"Wanderer" article on Fr Nicholas Gruner

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By Pete Vere, JCL, and Shawn McElhinney

From “The Wanderer” 6.3.2003.

For some Catholics, there are three things in life that seem inevitable: death, taxes, and fund-raising letters from Fr. Nicholas detailing the latest alleged ‘conspiracy’ that is attempting to silence him. Thus Fr. Gruner’s latest missive, dated the feast of the Holy Innocents, is no different from the usual fare.

Many Wanderer readers will recall that not too many years ago, the Apostolic Signatura upheld Father Nicholas Gruner’s suspension from his priestly faculties. The Signatura is the Church’s highest court of appeal, short of the Holy Father himself. News of this suspension was made public in an official press release which in part stated: ‘The Congregation for the Clergy, upon the mandate from a higher authority, wishes to state that Rev. Nicholas Gruner is under a divinis suspension, which has been confirmed by a definitive sentence of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura’.

In response to this suspension from a competent Church authority, Fr. Gruner offers us the following official statement:

‘The law of God and cannon law itself state clearly (see cannons 221, 1321, and 1323) that no priest in the catholic Church can be suspended a divinis, or penalized with any other ecclesiastical penalty, if that priest has not committed a crime or transgression of Church law or precept. Since no such crime or transgression has ever been committed by or attributed to Fr. Gruner, it is absolutely clear and certain that he is not suspended from the priesthood. Anyone of any rank whatsoever, who says he is suspended is either ignorant of the facts, misled, or outright malicious.’

Now Fr. Gruner claims that he has committed no crime or transgression, despite the fact that the Church says differently. Fr. Gruner also claims that anyone who appears to contradict him is either ignorant of the facts, misled or outright malicious. Given the fact that Fr. Gruner’s suspension was upheld by a sentence of the Apostolic Signatura, this is simply amazing. Since all sentences rendered by a competent Church tribunal contain a section clearly laying out the facts, Fr. Gruner should perhaps either read or re-read the facts section of the Signatura’s sentence before putting forwards such claims.

As for the cannons cited by Fr. Gruner, cannon 1321 basically provides that no one can be punished unless he has actually committed some offence with malice or culpability. To refresh our memories, Fr. Gruner was ordered by his legitimate ecclesiastical superior to return to the diocese of his incardination. Keep in mind that he made a solemn promise or vow to serve this diocese when he was ordained. He was also warned that failure to return to his diocese of incardination would result in his suspension a divinis.

He did not undertake the action required of him, and subsequently his competent ecclesiastical superior followed through with the threatened suspension. Additionally, paragraph three of this same cannon states: ‘Where there has been an external violation, imputability is presumed, unless it appears otherwise.’ Some argue that Fr. Gruner’s imputability appears otherwise; however, it obviously did not appear to be such in the judgement of the apostolic Signatura. As Catholics, we should charitably assume that the Signatura knew all the facts when adjudicating Fr. Gruner’s case, and that these facts are aptly summarized in the Signatura’s judicial sentence.

Additionally, Fr. Gruner mentions canon 1323. This canon lists a number of exempting causes from canonical penalties. In the experience of the present authors, one of the exempting causes that Fr. Gruner’s supporters have cited in the past is one concerning ‘reason of necessity or grave inconvenience’. Nevertheless, this canon also specifies that neither applies if ‘the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls’. Given that Christ instituted the Church as a hierarchy, is not disobedience to the lawful command of one’s ecclesiastical superior harmful to souls?

Or is Fr. Gruner somehow exempt from the vow or promise of obedience he took at ordination? In essence, Fr. Gruner’s disobedience to legitimate Church authorities seems rather jarring when one considers the example of those who played a key role in the Fátima apparitions. From Holy Scripture, we know that the Blessed Virgin said ‘fiat’ when she was approached by the Archangel Gabriel and was asked to bear God the Son in her most blessed womb. As for Sister Lucia, the last living seer to receive Our Lady’s message at Fátima, she has lived her life as a holy example of faithful submission and obedience to legitimate Church authority.

As an aside, perhaps the lidless eyes among some of Fr. Gruner’s followers could explain how the obedience shown by Sister Lucia toward her hierarchal superiors in any way differs from that which these same folk denigrate as ‘neo-catholic’?

Thirdly, Fr. Gruner refers to canon 221. In the past, some of his defenders have referred to paragraph three of this canon, which states: ‘Christ’s faithful have the right that no canonical penalties be inflicted on them except in accordance with the law.’ Yet Pope John Paul II has trusted the Apostolic Signatura, and not Fr. Gruner and his supporters, with the competency to adjudicate this matter on behalf of the Church. Therefore, the penalty inflicted on Fr. Gruner has been upheld in complete accordance with both the letter and the spirit of canon 221.

Having addressed these canonical issues, let us now take a moment and consider how a faithful son of the Church might act when a superior imposes a penalty. While few rejoice in having a censure imposed upon them, how one deals with the censure should be consistent with our Catholic tradition of obedience.

Unfortunately, Fr. Gruner’s method of dealing with his censure seems to have more in common with the ways of Hans Küng, Charles Curran, and Leonardo Boff. In each of these cases, any action taken by the Holy See was followed by public wrangling and/or disputing in a manner that often appeared to accuse the Holy See of acting in bad faith. How then does a catholic informed by the tradition act? Here is one example:

St. Gerard lived between 1727 and 1755. He entered the Redemptorist community in 1748 as a lay brother and gave his profession four years later to St. Alphonsus Ligouri - the founder of the community. He became known for great holiness and charity and he also demonstrated the gift of prophecy. He was sought after as a spiritual adviser, although he was not a priest. However, when a woman he had helped to enter a convent failed in her profession, she lashed out at St. Gerard and falsely accused him of fornication and lechery.

Gerard made no answer to the charges, and was all but expelled from the community as a result. The woman later recanted upon her deathbed.

Upon learning of this, St. Alphonsus asked St. Gerard why he had remained silent. St. Gerard replied that he believed that this was what was required of him in the face of unjust accusations. He cited for his model Our Lord who was silent upon Pilate’s inquiry as to the charges against Him. He also cited the rule of the Redemptorists, which he believed stated that one was not to defend oneself from the charges of their superior.

He died shortly after being cleared of all charges.

Fr. Gruner does not appear to be cut from the same cloth as St. Gerard. Nor does he seem to have been cut from the same cloth as St. Lucia of Fátima, who, as we previously mentioned, has lived her life as a holy example of faithful submission and obedience to legitimate Church authority.

So, yes, Virginia, the Catholic Church has suspended Fr. Nicholas from his priestly faculties. And in following the Fátima message one must choose between Fr. Gruner’s example of disobedience to legitimate ecclesiastical authority, or Sr. Lucia’s heroic example of obedience to the Church during a difficult time in Church history.

Personally, Sr. Lucia’s example seems much more convincing and in keeping with the authentic Fátima message, as she was one of the three children chosen by the Blessed Mother of Christ to receive this important private revelation.

This article appeared in the Wanderer newspaper in March 2003

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