Was the life and reign of Pope Paul VI filled with examples of heroic virtue? And if Paul VI is worthy of the title "blessed" what novelties and tragedies does it consequently justify?
Courtesy of La Porte Latine, we offer this objective analysis of Pope Paul VI (Montini) and the issues of his beatification from Fr. Philippe Toulza, the director of Editions Clovis, the SSPX's publishing house in France.
Blessed Paul VI?!
October 19th will go down in history as the day Giovanni Battista Montini was beatified by Pope Francis.
When the beatification of the man who governed the Church during the torment of the 60’s and 70’s was announced, some were surprised, maybe even upset, but in the end, most held their tongues. Indeed, what could they say against a beatification? Is it not the result of a canonical process that has examined the virtues of the “servant of God” and found them heroic?
But there are trials whose sentence is unjust. No beatification can deny reality and the memory of the “Paul VI years” will not be so easily erased. So let us recall, to justify our refusal of this beatification, the stubborn facts that wove the life of Giovanni Battista Montini.
First, let us set out a principle. Neither here nor anywhere else do we judge the soul of the pope; we will simply recall a few examples, out of a thousand, that support the following assessment: the actions of Paul VI were not those of a pope to be offered as a model of the Christian life.
And let us not deny that this pope showed certain qualities that were far above average. For otherwise, how could he have become sovereign pontiff? To explain his election, it is not enough to point out that the ideas of Giovanni Battista Montini were in the air of the times. His adherence to the progressivist ideas were not his only asset. For at his time, he was far from being the only one imbued with this atmosphere. Cardinal Lercaro, for example, archbishop of Bologna, was at least just as much its victim.
Paul VI’s biographers, be they his thurifers (Huber, Guitton, Macchi…) or his critics (Yves Chiron), did not fail to point out the qualities of Giovanni Battista Montini. Hard-working, organized, intelligent, a talented orator, he filled the Italian students with enthusiasm while he was their chaplain in Rome. Modest and dignified, respectful, a faithful friend, he made singular acts of generosity on certain occasions. While we can be sure of nothing as to his degree of piety, he so greatly desired a consecrated life that he thought of the monastery, and once ordained a priest, he withdrew often for short stays with the Benedictines.
Nor will we contest that Paul VI proclaimed several times his wish to be at the service of the truth and the Catholic Faith, for he wished to make known that he was conscious of his duty to defend both. Almost an exception in a time of heresy, he held as certain the satisfaction by substitution in the mystery of the Passion; he even vaunted the merits of Thomism, without, unfortunately, being truly permeated with the teachings of the Angelic Doctor. And to his credit, we do remember his profession of faith in 1968, as well as the encyclical Humanae vitae.
And yet, the domain of the Faith, and more largely that of doctrine: that was where the shoe first started hurting. The innovative tendencies in theology, carried by names such as Rahner, Schillebeeckx or Chenu, did not start with the Council; and Giovanni Battista Montini’s interest in these unfortunate audacities also began before Vatican II. Even while he was in Pius XII’s service, in the Roman Curia, he was the principal supporter of the theologians “in difficulty” with the Vatican and the Holy Office. He considered Blondel’s philosophy as “valid”; several times he defended Congar, de Lubac, Guitton, Mazzolari from severity and threats of sanctions. When Karl Adam’s books were about to be placed on the Index, Cardinal Montini, one of the pope’s trusted men, hid them at his home, and later handed them out under the table. Is that heroic virtue?
Giovanni Battista Montini was archbishop of Milan when John XXIII called Vatican II. Between the first and the second session, the sovereign pontiff was carried off by an illness. The man elected took the name of Paul. He had great hopes for the Council; he confirmed its direction. Paul VI indisputably supported with his authority the usurpation of power within Vatican II by the liberal wing of Cardinals Dopfner, Lercaro, Koenig, Lienart, Suenens, Alfrink, Frings and Leger, to the detriment of the traditional position represented by Cardinals Ottaviani, Siri, Agagianian and Archbishop Carli, who had not forgotten the centuries-old heritage of which Pius XII had in his time been the true guardian. Session after session, declaration after declaration, Paul VI, while remaining relatively moderate, supported the “revolution in tiara and cope” that played out under the horrified eyes of those bishops whose vision was still clear. For history, the signature on the disastrous documents Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Nostra Aetate, and Unitatis Redintegratio will always be his.
Above all, Paul VI, converted even before the Council to principle of religious liberty, promulgated the declaration Dignitatis humanae, that condoned, without any ambiguity, what Paul VI’s predecessors had stigmatized as opposed to Catholic doctrine. How can we consider that the proclamation of the civil rights of false cults, and the pressure then put on the Catholic governments of the entire world to adopt secularism, are acts of virtue and of a holy life? When we think of all those souls who, caught up by the current of the new secularism and the apostasy of the laws, lost the religion of their fathers. Is no one responsible for that?
If Paul VI had such a love for the Council, it was because the general approach of the episcopal assembly corresponded with the intimate aspirations of his mind. The Council was the men of the Church’s rush towards the world. And Paul VI loved even the modern world, he wished to be immersed in it and to feel with it. Interested in all human realities, he corrected a pessimism born of temperament with an optimism born of resolution, entertaining a benevolent view of even modern thought, of countries and of far-off cultures; he valued modern art, to such an extent that he decorated his apartments in the Vatican with it! What he loved in the world was man. Humanity was at the heart of his thoughts, even though he did denounce anthropocentrism. He was especially interested, out of compassion, in the poor man, the worker, the man far from the Faith, on the outskirts. “We, we more than any other,” he would say, “we have the cult of man!” To draw closer to man, thought Paul VI, it was necessary to repent of so many of the Church’s characteristic behaviors in the past, that drove away souls, such as condemnations (hence the suppression of the Index), or far too exclusive dogmatic proclamations. He preferred suggestion to government, exhortation to sanction. His reign was one of dialogue.
Drawing closer to man meant first drawing closer to the Protestants; Paul VI was the pontifical initiator of ecumenism. While he theoretically considered it as a return to Catholicism, he contradicted himself by exalting the values of the Protestants and multiplying the relations with Taize. The scandal reached its climax when he invited the Anglican “archbishop” of Canterbury to bless the crowd in his stead, during an ecumenical meeting at St. Paul Outside the Walls, placing on his finger the pastoral ring. Must we believe that saints behave thus? What true blessed soul would not shudder, from the depths of his Beatific Vision, at the sight of such confusion? But according to Paul VI, we needed to transform our Catholic attitudes. “The Church has entered into the movement of history that evolves and changes,” he explained. That was the program: evolution, change, aggiornamento.
And that is why he proceeded with a liturgical reform that, with time, spread to every domain of prayer. The Mass, if we are to believe the founding texts of this reform, was no longer a sacrifice, but a “synaxis”. Its rite, as Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci denounced, was far, “as a whole and in its details, from the Catholic theology of the Holy Mass.” But there was nothing to be done: the liturgies with electric guitar, Communion in the hand, young girls in short skirts reading the epistle, the words of the consecration left up to the celebrant’s whims, all spread with carte blanche from the bishops. It would be unjust, of course, to place the responsibility for each and every local disorder on the shoulders of the one in charge of the universal Church. Besides, the pope sometimes deplored the wonderful liturgical havoc of the Novus Ordo Missae.
But what effective measures did he take to stop it? And was he not the first cause of it all? Paul VI is presented to us as an archetype of perfection. But is virtue not in duty, and is not the duty of a leader to encourage those who do good and punish those who go against the law? Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was judged without being heard, punished without being received, and Paul VI thought he “belonged in a psychiatric ward.” But the priests who celebrated Mass with rice or joined in the protests of the Communist party enjoyed their comfortable rectories free from worry. And yet Paul VI did not like Communism; he always warned against the pernicious nature of Marxism.
So what paradox made him support a benevolent attitude towards the Communist countries (Ostpolitik), whose fruits were so bitter for the Catholics in these countries, who felt abandoned by Rome? Paul VI considered, along the same lines, that one can be Catholic and enter into the service of the Socialist ideals, regardless of the express words of Leo XIII. He was also very hostile to Fascism; he preferred Christian democracy. All these positions gave birth early on, even within the Roman Curia, to an opposition to Montini. Pius XII knew his strengths, but distrusted his taste for modernity.
During the Council, Paul VI met with opposition from certain bishops, who foresaw the crisis that was to hit the Church. They were not wrong. This crisis was terrible, and it still is. Paul VI recognized it himself: “the opening to the world was a veritable invasion of the Church by the spirit of the world.” This discouraged him, coloring the last years of his pontificate with a marked sorrow: “We have perhaps been too weak and imprudent,” he admitted one day.
This was his admission; we wager that if he could have spoken, Paul VI would have dissuaded his successor from proclaiming him blessed. Let us follow in his footsteps in this. Let no animosity towards his person tempt us; let the acute conscience of the objectivity and permanence of Christian virtue be our only motive. Let us hold nothing against him, let us only be all for the right conception of what a blessed soul truly is.
If Paul VI is blessed, then it is virtuous for a pope to contradict his predecessors on the fundaments of doctrine; it is praiseworthy to abandon Cardinal Mindszenty to the sorrowful fate that persecution held in store for him; there is nothing wrong with covering up with a cloak of silence the terrible abuses in the liturgy of the Sacrifice. If Paul VI is blessed, injustice is a virtue; imprudence, a path to sanctity; and revolution, the fruit of the Gospel.
Fr. Philippe Toulza, Director of Editions Clovis of the SSPX—10-18-2014, on the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist.