Rorate Caeli

“Before the Egghead Fell Off the High Wall and Shattered into a Thousand Pieces”: Charlier on Grillo

The devotional map of the late 19th century depicts the Holy Mass as the center of the unity of the triumphant, struggling and suffering Church. As in heaven, so also on earth.

If Andrea Grillo were a professor at a German theological faculty, we could confidently put his interview to one side—irrelevant drivel, like most of what is produced by theology professors. But although he would fit very well into the German environment, his position as a liturgy teacher at a papal university and a well-networked organizer of the fight against the liturgical tradition gives him an importance that should not be underestimated. On the one hand, he is the mouthpiece and, on the other, the cue for the three or four men at the head of the Bergoglian pontificate, who for years have had no other goal than to adapt the liturgy and—one must always see this together—the teaching of the Church to the demands of the anti-Christian zeitgeist. Further and further away from Christ and the apostolic tradition.

A critique of his interview with—of all things—Messa in Latino could easily take the size of a paperback book. However, this voice of a dying pontificate is not that important to us, and we will therefore limit ourselves to highlighting a few particularly striking points.

The most stupid and at the same time most scandalous statement by Grillo can be found at the beginning of his answer to the second question of the interview, whether the 20,000 participants in the Chartres pilgrimage could simply be brushed aside: “What are 18,000 people compared to the great mass of the Catholic Church?” Talking like this is not only a testimony to frightening pastoral indifference, which disregards a large group of believers because they do not correspond to the personal understanding of “Church”. We will encounter this indifference and arrogance more often.

But this answer is also testimony to an absolutely inadmissible trickery for an academic teacher to compare a group of people who have consciously, deliberately and sometimes with effort and sacrifice come together in one place with the amorphous “crowd of the Catholic Church”. Sure, this “crowd” is currently estimated at around 1.3 billion—and each individual in this large number of baptized people is worthy of all care and attention. But how many of them are prepared for a “participatio actuosa” in the life and worship of the Church to the same extent as the pilgrims to Chartres? How many of them live in communities whose spiritual life is as strong and produces as many vocations as the communities from which this small number of pilgrims, so disdainfully dismissed here, came?

As a scientist, Grillo should know what the term “incommensurable size” is all about and that you can’t compare apples with pears. But he is not so much a scientist, he is first and foremost an ideologue and agitator. And criteria such as “congregations rooted in faith” and “priestly vocations” don’t really mean anything to him—unless he can reinterpret them in more or less adventurous ways to suit his purposes. More on this later.

In any case, disdain and contempt are characteristic of Grillo’s attitude towards the followers of tradition. In his answer to question 7, he indicates that for him, any debate with the “incorrigible backwardists,” as Francis likes to call traditionalists, is ultimately pointless: “In theological and liturgical discussion, there are cases in which the exchange of arguments is doomed to failure.”

In fact, however, it is Grillo who is in no way impressed by facts and arguments. Question 4 confronts the papal court liturgist with the undeniable finding that in the area of influence of the reformed liturgy—not without exception, but predominantly—it is precisely the young generation, whose needs this liturgy is supposed to meet, that is becoming alienated from the Church, staying away from worship and producing fewer and fewer vocations. In keeping with the older fantasies of German theologians, Grillo does not see this as “just a negative phenomenon”, but rather reinterprets the evidence of the collapse as “signals of necessary efforts”—namely to move forward even more decisively on the path that has already led nowhere.

Grillo’s favorite tool and proof of his—if not inability, then certainly his unwillingness—to meet even the most modest demands of a scientist is, in addition to his denial of reality, his tendency to simply assign a different meaning to terms than the one in which they are meant and used here by his interviewee. He never speaks of “tradition” in the sense of an attachment to the past or the preservation of continuity—for him, this is despicable “traditionalism.”

Grillo’s understanding of “tradition” is geared solely towards a future painted in bright colors and created by man himself. For him, the value of tradition lies above all in “its ability to enable change” (question 6), or even more blatantly in question 7: “Tradition is not the past, but the future.” He doesn’t say a word about how tradition, change and the future are connected and, at least in the church, must be related to each other. Nor does he need to, because for him the future does not emerge from objective development processes, but from the will and imagination of an elite gifted with greater insight—or simply put: from the word of the powerful. For Grillo, standing in the tradition means nothing more than submitting to the will of the powerful and following them in lockstep wherever they lead.

Grillo does not shy away from the ideological reinterpretation of concepts, even where this puts him in direct contradiction to the Second Vatican Council—which he considers defying to be one of his most serious accusations against the followers of tradition. Where the Council had expressly demanded “The use of the Latin language should be preserved in the Latin rites” (SC 36,1), the professor of San Anselmo (in his answer to question 3) accuses the “traditionalists” of “nostalgic adherence to a dead language” without the slightest evidence. In other respects, too, he delights in recognizing neither theological nor pastoral arguments for adherence to the traditional rite, but simply dismisses love of everything that has been handed down from history as “nostalgia”—even when it comes from such a great and important theologian as Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

In his answer to question 5, he actually manages to dismiss the principle, which we also uphold and which Benedict justified theologically in detail: “What was sacred to earlier generations remains sacred and great to us too” with the (non-)justification that it “does not come from theology, but from a nostalgic feeling for the past.” With this, Grillo finally leaves the realm of science and wanders into Lewis Caroll’s Wonderland, in which the extremely smug Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice: “When I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean.” Of course, that was before the egghead fell off the high wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.

But back to Humpty Grillo: the disdain, even contempt, for Pope Benedict expressed in the quote above is not an isolated slip of the tongue, but runs through his statements like a common thread. Already in his answer to question 1, the supertheologian Grillo censures Benedict, saying that the motu proprio Summorum pontificum may have been well-intentioned, but is based on a “completely misguided assessment”. And further: “A ritual parallelism (of Novus and Vetus Ordo) was introduced there, which has no theoretical or practical basis. It is theologically untenable and creates greater divisions than was previously the case.”

Grillo’s contempt applies not only to Benedict, but also to his predecessor John Paul II, whom he also accuses (in answer 4) of “nostalgia” and whom he accuses of not having stopped the activities of the traditionalists in time, just like Benedict, but even encouraged them. Only with Francis, who fortunately agrees with what supertheologian Grillo has always known and said, will the world be put right again.

The unquestioning way in which Grillo views and rejects the magisterium of Benedict, John Paul and of course many other predecessors of the current pontiff sends shivers down the spine of every Catholic for whom “tradition” means more than just a weasel word to cover up arbitrariness. But—to parody one of Grillo’s figures of thought here—we cannot only recognize a “negative phenomenon” in this either. By belittling the predecessors of the current occupant of the Chair of Peter and declaring them irrelevant for the greater glory of his desired Pope Francis, Grillo is, on the one hand, encouraging an alarming “deconstruction” of the papal office as a whole.

On the other hand, he lays the foundations for a later holder of the Petrine office to see himself free to regard the Bergoglian pontificate as a period of error and misguided theology and to erase its disastrous legacy from the Church’s heritage. Either by official declaration or by silent disregard. Some of the often politically motivated zeitgeist that earlier popes (and councils!) have solemnly proclaimed has never been part of the apostolic heritage of the Church and has therefore lost all relevance for centuries. Nevertheless, the Church has rarely bothered to “abolish” such things just as solemnly. It has simply forgotten about it.

It is astonishing that Grillo and the other leading Bergoglians do not realize that their efforts to disparage the predecessors of their modernist idol and to overthrow doctrines hitherto considered irrevocable only contribute to destroying their own plans in the medium term and to reversing what they want to make irreversible by all means.

Michael Charlier
June 21, 2024
(source in German)