Rorate Caeli

Andrea Grillo: The Mind Behind the Motu Proprio

Andrea Grillo: The Mind Behind the Motu Proprio

by Peter Kwasniewski*

Andrea Grillo (born 1961) is a professor of Sacramental Theology and Philosophy of Religion at the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome (Sant’Anselmo) and of Liturgy in Padua at the Abbey of Santa Giustina. With the promulgation of Pope Francis’s motu proprio of July 16th, 2021, Traditionis Custodes, he has become a more important figure in Catholic thought. Many indications point to Professor Grillo as an author or at least inspirer of the document, serving as the Pontiff’s “house” liturgist and theologian, as he is often called in Rome. He joins many others from Sant’Anselmo who have exercised a disproportionate progressive influence.

The Foundations of the Motu Proprio

For years now, Professor Grillo has espoused avant la lettre the tenets of Traditionis Custodes, maintaining that the Mass of Paul VI represents the exclusive rite of the Roman Church and that the Traditional Latin Mass should be legislated in such a way that its disappearance is assured.[1]

In an open letter dated March 27, 2020, a full sixteen months prior to the motu proprio, Professor Grillo (along with some 180 signatories) boldly described the Traditional Latin Mass as “closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor”; “there can be no resuscitation for it.”[2] “Continuing to nourish a ‘state of liturgical exception’—one that was born to unite but does nothing but divide—only leads to the shattering, privatization, and distortion of the worship of the Church.”[3] Furthermore, the letter puts forth the following:

1. The intention of Summorum Pontificum (SP) was pacification and reconciliation.

2. Unfortunately, SP led to division, conflict, and a “liturgical rejection” of the Second Vatican Council.

3. Certain seminaries where both the NOM and the TLM are expected to be learned represent the “greatest distortion of the initial intentions” of SP.

4. It is time for the abolition of the “state of liturgical exception” introduced by SP.

5. All powers concerning the liturgy must be restored to diocesan bishops and to the Congregation for Divine Worship. This has multiple implications. (a) The Ecclesia Dei Commission and Section IV of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with authority over liturgical matters must be terminated. (b) The CDF has been acting as a substitute in exercising competences either conferred on bishops by the Second Vatican Council or ordinarily entrusted to the Congregation for Divine Worship by the pope; this irregular situation must end. (c) The CDF has undertaken to elaborateliturgical variantsof the ordines without having the historical, textual, philological and pastoral competences. (d) The CDF seems to ignore, precisely on the dogmatic level, a grave conflict that arises between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, since it is inevitable that a dual, conflictual ritual form will lead to a significant division in the faith. (e) The CDF seems to underestimate the disruptive effect this “reservation” (as in, Indian reservation) will have on the ecclesial level, by immunizing a part of the community from the “school of prayer” that the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform have providentially given to the common ecclesial journey.[4]

It is clear from reading Grillo’s Italian articles online that he considers the liturgical reform to have been, on the whole, very good; that the major obstacle to its success has been a regrettable tendency for clergy and laity to maintain or reintroduce bad practices or resources from the past that get in the way of the reformed rites’ shining forth in their clean lines and new orientations; that a preoccupation with “liturgical abuses” on the part of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and the curial officials they appointed did nothing but reassert a Tridentine legalistic mentality that threatened to quench the opennenss to adaptation and freedom characteristic of the Novus Ordo (indeed, he says expressly that it is more important to advance the “use” of an active communal liturgy than to correct “abuses,” since the latter effort reflects a superseded vision of worship as a clerical box-checking exercise); and that the parallel existence of the traditional Mass as well as the Ratzingerian Reform of the Reform movement threaten the integrity of the reformed rites as given by Paul VI.

Reacting to the Motu Proprio

In an article published at the blog Come se non on July 16, 2021 (how timely!) and then published in English at La Croix International on July 19, “From ‘Supreme Pontiffs’ to ‘guardians of tradition’: the vicissitudes of the Roman Rite,[5] Grillo does not hide his triumphant glee about the motu proprio that his own thinking helped create. Concerning the much-criticized claim in Article 1 that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique [correctly, sole] expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” Grillo comments:

This radically supplants the bold sophistry on which SP stood—namely, the ‘parallel coexistence’ of two ritual forms, which contradict each other. The re-establishment of ‘a single valid form of the Roman Rite’ is the only horizon on which it is possible to build peace. Every other hypothesis, however well intentioned, creates growing divisions and misunderstandings.

He also calls “sophistry” the freedom that SP gave to priests to choose which form of the Roman Rite to celebrate, since it takes from the bishop his power of moderating liturgical unity within his jurisdiction, and allows a “competition between two ritual forms.” It’s worthy of note that theological progressives also tend to be liberals in social matters, comfortably favorable to a centralized welfare state and viewing with suspicion the competition that arises from an open business market. Where competition is allowed, a better product may succeed. In the liturgical domain this was happening with the choice of tradition by Catholic clergy and laity, especially youths and families. They must not be allowed to have such freedom of choice, such freedom “for the good” or “for the best.” Progressivism always talks about freedom, but it is authoritarian at its core, working against all inequalities except for the systemic inequality of ruler and ruled that perpetuates the system itself.

He says, seemingly without awareness of the dubious nature of the claim: “Now we must recognize that there is only one table: that of the reformed rite according to the indications of the Second Vatican Council” (emphasis added). In the La Croix article Grillo bluntly asserts:

The tradition of the Roman Rite is found there [in the reformed rite] and nowhere else… The effects of the earlier “concessions” helped foment a Church that was immune to the Second Vatican Council and opposed to the common path. Thanks to SP, the Old Mass had practically become the symbol of opposition to Vatican II. And for this reason, the criteria for access to it had to be carefully reviewed, so as not to generate any further abominations… Instead, Pope Francis, son of the Council, has had the good sense and wisdom to say, “Enough is enough.” He has wisely opened a new phase in which the quality of the ritual act is played out on a single table—common and ordinary, ecclesial and of the people. It is both a small and great reminder that the conciliar reform cannot be stopped, neither by inventing a fictitious language, nor by re-exhuming a ritual form that no longer exists.[6]

Interesting, isn’t it, how readily Grillo “unpersons” millions of Catholics, who celebrate joyfully and fruituflly a ritual form “that no longer exists”?

Not very much of Grillo has appeared yet in English. An interesting trio of articles published at New Liturgical Movement makes for timely reading in the present circumstances:

Espousal of Positions Contrary to Church Teaching

Catholics around the world will undoubtedly be interested to learn of other ideas held by Professor Grillo.

In a recently published book, co-authored with Cosimo Scordato, entitled Can a Mother Not Bless Her Own Children? Homo-Affective Unions and the Catholic Faith, the argument is advanced for the theological and pastoral blessing of homosexual unions within the Church.[7]

Grillo decries transubstantiation, i.e., that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at the Mass. He maintains that “transubstantiation is not a dogma and as an explanation has its limits. For example, it contradicts metaphysics.”[8]

He advocates for female ordination, especially to the diaconate.[9]

He holds positions that contradict the Church’s pro-life teachings, including the legitimacy of using contraceptives for prophylactic purposes.[10]

He explicitly rejects the idea that there is an authority such as the Church with the ability to pronounce definitively on matters regarding human sexuality.[11]

He writes against the permanent validity and indissolubility of marriage.[12]

Liturgical Deformation and Sexual Immorality

In the Bible, perversion of divine worship is always associated with and compared to sexual immorality. Idolatry is adultery, adultery is idolatry: the one makes way for the other and reinforces it. The connection remains true in every age, although it manifests itself under different forms.

The interpretative key to understanding Grillo’s conflictive postmodern style of writing is rather simple. He will state a teaching of the Church, but without affirming it; then, towards the end of the article or publication, he frames conclusions in the form of “possibilities” and “questions” that are oftentimes much different from and even in opposition to Church doctrine. It is important to keep this principle in mind when reading his work. Furthermore, with imprecisions and unintelligible musings as a modus operandi, his writings on the site Munera: Rivista europea di cultura and elsewhere make a mockery of traditional Catholic theology.

It is incomprehensible that Andrea Grillo is allowed publicly to hold tenure at a Pontifical University in Rome and, what is far worse, to influence the writing of documents released by the Supreme Pontiff that will affect the lives of millions of faithful Catholics. Alas, as we have seen more than once—it suffices to cite the example of one of the ghostwriters of Amoris Laetitia, Archbishop Víctor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández, author of Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing[13]—this pope’s choice of theological consultants is rarely happy, and often scandalous.


[1] Cf. Andrea Grillo, “La riforma liturgica è ‘tragica’ o ‘profetica’? Due riletture per celebrare il 50° del Concilio Vaticano II” (Reportata, February 28, 2013). “Ora è chiaro che, nel momento in cui si ammette a chiare lettere la necessità della Riforma, il rito precedente, quando anche continui a sussistere, può esserlo solo per carità, per prudenza pastorale, per contingente opportunità, ma in vista della sua ‘sparizione’ e per nulla secondo un parallelismo strutturale, che in tal caso si opporrebbe non solo alla tradizione, ma anzitutto al più elementare buon senso” (Now it is clear that, at the moment when the necessity of the Reform is clearly admitted, the previous rite, even if it continues to exist, can only be continued out of charity, pastoral prudence, and contingent opportunity, but with a view to its ‘disappearance’ and not at all according to a structural parallelism, which in that case would be opposed not only to tradition, but above all to the most elementary good sense).

[2] On this point, I would draw the reader’s attention to an interview on the new motu proprio given by the Abbot of Fontgombault, Dom Jean Pateau, on July 19 (to which Grillo responded on July 31). When asked “How can we hear the aspirations of the younger generations who willingly pass from one liturgical form [the Novus Ordo] to another [the TLM]?,” Dom Pateau replies: “There is indeed an authentic expression of the sensus fidei proper to the faithful. Will the Church hear it? The open letter quoted above [by Grillo from March 2020] spoke of the extraordinary form as ‘a rite which is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor.’ The aspirations of the younger generation, priests and laity, are a stinging denial of this. We will have to end up recognizing it… There is there an act of humility that should come from the liturgists. Let them use their science to discern the why of this attachment to the extraordinary form even on the part of non-Christians or people who have long since abandoned [religious] practice, an attachment that was not a priori expected. They feel in this mode of celebration a more intense presence of the mystery of God, both present and hidden, more worthily praised. They joyfully find there a forgotten sacredness. How can I not mention the dozens of priests who came to the abbey to learn the extraordinary form and who affirm: ‘Knowing it helps me to celebrate the ordinary form better’?”

[3] Andrea Grillo, Lettera Aperta sullo ‘stato di eccezione liturgica’” (Munera, March 27, 2021). For the English version, see here.

[4] I published a critique of the open letter of March 27, 2020 entitled “‘Cancel the Decrees!’: High Dudgeon from Progressive Liturgists,“ along with a set of eight limericks.

[5] The original is entitled “Dai ‘sommi pontefici’ ai ‘custodi della tradizione’: le peripezie del rito romano.” He does not seem to appreciate the fact (or he is unwilling to lose face by admitting) that TC in fact restricts the rights of bishops considerably and keeps the role of the Supreme Pontiff front and center.

[6] Emphasis added. He continues: “The truly extraordinary thing in this whole affair is not so much the re-establishment of the normal relationship between lex orandi and lex credendi, which is assured by TC. What seems extraordinary to me is the fact that for fourteen years people have tried to justify the unjustifiable.”

[7] Può una madre non benedire i propri figli? Unioni omoaffettive e fede cattolica (Cittadella, July 2, 2021).

[8]Transubstantiatio non è un dogma e come spiegazione ha i suoi limiti. Ad esempio contraddice la metafisica” (Andrea Grillo, “Presenza reale e transustanziazione: congetture e precisazioni,” Munera, December 17, 2017). On this particular point we could quote much that is relevant from Joseph Ratzinger. For example, at a conference at Fongombault in 2001, he explained one of the sources of hostility to the celebration of the old Latin Mass: “Only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent can one understand the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 missal after the liturgical reform. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its validity.” This describes to perfection the position of people like Andrea Grillo and Anthony Ruff, who recognize TC as the vindication of their view that the Church, with and after Vatican II, has decisively changed its understanding of Church, Eucharist, and liturgy. It seems to me that Benedict XVI didn’t have a satisfactory solution to the problem of the “before and after,” i.e., broadly speaking, the preconciliar and the postconciliar, represented by two very different liturgical rites (though he called them “forms” to avoid having to issue instantaneous and unrequested biritual faculties to tens of thousands of priests). But he knew that the rites had to be able to at least coexist, in order not to make a sheer mockery of the Church’s claim to dogmatic and liturgical continuity.

[9] Cf. “Ordo et sexus: impedimenti o opportunità?” (Munera, November 9, 2017); “Un ministero ‘più cattolico’ aperto a ‘omnis utriusque sexus fidelis.’ Incontro con Mattia Lusetti” (Munera, June 5, 2019); cf. “Donna, ministero e tradizione ecclesiale” (Adista Notizie n° 19, May 25, 2019).

[10] Cf. “Catholic Scholars’ Statement on the Ethics of Using Contraceptives” (Wijngaards Institute, August 2016): “§14.2. An official magisterial document should be published affirming that the use of non-abortifacient modern contraceptives for prophylactic purposes can be morally legitimate and even morally obligatory. The statement could include an explicit provision allowing for the distribution of such modern contraceptives for prophylactic purposes by Catholic-run health care facilities.”

[11] Andrea Grillo, “Sillabo, sinodo, sessualità: alcune relazioni pericolose” (Munera, June 30, 2021).

[12] Grillo here substitutes “the indissolubility of the bond of marriage” with the phrase “the unavailability of the bond of marriage.” By this phrase he wishes to open up all the privileges and rights of marriage to those remarried. He affirms that “it is legitimate to propose the possibility of translating ‘indissoluble bond’ with ‘unavailable bond’” (“è legittimo proporre la possibilità di tradurre ‘vincolo indissolubile’ con ‘vincolo indisponibile’”: A. Grillo, “Indissolubilità del vincolo e matrimoni falliti. Verso una teoria della ‘indisponibilità’ del vincolo?” (Munera, February 2014). As an example of this point he muses that “when the ‘death of marriage’ is established, this declaration would by no means prevent each of the subjects from remaining faithful to the spouse of the marriage declared extinct, in analogy with what happens in the case of widowhood” (“Quando fosse constatata la ‘morte del matrimonio’ questa dichiarazione non impedirebbe affatto a ognuno dei soggetti di restare fedele al coniuge del matrimonio dichiarato estinto, in analogia con quanto accade nel caso di vedovanza”). This simple example of his many errors is a tantamount affirmation of the following: equating the state of being a widow with a woman who simply no longer feels the love of her spouse (until she finds “love” in the arms of another).

[13] For texts in parallel columns indicating the heavy textual debt of Amoris to Tucho, see “For the Record—Samizdat—Full Text of Archbishop Tucho Fernandez’s Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing,” Rorate Caeli, September 5, 2017 (here).

*This article was first published at OnePeterFive on August 17, 2021, and is reprinted here with permission. An Italian translation (though of course citing Grillo’s words in the original) is available at the site Chiesa e post concilio: “Andrea Grillo: La mente dietro al Motu Proprio.” Anyone who has evidence that would expand the case for Grillo’s role in the drafting of Traditionis Custodes and/or for his heterodoxy may contact Dr. Kwasniewski through his website: