At the side of the wonderworker Franciscan with the stigmata, Providence deigned to place a disciple who would defend his rights, so often violated by the internal and external enemies of the Church.
Perhaps there was no place in the Europe of 1919 that surpassed Gargano in peace and tranquillity, a promontory which harmonized both the ruggedness and the innocence of landscapes hardly touched by human hands.Atop the rock looking out on the Adriatic Sea, from which the picturesque village of San Giovanni Rotondo rises, people used to live in a serenity almost unknown to a humanity accustomed to the constant noise of modern megalopolises.
However, starting in May 1919, visitors from all over the world began to invade this placid setting. They were not tourists; they wanted to see a man of God – il santo, as he was called – who, they said, read the innermost depths of souls, worked miracles and bore in his own body the signs of the Passion of Christ. The fame of Francesco Forgione, the Capuchin friar better known as Padre Pio, spread like wildfire. Amid so many prodigies, the conversion of a prosperous businessman named Emmanuele Brunatto is especially noteworthy.
Born in Turin on September 9, 1892, Brunatto had led a dissolute life until, in 1919, through a periodical of the time that fell into his hands, he learned of the existence of a friar who had received the stigmata of the Passion of Christ. More out of curiosity than piety, he decided to see him with his own eyes, a desire that he only fulfilled a year later, after being struck by a financial catastrophe.
To the amazement of many, at the age of twenty-eight Emmanuele Brunatto was converted after a radical Confession with the Saint. So complete was his transformation that he was authorized to live in the Capuchin friary as an assistant of one whom he would henceforth consider his spiritual father.
Padre Pio persecuted
The monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo was part of the Archdiocese of Manfredonia, headed by Archbishop Pasquale Gagliardi. While enthusiasm for Padre Pio was growing among the faithful, this prelate and some canons of the village, unfortunately displeased by the situation created by the stigmatic monk’s fame, spread the most deplorable calumnies against him. And the worst was yet to come.
Fr. Agostino Gemelli, a Franciscan priest who had led a life estranged from religion until the age of twenty-five, when he converted, paid a visit to Padre Pio in 1920 to examine his stigmata. However, the authorities had decided the previous year that any examination of the wounds of the religious would only be carried out with the written authorization of the Holy Office and of the Capuchin superior. Since the priest lacked this authorization, the Saint could not show him the signs of the Passion. Disgruntled, Gemelli began to proclaim everywhere that the wounds were self-inflicted injuries, and that he himself had examined them.
On January 22, 1922, Pope Benedict XV died, and Pius XI, whose friendship Fr. Gemelli enjoyed, ascended to the papal throne… Less than three months after his coronation, the Holy Office decided to place Padre Pio under observation.
In May of the following year, a severe condemnation of Padre Pio was published, in which the Vatican Congregation continually reiterated the necessity of transferring him to another monastery. Despite a canonical error in the document,1 attempts were made to enforce the decisions, but in vain: the pressure of the population was such that it became impossible to transfer the Italian Saint without resorting to force.
Faced with such an injustice, Padre Pio’s “first spiritual son” did not remain idle.
Example of resistance to persecutions
Brunatto began to investigate the far-from-exemplary life of Padre Pio’s persecutors. He managed to gather a great deal of evidence in this regard and immediately proceeded to Rome to inform the Holy See. Nevertheless, his efforts yielded little results. In fact, there he only found the support of St. Luigi Orione and of Cardinals Pietro Gasparri and Merry del Val. Brunatto realized that hostility to Padre Pio did not come only from a simple Bishop of Manfredonia and a few canons.
He decided, then, to employ more radical means. On April 21, 1926, he wrote the book Padre Pio of Pietrelcina – condemned by the Vatican two days after publication – in which he showed the true moral physiognomy of those slanderers.
Despite the condemnation of the work, good results were obtained from it: the appointment of an apostolic visitor to correct the moral deviations denounced, and the designation of Brunatto himself as auxiliary. As for Archbishop Gagliardi, some years later he was dismissed from his post, after an inquiry solicited by the priests of his archdiocese, due to long-standing horrors that decency prevents us from transcribing here.
A “bombshell book”
After some time, Cardinal Merry del Val commissioned Brunatto to carry out an investigation into the licentious habits of certain personalities of the highest religious sphere, a task he successfully completed. Armed with the information obtained, he decided, by way of pressure to free Padre Pio, to circulate a Letter to the Church, in which he made public the terrible moral life of the persecutors of his spiritual father, some of whom held high ecclesiastical offices.
However, this time the result was not favourable: in response, a decree was published which obliged Padre Pio to celebrate his Masses only within the walls of the monastery, and not in a public church, and deprived him of all other faculties of ministry. If Brunatto had combined his impetus with wise diplomacy, perhaps the outcome would have been different…
His friend and auxiliary, the lawyer Francesco Morcaldi, also lacked sagacity. He was persuaded by certain authorities to hand over several documents in his possession, which had served as a basis for the drafting of the Letter to the Church, in exchange for a supposed “liberating measure”, that was never taken, regarding Padre Pio.
Disillusioned, Brunatto decided not to give an inch and published, in 1932, a “bombshell book”: The Antichrists in the Church of Christ. In it he denounced not only the declared enemies of the stigmatic friar, but also other high-ranking personalities who by their behaviour demeaned the dignity of their office… The result was immediate: on July 14, 1933, Padre Pio was set free. Pope Pius XI himself stated that it was “the first time in the history of the Church that the Holy Office had retracted its decrees.”2
Prelude to a new persecution
The Franciscan Saint was able to live in peace for another thirty years. Miracles and healings did not cease and the devotees multiplied; however, he was far from being rid of his persecutors…
The economic situation of the Capuchins in Italy was critical. This was especially so in Foggia, where the religious had deposited large sums of money in the hands of a famous banker, Giuffrè, who went bankrupt. Everything they had handed over to him was lost.
Padre Pio had never been involved in this affair and advised his brothers in the habit against it. Since he sought the Kingdom of God and His justice, he confided that the rest would be given him in addition (cf. Mt 6:33). In fact, donations came pouring in and with them the Saint was able to maintain a hospital he had built, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the property for which had been donated by Emmanuele Brunatto himself.
In the meantime some of Padre Pio’s confreres began to misappropriate the donations intended for him. The news reached the Vatican, and Msgr. Mario Crovini was commissioned to investigate this situation, which unfortunately was real. The culprits received some sanctions. However, as soon as the mission was over, Pope John XXIII gave his consent to a request from the General Minister of the Capuchins: an apostolic visitation which would put an end to Padre Pio’s “incapacity” to govern the hospital.
As soon as this decision was taken, some of Padre Pio’s confreres began to “investigate him”, placing tape recorders in several private places, such as his cell and even his confessional: a true sacrilege! However, they claimed they were obeying orders coming from very high places.
Bias and injustice on the part of the visitators
The apostolic visitor, Msgr. Carlo Maccari, went into action on July 29, 1960. The first person he visited was Michele De Nittis, one of the canons of San Giovanni Rotondo who had savagely slandered Padre Pio in the 1920s.
While he continued his work, his assistant, Fr. Giovanni Barberini – the same who would later affirm that a blessing from the apostolic visitor was worth more than a thousand absolutions from Padre Pio – after having gone through the Capuchin’s entire portfolio and having found nothing that could serve to condemn him, spent his time in the bars and restaurants of the city.
The investigation was supposed to end on October 2, but both visitators left the convent on September 17. Despite the absence of any real motives, harsh restrictive measures were taken regarding the Saint’s contact with the faithful.
The “White Book”
On October 3 the Vatican published Msgr. Maccari’s stipulations regarding Padre Pio, which, it was claimed, were aimed at “protecting the Church from deleterious forms of fanaticism.”3 Condemnations followed one after another and everyone – especially Brunatto – feared that Padre Pio would be deposed from the governance of the hospital.
Putting himself at risk to defend his spiritual father, Emmanuele Brunatto sent a passionate letter to the Holy Office, in which he claimed to be ready to “turn the infernal cabal, which has already lasted for a third of a century, on its head if anyone touches Padre Pio’s liberty, or if modifications are made to the structure of his work [the hospital] without his and our consent.”4
In the meantime, the condemnations did not cease. Having no other alternative, he decided to make public the fact of the tape recorders placed in Padre Pio’s confessional. It was not long before a Cardinal of the Holy Office came to visit him in order to restore peace. They came to an agreement: Brunatto would cease the publications and they would keep Padre Pio in the governance of the hospital. Nevertheless, once again they did not keep their word: in the same month Padre Pio’s superiors obliged him to sign a document dispossessing him of the property.
As a last resort, Padre Pio’s advocate gathered all the documents he had accumulated from the 1920s until the 1960s and made a compilation, called the White Book. However, its publication was delayed due to the death of Pope John XXIII. Brunatto only sent a copy of the document to the UN Secretary General, the President of the Italian Republic and the new Pope, Paul VI.
In fact, it did not take long for the Pontiff to take the initiative to liberate the Capuchin Saint in 1964. However, since Brunatto was not aware of it, he felt obliged to publish his polemical work, which had enormous repercussions, above all among the ecclesiastical authorities gathered for the Second Vatican Council.
A mysterious death
A year later, on the night of February 9 to 10, 1965, Emmanuele Brunatto was found dead in his house, the victim, according to the authorities, of a heart attack. However, some of his companions raised other hypotheses, such as strychnine poisoning. It is worth mentioning that his dinner used to be bought every day in a nearby restaurant.
It goes without saying that this man, defender of the truth and persecutor of the enemies of the Church, came to be hated as much as Padre Pio himself, for in reality God was hated in them.
Yet, we know that as long as there are men on earth who are living representatives of God and integrity, they will always be the object of persecution and hatred by those who plot iniquity. And it is precisely for this reason that the Lord will never deprive His Church of the presence of “Emmanuele Brunattos”, persecutors of evil who know how to unmask, at the opportune moment, the enemies of truth. ◊
Taken from the Heralds of the Gospel magazine, #174.
1 The decree stated that the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo belonged to the Diocese of Foggia, but it was in fact part of the Archdiocese of Manfredonia.
2 CHIRON, Yves. Padre Pio: Le stigmatisé. Paris: Perrin, 1999, p.202.
3 Idem, p.280.
4 Idem, p.290.