Attacking the Pope: The Ignominious Career of Juan María Fernández y Krohn

Here’s an anniversary that will live in infamy:  On May 12, 1982, Father Juan María Fernández y Krohn, a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, attacked Pope John Paul II with a bayonet during the pope’s visit to Fatima.  There are conflicting reports as to whether the pope was injured in the incident. 

During his trial, the priest testified that he opposed the reforms of Vatican II, and that he believed Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was too weak in his opposition to the pontiff.  He believed, in fact, that the pope was a “secret Communist agent” who was trying to corrupt the Vatican.

After the assassination attempt, he was retroactively terminated from membership in the Society—both because of his violent attack, and because of his frenetic testimony against Pope John Paul II. 

Found guilty of attempted murder, Fernández y Krohn was sentenced to six years, but served only three.  Upon his release, he was expelled from Portugal and moved to Belgium, where he became a lawyer.  His legal career, too, was fraught with controversy:

  • He was accused of slapping judge and Cassation president Erik Carre in the face.
  • He was accused of spreading anti-semitic propaganda in the councillors’ room of the Brussels Palace of Justice.
  • In 1996 he was charged with, but then acquitted of setting fire to an office of Herri Batasuna, the political branch of the Basque separatist group ETA.

In 2000, Fernández y Krohn was arrested again at the Royal Palace of Brussels, where he had climbed a security barricade to shout accusations of murder at Spanish King Juan Carlos.  He accused the Spanish king of killing his brother Alfonso in 1956 in order to win the throne.  He was found guilty and fined, but he served only a four-month probational sentence.

Since 2000, Fernández y Krohn has lived in Belgium and Spain, where he claims to be an expert in art and literature of the Spanish post-Civil War period (1939-1990).

The BBC’s video footage of the attack against Pope John Paul II is available here.

  • bill bannon

    The Vatican needs a think tank to investigate Catholic problems like this man…but investigate also all Catholic problematical areas like the image/administrative failings during the abuse crisis. We are not sitting down and digesting negative phenomenon like the far right and asking if any Catholic patterns made the negative more likely. We had a 50 year disgrace as to clerical abuse and already we’ve moved on to the new evangelism ( while Brazil and Peru are numbers one and three in the world for having uncontacted tribes…two predominantly Catholic countries for four hundred years.). We are not processing our problems.
    A think tank would help but it can’t be Catholic flatterers…their salaries and pensions would have to be vested unless they contradicted the de fide, the inerrant, or the infallible ( under the parameters of canon 749-3).

  • Ana

    Good article.
    Just a comment: ETA is not a separatist group but a terrorist group.
    As Spanish, I ask you please to correct this mistake. We have suffered a lot because and the freedom in Basque Country is constantly threatened by them. A lot of families in Spain have victims of their violence and we are claiming for peace.

  • Cassandra

    Seems like more than a coincidence that you’d pull this out in the midst of SSPX negotiations with Rome. Or do you write about it every May 12? No agenda here?

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Nope, no agenda, Cassandra. I noted the Catholic angle to a “This Day in History” report, and researched. I am praying that the SSPX will be fully reunited with Rome, and that Jesus’ prayer to the Father “that they may all be one, as You and I are one” will be answered.

      • Jason

        Not buying it, Kathy. Get in line, though. There are plenty who are trying to throw a spanner in the spokes of the regularization of the SSPX. You will fail.

        • Kathy Schiffer

          As I responded to an earlier comment, Jason, that’s hardly my intent. I pray for a successful reconciliation.

          • Sean North

            PLEASE, Mrs. Schiffer, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. As a wife of a permanent deacon you have no use for the SSPX because they oppose the concept of the so-called permanent diaconate. The permanent diaconate was created by the progressives at the Second Vatican Council to soften up Catholic opposition to a non-celibate priesthood. They’ve done an excellent job.

          • Geoffrey

            Right. The permanent diaconate was created at Vatican II. So, what about the Eastern Catholics like me who have always had them? What about the Eastern Orthodox Churches? Or the Coptics? Could it be that Rome moved away from an ancient, apostolic practice and decided that it was finally time to fall back in line with the wisdom of tradition? Oh, heaven forbid the Roman rite be wrong about anything, ever.

  • Jason C.

    Definitely an unstable fellow.

    I really pity the SSPX because they attract so many kooks. As any seminary rector knows, it’s impossible to weed them all out, but I think they do a decent job; it seems like every wackaloon ex-priest or schismatic, sedevacantist priest I read about these days was associated with the SSPX in one way or another before finally getting the boot (or leaving because the SSPX is too liberal even for the kook!). Pray for their reconciliation!

    • Dan

      The seminary rectors do an even better job of keeping out any priest who is even mildly conservative, or haven’t you noticed?

      Unlike your comments, which are frankly generalizations, my reply can, sadly, be backed up with concrete evidence, e.g. “Good Bye Good Men”, a rather fascinating book.

      • Jason C.

        I’m sorry you misunderstood me. My comments are generalizations because they were intended to cover the experience of all seminarians–conservatives at the Novus Ordo seminaries (wrongfully excluded), and insane people at the SSPX seminaries (rightfully excluded). A seminary rector–rightfully or wrongfully–has a hard time weeding out everyone he wants to get rid of (as evidenced by newly-ordained conservative N.O. priests AND the random wackaloon SSPX priest). Some men make it through, whether for good or for ill; that’s the point I was trying to make.

        My apologies for being unclear!

  • R. John

    “After the assassination attempt, he was retroactively terminated from membership in the Society—both because of his violent attack, and because of his frenetic testimony against Pope John Paul II.”

    Incorrect. He had already left the SSPX before this event took place.

  • Chuck

    God bless the SSPX. May we be reunited soon.

  • Matthias

    This is a fascinating post, and it inspired me to look up his page on Wikipedia to find more information:

    I’m just curious, Mrs. Schiffer: was this page one of your sources or did you contribute to it? Many of the facts lack citation (although not the most important ones).

    Of course, this was less than a year after the pope’s near fatal gunshot wound. How terrible! Blessed John Paul II, ora pro nobis!

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Thanks for reading, Matthias! No, I did not contribute to the Wikipedia article, although I did read it as well as some other sources. Actually, I remember the event (although only slightly).

      One note: An earlier comment from R. John claims that I am incorrect in stating that he was “retroactively expelled” from the order, explaining that he had left before this event took place. The Wikipedia article, for what it’s worth, verifies my report– as did some other sources I read. (Perhaps, R. John, if you read this you can tell us more? There is so much information on the web, and I know that not all of it is correct. I’d appreciate your perspective!)

  • mortimerzilch

    Lefebvre-ists were also connected to the successful assassination of Pope John Paul I. Cardinal Villot died under house arrest 6 months afterward. Although there never was an admission of guilt, the associations remain to cast a cloud of suspicion toward the SSPX.

    • Sean North

      Association between Cardinal Villot and the SSPX???!!! Er, Mortimer….stay off the weed.