter followed a meeting with Father Gruner’s representative in that same month during which the Bishop orally renewed the permission to reside in Canada. There was a further meeting in Avellino between the Bishop, Father Gruner and his representative on January 25, 1990. On this occasion the Bishop, clicking his heels together for emphasis, stated as follows: "I hereby renew the permission my predecessor gave you." He also said "to suspend you [Father Gruner] would be a mortal sin," but that he would have no choice but to do so if pressured by the Secretariat of State. After this, Father Gruner had no difficulties with the Bishop of Avellino concerning his incardination for another four years. In fact, during this period the Bishop sent further correspondence (including a certificate of good standing in April of 1990) all of which reflects Father Gruner’s continued permission to be outside the diocese. None of these facts has ever been denied by ecclesiastical authority. Yet every one of them is omitted from the "chronology."

Eighth, for some reason the chronology omits a letter of July 24, 1989 to Father Gruner from Cardinal Innocenti, then head of your Congregation, which purports to order Father Gruner to return to Avellino in 60 days (by September 30, 1989), even though the Bishop of Avellino had given no such order himself. It also fails to mention that Father Gruner appealed this improper intervention immediately to the Congregation and to the Pope in a document he personally handed to the Holy Father at a general audience in January 1990. After this, Father Gruner received no communications from the Congregation for the next five years.15

Ninth, jumping from November 1989 to May 16, 1996, the chronology cites the Bishop of Avellino’s decree ordering Father Gruner to return to Avellino under threat of suspension—an order issued under coercion by the Secretariat of State, acting through the Congregation. But the chronology fails to mention that by this date Father Gruner had already received a decree of incardination in Hyderabad.

This, then, is the "chronology" of Father Gruner’s alleged "disobedience" for "more than twenty years." As we can see, it is carefully contrived to conceal the simple truth:

    • From 1977 until at least 1994 Father Gruner had the continuous permission of his bishop to reside in Canada

      .
    • The only adverse communication Father Gruner received from the Congregation for the Clergy in those 16 years was one letter from Cardinal Innocenti in July of 1989, which was abandoned after Father Gruner appealed it to the Holy Father in January 1990.

As for the past seven years, of course, Father Gruner has been engaged in canonical appeals which have stayed the unjust and illegal order to return to Avellino. Those appeals hardly constitute "disobedience." Since 1994 Father Gruner has done nothing more than avail himself of the same legal procedures the Congregation assiduously respects when dealing with heretics and child molesters in the priesthood.

In short, we are forced to conclude that the chronology is designed to mislead the uninformed reader. In charity, we have assumed that this chronology (like the rest of the February 16th letter) was prepared for Your Eminence by another, since it does not seem you have read the acts of Father Gruner’s case. Whoever prepared the chronology certainly did read the acts, however, and knew precisely which documents to omit in order to create the false impression that the Congregation has been counseling Father Gruner "with patience and moderation for more than twenty years."

Whether or not Your Eminence had prior knowledge that this chronology is misleading, now that we have brought the problem to Your Eminence’s attention we respectfully suggest that you reconsider your current course of conduct. If Your Eminence’s threat were carried out, Father Gruner would be the only diocesan priest in living memory to be excommunicated by a direct sentence of the Vatican. Your Eminence has a duty before God not to impose this unprecedented penalty based on "evidence" which is clearly shown to be contrived and defective. The "vigilance" Your Eminence professes to exercise must extend, first of all, to the allegations in your own letter, for which Your Eminence alone is ultimately responsible.

D. Father Gruner’s incardination in Hyderabad
is illegitimately questioned.

As the previous discussion makes clear, the plan to block Father Gruner’s incardination by any bishop willing to approve his Marian apostolate did not work to perfection. Having realized the illicit, unprecedented and unjust nature of the interventions against Father Gruner, the Archbishop of Hyderabad decided to honor his decree incardinating Father Gruner, which he had issued November 4, 1995.

The decree of incardination speaks the truth when it says that "Evil forces have conspired to put an end to your work of love." In affirming his decree with a further decree on March 10, 1999, the Archbishop of Hyderabad even more courageously declared as follows:

    After due discernment, I am convinced that I am acting correctly though I was partly misled by influential people. I strongly feel that the good work he [Father Gruner] is doing in spreading devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary should not be hampered for the present, especially through undue canonical or juridical pressures. May Jesus Christ be praised!

The same Archbishop is the first signatory on an Open Letter to the Pope (published April 2, 1998 in Il Messaggero, a daily newspaper in Rome) which protests the persecution of Father Gruner by operatives of the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation. (The Open Letter is also signed by 9 other archbishops, 17 bishops, and 1900 priests and religious.) The Archbishop is a powerful witness to the truth in this matter: Father Gruner has been subjected to arbitrary rules and abuses of power, not the impartial exercise of "vigilance over the fruitfulness of the pastoral ministry of priests."

In the end, the attack on the validity of the incardination in Hyderabad depends on nothing more than the wrongful interference of Your Eminence, Your Eminence’s predecessors and the Vatican Secretariat of State in the normal relations between a priest and his bishop. Whatever trivial objections are made to the form of the incardination papers could easily be remedied if normal customs, laws and practices were allowed to operate in Father Gruner’s case.16 The Congregation’s purported technical objections to the incardination are an attempt to exalt form over substance—exactly the opposite of what Church law requires. Church law is based on substantial justice, and the overriding concern is what the legislator really intended. (Cfr. can. 17)

No one can seriously deny that the Bishop of Avellino really intended that Father Gruner be excardinated in favor of another bishop, since there could never be any canonical mission for him in Avellino. This constant readiness to excardinate Father Gruner the moment he found another bishop is reflected in all the pertinent documents issued by the Bishop, beginning with the original decree of June 5, 1978 and continuing until January 31, 1994, when the Bishop (under coercion) recalled Father Gruner to Avellino for the first time in 16 years—and this only a few days after the Bishop had told Father Gruner in person that he had no grievances against him and that he should go back to Canada!17 In fact, in the case of the first Indian bishop who wished to incardinate Father Gruner, the Bishop of Avellino freely admitted in writing that he could not allow it only because the Congregation had "tied his hands," and that he could do nothing until he heard from Your Eminence’s predecessors, who were clearly carrying out the demands of certain members of the Secretariat of State.18

We noted at the beginning of this reply the fundamental error of the February 16th letter where it asserts that on the date of the incardination in Hyderabad (November 4, 1995) Father Gruner was already under suspension by the Bishop of Avellino. This is obviously false. The only order the Bishop of Avellino had issued as of that date was the aforementioned decree of January 31, 1994, recalling Father Gruner to Avellino. This decree carried no penalty of suspension. Again, there was not even a threat of suspension from Avellino until six months after the decree of incardination from Hyderabad had been issued and the necessary papers had been delivered to both the Bishop of Avellino and the Archbishop of Hyderabad.

Moreover, the contention that incardination in Hyderabad was precluded by the January 31, 1994 order to return to Avellino involves a non sequitur. That Father Gruner had been ordered (unjustly and illegally) to return to Avellino did not preclude the exercise of his canonical right to transfer to another diocese should another bishop be willing to accept him. (Cfr., can. 270)19 The Archbishop of Hyderabad was one of three such bishops.

The Vatican Secretariat of State, however, had no intention of allowing Father Gruner to exercise the same rights as any other priest. Hence your predecessors pronounced the incardination in Hyderabad "tanquam non existens" and Your Eminence now takes the same position. But why is the incardination "non-existent"? Your Eminence and his predecessors have proposed two circular arguments in this regard.

From 1994 until 1999 it was claimed that the incardination was "non-existent" because Father Gruner was not "canonically free" to be excardinated from Avellino. And why was he not canonically free to be excardinated? Because he had been ordered to return to Avellino. But why had he been ordered to return to Avellino? Because he had "failed" to find another bishop to incardinate him. But was not the Archbishop of Hyderabad another bishop? Yes, but Father Gruner could not be incardinated in Hyderabad because he had been ordered to return to Avellino!

In 1999 a new circular argument was proposed: Even though the Archbishop of Hyderabad (not to mention two other bishops) was willing to incardinate Father Gruner, the Archbishop could not do so because of Father Gruner’s "irregular condition." But what was "irregular" about Father Gruner’s condition? He was conducting an apostolate "without reference to the legitimate authority of the Church." But was not the Archbishop of Hyderabad a legitimate authority of the Church who was willing to approve the apostolate? Yes, but the Archbishop could not incardinate Father Gruner because of his "irregular condition"!

Both of these circular arguments leave us once again at the very heart of the matter, which the February 16th letter fails to address by acknowledging the undeniable truth. For to acknowledge the truth that a bishop could approve the Canadian apostolate is to admit that the threatened canonical penalties have no basis in law or fact, and that the accusations of "disobedience" and "irregular condition" are empty fictions.

E. The alleged "competence" of the Congregation
to interfere in Father Gruner’s incardination.

For years your predecessors in the Congregation denied the illicit interventions we have been discussing here. They consistently claimed they were merely upholding independent judgments of the Bishop of Avellino.20 But it eventually became impossible for them to maintain this pretense in the face of mounting evidence of their behind-the-scenes interference in Father Gruner’s rights.

No longer able to deny the evidence of your predecessors’ interference in Father Gruner’s incardination, Your Eminence (in 1998) suddenly adopted an entirely new position. Admitting that your predecessors had been blocking Father Gruner’s incardination all along, you now claim that they had the right to act in this manner because they (and you) possess the "ordinary vicariate power" of the Pope himself and are "the hierarchical superior" of all the world’s bishops. If that were really true, then why did the Congregation pretend for so many years that it was merely upholding the Bishop of Avellino’s own decisions? Consider the recently uncovered letter from Cardinal Innocenti and Archbishop (now Cardinal) Agustoni to the Bishop of Avellino in October 1989, instructing the Bishop to recall Father Gruner to Avellino while pretending this was his own idea.21 This letter alone proves that the Congregation knew it had to appear to respect the Bishop’s authority and that it had no right to order Father Gruner’s return to Avellino directly if the Bishop himself had not given such an order.

As Father Gruner has amply demonstrated in his formal replies before the Congregation and the Signatura, the claim that the Congregation is a "vicariate" Pope which can order bishops to do what it pleases is an attack upon the divine constitution of the Church. As the First Vatican Council solemnly and infallibly taught, each bishop is the ruler over his own diocese by divine right.22 You and your predecessors assert, to the contrary, that the Congregation has the final say over whether a bishop may incardinate or excardinate a particular priest, and that the members of the Congregation, being "vicariate" popes or "vicars" of the Vicar of Christ, can prevent an incardination or an excardination for any reason or no reason at all, even if the bishops involved have no grounds of their own to deny the priest his rights.

The same notion seems to be at work in the other Vatican congregations, whose members also claim to be de facto Popes or "vicars" of the Pope who act "in the name of the Holy Father." The Vatican is now apparently peopled by numerous "vicariate" popes who operate without any specific papal mandate for their various decisions. Indeed, the only one who has not been heard from over the past seven years of proceedings is the Holy Father himself. Especially with the Holy Father’s condition deteriorating, the result of this theory of the vicariate papacy is a substantial undermining of true papal authority, which is divided among various factions in the Vatican.

And on what grounds was this alleged "vicariate" papal authority exercised against Father Gruner? Solely on the grounds that Father Gruner’s "irregular condition" had to be "corrected." But what was "irregular" about Father Gruner’s "condition" if three bishops were willing to give him permission to continue his apostolate in Canada, and if, moreover, such arrangements between a priest and his bishop are in accord with the law, immemorial custom and common practice of the Church? Here, yet again, we come to the heart of the matter, which is ignored because it reveals that the claims against Father Gruner rest on nothing but thin air.

F. The argument from authority
cannot eliminate the truth.

As we have shown, Your Eminence’s contentions regarding Father Gruner’s "canonical situation" and the incardination in Hyderabad do not correspond to the facts, the law or the reality of life in the Church. Your Eminence draws most of his contentions from purported decisions of the Apostolic Signatura, as if to say that the authority of this Tribunal precludes any possible demonstration of Father Gruner’s true situation. But as Saint Thomas teaches, contra factum non argumentum est—against a fact there is no argument. The argument from authority cannot overcome an argument based upon the objective truth.

Thus, no tribunal, no matter what its authority, could issue a binding decree that, for example, white is black or that 2 + 2 = 5. Likewise, the Apostolic Signatura, no matter what its authority, cannot judge Father Gruner to be guilty of canonical offenses which do not exist in the law but were invented to give the appearance of legality to his unjust punishment. Nor can the Apostolic Signatura, the Congregation for the Clergy or the Bishop of Avellino order Father Gruner to break the law by taking up permanent residence in a foreign county without a proper visa, or compel him to lie about the purpose of his visit so as to gain entry under the false pretense of being a mere visitor.

The Church, above all institutions on earth, is bound to recognize that no decree or penalty can be valid unless it corresponds to truth and justice. (Cfr. Can. 1321) Therefore, the argument from authority is unavailing. The objective truth is that Father Gruner is guilty of no actual offense and that the order to return to Avellino is, in any case; in esse ab initio (null and void in itself from the beginning) and furthermore is legally and morally impossible to obey. Therefore, Father Gruner cannot legitimately be deemed "suspended," much less "excommunicated" or defrocked on the basis of that order. This is all that matters under the law of the Church and before God and man.

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