Fr. François Turner, O.P.
It was in 1966 when Father François Turner, O.P. from Blois, France first heard about the events that had taken place in Garabandal. From that moment on he began to study the apparitions. Together with Professor Lacques Serre, professor at Sorbonne University in Paris, he carried out the most extensive study concerning the events of anyone outside of Spain. He has written numerous articles and - using the pen name Robert François - wrote the book, "O Children, Listen to Me,” published in French, English and German. He reached the conclusion, along with Professor Jacques Serre, that Garabandal is a marvelous Work of God and an undeniable manifestation of His Omnipotence. In addition, he has elaborated 24 proofs in defense of Garabandal's authenticity.
Fr. Turner was born in Paris to American parents residing in France. He was baptized and raised Episcopalian. He lost his faith when he was fourteen. It was not until four years later when a Catholic friend and his family invited Robert’s (François’) family to a sermon where a Catholic Priest was explaining the fundamentals of the entire Catholic faith. The sermon was so convincing that Robert Turner ended up saying, “If there is any true Religion, it is Catholicism.” All of the doubts and false impressions that he had held against the Catholic Church disappeared.
He first heard about the events that had taken place in Garabandal while spending a few days at Tarragona's Seminary in 1966. Fr. Turner, however, did not immediately believe in the Apparitions.
After meeting Fr. Materne Laffineur, pioneer in the diffusion of the Messages of Garabandal throughout France, Fr. Turner decided to read his book “Star on the Mountain,” but this was not enough to satisfy him. Such striking events demanded a closer study. The more Fr. Turner learned, the more he began to believe. Given the numerous doubts that often arise regarding Garabandal, he undertook a very rigorous study originally comprised of only a few points but which later grew to include twenty-four undisputable criteria concerning the authenticity of the apparitions of Garabandal. During this time, he spent several weeks in the Poitiers Library studying the “spiritual masters” and meticulously applying all of their rules to the events of Garabandal. He came to the conclusion that they are authentic and of Divine Origin.
He collaborated with Fr. Combe organizing the first International Congress concerning the Apparitions of Garabandal that took place in Lourdes in 1978. More than 200 delegates from 26 countries from all over the world assisted.
Your parents are American. How is it that you came to live in France?
Fr. Turner: I was born in France. My father was an American doctor working in Paris, who attended only American patients. He was an American citizen, my grandfather is from Boston. Both of my parents belonged to the Episcopalian Church located on Avenue George V in Paris.
How did you become a Catholic priest?
Fr. Turner: I was raised for a time in the Episcopalian Church and then in a Protestant Church in Paris. However, I later on lost my faith. I was only 14.
You also studied at Harvard, is that right?
Fr. Turner: That was after finishing my bachelor’s degree in France. I went to the United States planning on staying there. I had dual citizenship. After studying at Harvard two years, I was drafted into military service in France and had to return there. I did not realize it at the time, but I lost my U.S. citizenship. I served in the military for two years and then for another six months. After that, the war (World War II) broke out. I continued in the military during the war.
When did you enter the seminary?
Fr. Turner: After studying Latin, a language completely unknown to me, I entered the Diocesan Seminary of Paris and remained there for a year. I later joined the Dominicans and spent a year in the Dominican Monastery of Paris. I was ordained in 1947.
How did you first hear of Garabandal?
Fr. Turner: In 1966, a Spanish woman asked me to help out as a spiritual director of a youth group in Tarragona, Spain. I accepted the offer, went and spent the night in the seminary there. I found a pamphlet concerning the alleged apparitions in the dining room at one of the professors' houses. I did not pay much attention to it because I was not very impressed by it. Then I thought that it could perhaps be something serious, but I was not sure. Once back in France, in October of that same year, a priest from Blois asked me if I had heard anything about the apparitions. I replied that I had, but very little. He asked me to find out more information because he was interested in them. That is why I got in contact with Father Laffineur.
(Father Materne Laffineur, a Belgian priest living in France, was the pioneer in the diffusion of the Messages of Garabandal throughout France).
Did Father Laffineur provide you with any kind of documentation?
Fr. Turner: O yes, his book, “Star on the Mountain” had already been published. I found it, read it, and was intrigued by everything. But at that point I was only interested. I had not taken a standpoint yet because I felt that it had to be studied first. It did not seem to me that his book could be qualified as study material. It relates a certain number of events that have taken place, but without any in depth investigation. I felt that it would be good idea to keep in contact with Father Laffineur. After all, it seemed like something serious, authentic, but of course I was yet not sure. In fact, I did not start to consider Garabandal as something authentic until about 1978.
At that time I had already begun to work on my criteria. [Twenty-four criteria defending the authenticity of Garabandal.] It took me eight years. Before the final compilation of twenty-four proofs, I had begun with the plan of only writing seven, and later on decided upon fifteen. These proofs were taken in part from the facts about the events of Garabandal and in part from the studies I carried out in the Poitiers Library, where I was studied for several weeks. I studied good authors, the old authors, in such topics as apparitions, revelations, and mystical experiences in general. I then applied these principles to the case of Garabandal and arrived at the firm conclusion that it was genuine.
Have the negative aspects of Garabandal, such as the first committee's verdict and the visionaries' doubts and denials, presented themselves as a stumbling block or drawback during your study of the events?
Fr. Turner: No, not at all. In fact, one thing that caught my attention was how weak the objections against the authenticity of Garabandal were, regardless of whether they came from the committee or from other people; you already know that a wide range of people have presented objections. I remember that Jacques Serre told me one day, “There is nothing negative concerning Garabandal.” And I thought, "You know what? You’re right. Because the negative aspects presented were inconsistent, especially those presented by the first committee."
Those who present the visionaries’ doubts as something negative seem to ignore the fact that in cases such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Bernadette of Lourdes, and the visionaries of Pontmain, doubts of a similar category are quite numerous and almost always the norm. What surprised me the most was that the first committee's work was simply left unfinished. Fr. Valentín (the parish priest of Garabandal) mentioned to me that someone had once asked him if the committee had finished their work. His response was, “No, they’re not finished. They never started.”
Around 1970, the bishop of Santander, Monsignor José Cirarda, managed to begin the circulation of a letter, through the Vatican Secretary of State, directed to all the bishops of the Church, which - although not directly condemning Garabandal - clearly transmitted the message that the movement should not be extended. This attitude still exists in some places. What is the Church’s official position on Garabandal today?
Fr. Turner: To begin with, Bishop Cirarda is not the authority concerning the apparitions of Garabandal or the messages. He was during a certain period in history, but not anymore. The current bishop, and therefore the current authority, is Bishop Vilaplana, successor of Bishop del Val. Bishop Vilaplana has not taken a position one way or the other. He considers the case of Garabandal as a topic open for study.
He recently received a friend of mine, Ramón Perez (author of “Garabandal—The Village Speaks”) and told him that he has taken an open outlook towards Garabandal and that he will act in accord with whatever the Holy See indicates. There is a dossier in Rome concerning Garabandal that was compiled by a quadruple committee established by Bishop del Val. Their work was carried out between 1985 and September of 1991. This compilation of documents in Rome is being studied, I am almost certain of this. To be discreet, however, I cannot reveal why I am sure of this.
Is it not a little unusual that the Holy See would study apparitions, as if they were opposed to them being studied at a diocesan level?
Fr. Turner: Yes, it does seem a little unusual, but the Holy See is simply verifying what was already carried out in Santander. They want to proceed on a higher level, like a court of appeals, if that makes sense. Why? Apparently because the content of the messages has spread to a worldwide level. It is not a local affair like that of Pontmain. Pontmain never moved beyond a local affair, and I could give examples of other apparitions that took place in France. All of them were local affairs, with the exception of Lourdes. Lourdes has indeed become an international affair, this year, 1992, more than ever. In such circumstances, when it reaches an international level, the Holy See feels that it should intervene as a court of appeals. All of this takes place very discreetly.
Do you know anything about the most recent investigation? Do you know who the investigators are?
Fr. Turner: The only thing I know is that it was formed, first of all, by a group of four young sociologists - two men and two women - and then a fifth who joined later. The first four were lay people; the fifth - I believe - was a Dominican sociologist. The second part of the investigation dealt with the psychological aspect. I do not know who was involved in this phase, or how many. And then there’s the theological and spiritual aspect, and I don’t know who was involved or how many. He (Bishop del Val) kept this to himself.
You’ve known Bishop del Val for a few years. When did you first meet him?
Fr. Turner: [I met him] in 1976. Ever since then I’ve met with him almost every year, either in his office or in Lourdes, and some years in both places
What did you perceive about his attitude towards Garabandal when you first met him?
Fr. Turner: Well, to start with, he was extremely kind, discrete, and aware of the importance of everything that was taking place. He was very courteous with me. He had me sit in a cushioned armchair and that kind of thing. He was glad that we were able to speak in Spanish, even though he speaks fluent French. Little by little, I noticed that he was really quite interested. He was very good on a pastoral level. Very intelligent. That, of course, does not exactly respond to your question, but it is hard to answer a question like that.
But over the years did you see any type of change in his attitude towards Garabandal in any particular aspect?
Fr. Turner: Well, he did seem more cordial. He treated me more and more as a friend; he gave me a hug in front of the grotto in Lourdes, for example. If he was changing his view towards Garabandal, he did not show it. If I had anything to say in that regards, I would surely say it.
Do you personally consider that he believes in Garabandal?
Fr. Turner: What I think is that prudence, an entirely normal prudence, has led him to act appropriately.
Does the Church currently permit people to promote the message of Garabandal?
Fr. Turner: Since the last bishop of Santander, Bishop del Val (he was bishop for the last 20 years), has never acted against the promotion of Garabandal, and since the current bishop of Santander has proven to be so open, I do not believe that those who promote Garabandal need permission to do so. If within a diocese the bishop were to forbid the spreading of the messages, I think his personal view point would have to be taken into account in order to maintain the peace of the Church. But if one considers that the peace of the Church is not at risk and that one could give a private conference or display a slideshow in a private center or auditorium, I think he could do it. Why not? If he is not affecting the peace of the Church. As you know, Father Combe (the primary promoter in France), was quite firm in this regard. As long as the bishop does not present evidence that the event has been “condemned,” he can continue on without a problem. That is what he does; it is his way of doing things. Perhaps someone else has a different way of doing things. In one country, the majority of the people have their way of doing things, while in other countries others do differently.
What do you know about the 1970 letter from Cardinal Seper, which appeared as a very elaborate declaration against Garabandal? For the people who are not very well informed about Garabandal, especially in the areas concerning the most recent events, and who judge the case solely according to what is established in the older documents of the Church, the letter from Cardinal Seper could seem as a warning against Garabandal. Is this letter an official document?
Fr. Turner: I doubt it. I doubt that it is an important document. Why? To start with, Cardinal Seper passed away years ago. Secondly, his declaration was not based upon any personal investigation of his own, but rather upon another bishop's commentary. Furthermore, the current situation is completely different. There is another Cardinal occupying his place, and the investigation is being continued by the Holy See. The documents have been sent to the Holy See for what I call the final stage of the investigation. After these investigations, the only thing remaining will be the final response of the Holy See, as well as the response of the Bishop. That is all.
Has Cardinal Ratzinger made any kind of declaration concerning Garabandal?
Fr. Turner: I cannot reply to this question. There are some things that I can respond to, but not that. I do not think it would be appropriate. What I can say is this: The event of Garabandal is important in his eyes. Mr. Hivbier has seen my book [“O Children, Listen to Me”] on Cardinal Ratzinger’s desk, so Ratzinger certainly must have looked for it. He would not need more than a few minutes to glance at the table of contents to get an idea of what the book is about. People with his type of mentality and clear intelligence will be able to discern very quickly, in just a few moments, if it is worth considering or not. In some cases, false apparitions can be recognized by any theologian in two minutes. In other cases, it takes quite some time. As I said in Columbus, Ohio, there are only three ways to discover the truth. First, because it is obvious. Second, through the aid of a demonstration. A physics or math professor will surely employ a demonstration. Or third, because someone is an authority in the subject, has studied it extensively, and knows it very well. This is my case. I cannot present it in any other way.
And there is no fourth way to know the truth. [It cannot be] through feelings, thoughts, or anything like that. What I would add is that, in cases such as apparitions and the like, grace will help because there is a spiritual aspect present. If one is in the state of grace, if one is sincere with himself, God will help him bring to light the falsehood or authenticity of an apparition.