Analysis: Benedict XVI’s letter - what the reaction revealed

St Peters Basilica Credit feliks Shutterstock CNA St. Peter's Basilica. | feliks/Shutterstock

The story of Benedict XVI's letter and the communication issues it raised, dubbed "Lettergate," has led to the resignation of a curial prefect, among other things.

But it also had the effect of revealing the agenda behind some discussion, namely, pieces of a strategic plan for undermining the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, especially regarding Humanae Vitae.
Reactions to Saturday's publication of the full text of the letter reveal a certain resentment among the supporters of the "agenda of mercy," those in Rome pushing for a change in the doctrine of the Church.
A particular example is a blog post from Italian theologian Andrea Grillo, written after the publication of the full text of the letter by the Holy See Press Office.
Grillo, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Sant'Anselmo Univerity, titled his blog post "The letter of discord: too many unjust words and the silence of the innocent"
In 2017, Grillo criticized Benedict XVI for speaking out in a public context after his resignation. After the Pope Emeritus wrote the foreword to a popular book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Grillo said in an interview that "for the future, in case of resignation of the pope, norms that more sharply and safely regulate the 'institutional death' of the predecessor and the full authority of the successor will be required."

Grillo mentioned that criticism at the beginning of his recent blog post. He continued to criticize Benedict, this time for his remarks about a theologian who authored one of the books about Francis.
Grillo said that Benedict XVI's letter shows "acrimony and one-sidedness of judgment on a theologian like Father Huenermann, of whom he presents a distorted and unjust profile." He criticized the Pope Emeritus for "judging the great theologian only with the measure of censorship."
(As a side consideration, it must be said that Benedict XVI knew very well what he was saying about Fr. Huenermann: as former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he knows well how Fr. Huenermann's books had been monitored and checked. Plus, he did not describe Fr. Huenermann as an 'enemy of popes', as Grillo wrote, but as a man who virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the pope. That is, of any pope in any era.)
Grillo's post also criticized Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for the Communication, mostly because he asked Benedict XVI to break his silence, and then because he used only part of the Pope Emeritus' response.
But it was the final part of his post that was the most revealing. Grillo praised Francis for "having broken the silence", overcoming the "awkward silence that had paralyzed the magisterium for three decades," while the Church was "making believe that the magisterial authority 'had no power' to change anything in matrimonial, ministerial, liturgical, ecumenical, juridical and curial field."

Grillo criticized what he called "the still Church" of the past to the current lively Church, which needed "lively theologians" like Fr. Huenermann, who "continued to speak even when the magisterium wanted from theologians only silence or applause."
The blog post ended with a critical note about the Pope Wmeritus, who, he said "solemnly promised be silent," but "spoke without prudence."

The post, on the whole, seems to be a protracted criticism of the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It takes pains to suggest that Pope Francis is permitting renewal of a progressive theological agenda, even without any actual support for that claim.

A curious analysis, in a discussion started to show an intellectual continuity between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
But by calling for a "new theological discussion," Grillo suggests an intention to advocate for theological positions in discontinuity with the Church's traditional teaching.

In short, Grillo's reaction epitomized all the current issues at stake: a sort of "vindication" of the self-proclaimed "conciliar theology" that looks at the Second Vatican Council through the lenses of discontinuity; a fear of the Pope Emeritus' words, whose judgment is always heard, even by Pope Francis; a push to overturn Catholic teaching, which turns into bitterness when the discussion takes an unexpected turn.
If this was just the point of view of one theologian, it would be one thing. But Grillo is a kind of rising star in Italian academic circles, gaining always more traction in public debate, and also in academia.
In particular, Grillo has been tapped as one of the teachers of a High Formation Course on "Family Counseling with Pastoral specialization."
The course is organized by the Ecclesia Mater Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University and it is sponsored by the Italian episcopal conference's National Office for the Pastoral of the Family.
The course takes over three summers, in the picturesque Madonna di Campiglio in northern Italy.
Grillo will teach "History of the Family in the History of the Church," addressing Familiaris Consortio and Amoris Laetitia.
The course is a sort of replica of another summer school, that one sponsored by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the "Diploma in Pastoral Family Ministry."
That summer school, like the new one, was offered to people without theological degrees, took place over three summers, and was sponsored by the Italian bishops conference.
While John Paul II Institute is in a period of transition, being retooled as a Pontifical Theological Institute, this new course backed by the Italian Bishops Conference will likely cannibalize the old summer institute. But the theological method will be quite different.
This move shows the struggle behind the curtain to reframe Catholic teaching.

The teachers of the John Paul II Institute are not going to back down. The presentation of the book "Karol Wojtyla and Humanae Vitae" was a clear theological battlefield, and it was no wonder that Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was sharp enough to say that "overturning Humanae Vitae's teaching is a crime against the Church."
Following the discussion on the book, Msgr. Livio Melina, former president of the Institute, penned an article to denounce the strategy of contrasting a 'good and flexible" depiction of Paul VI with a "rigid and doctrinal" depiction of John Paul II
In the end, the miscommunication drama following the publication of the full text of the letter of Benedict XVI's had the effect of revealing a theological strategy that seems to be taking place without Pope Francis' knowledge.

How this will strategy will unfold remains to be seen. But it bears watching in the months to come.

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