4th Sunday of January: 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
In his book, The Second Vatican Council, An Unwritten Story, indeed Roberto de Mattei recounts the Council throughout the four sessions but—and this is unique—he also explores the previous epoch of Pius XII, the immediate historical stage and political backdrop of the Council under John XXIII, and also the period following the Council which he calls the epoch of the Council. Understanding the Council in its historical and geopolitical context both before, during and after is quite helpful to understanding its true nature.
As a historian with a significant concentration in the political arena, de Mattei describes with particular attention the rise of Communism in Italy and Paul VI’s involvement around the time of the Council in the geopolitics of the time. It may be somewhat interesting to have some of this data available as the Roman authorities are currently promoting the beatification process of Pope Paul VI.
Already in the late 50’s, Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Paul VI) had shown his preferences for the Christian Democracy movement of Italy towards non-confessional status and socialism. He became Substitute for the Secretary of State in 1937 and remained there until 1954 when he was nominated Archbishop of Milan but without the cardinal’s hat. In fact, the promotion was a demotion. De Mattei introduces evidence that Montini had been having secret relations with Communists in Italy and had passed to them sensitive information from the Secretary of State and the Eastern countries.
During the reign of John XXIII, and just months before the opening of the Council, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant (the Secretary of State), held a secret meeting at Metz (France) with the Orthodox archbishop Boris Nikodim (a KGB agent) and assured him the Council would remain silent on the question of Communism in exchange for the Orthodox sending a delegation.
The last encyclical of John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, was the inspiration behind the “historical compromise” between Catholics and Communists, especially in Italy. For the Communists, Pope John was “the Good Pope” and Vatican II “the Council of Peace”; the Kremlin launched the doctrine of the “Pacific coexistence”, “dialogue” and “peace”, whereas the Soviet Premier Khrushchev described it in a discourse given on January 1, 1961, as a time of intense struggle of ideologies and politics.
The election of Montini as pope under the name of Paul VI in effect gave a papal benediction to the “historical compromise” of President Aldo Moro in Italy, and in fact, between 1963 and 1964, the pope twice saved the Christian Democracy from total collapse upon the death of President Kennedy. Paul VI’s visit to the United Nations in the middle of the fourth session of the Council was also a symbolic gesture: “Never more war” summed up the theme of the pope’s journey, while he met with the USSR Secretary of State Gromyko and told him that a collaboration for peace was possible between the diverse ideologies. The pacifist call also made its entry in the Conciliar aula.
In November 1965, more than 450 Council bishops requested an amendment requesting the formal condemnation of Communism, which had been surreptitiously hidden by Msgr. Glorieux—not a very glorious move! This scandal was publicly revealed through Fr. Wiltgen’s book, The Rhine flows into the Tiber.
Then, the pope presided over a meeting with Cardinals Tisserant (then a member of the Council's presidency board) and Amleto Cicognani (the Secretary of State) where he explained that there were two questions relevant to Communism. The first was the question of method which had been found faulty on the part of Tisserant, who justified himself by saying that he did not convoke the Council of Presidency to examine the recourse because Cardinal Wyszynski was firmly against Communism. The second question dealt with the merit of the amendment and they agreed that it was inopportune. Earlier on, the pope had written to the Council Secretary, Msgr. Felici: “Is this [condemnation of Communism] coherent with the purpose of the Council?
- of not entering in the political themes;
- of not pronouncing anathemas;
- of not speaking of Communism.” (1962)
One cannot ignore the historical correlation between the two great events of the 20th century: the Second Vatican Council and the revolution of the 60’s. “It is forbidden to forbid" was the leitmotiv of the soft revolution which originated from the conciliar decision to prevent any doctrinal prohibition.
Besides the sexual revolution and the commotion of Communism in France and other countries (the United States and the Vietnam War), South America saw the rise of the liberation theology, which pretended to receive a placet from the encyclical Populorum Progressio, which addressed “situations the injustice of which cries to heaven”, and of the violations of human dignity which could render legitimate the armed revolt.
But the thaw of the West towards Communism, begun by President John F. Kennedy was continued by President Nixon and Cardinal Casaroli—the “Foreign Minister” of Paul VI, under the name of the Ostpolitik. One of the most illustrious victims of this movement was Cardinal Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary, who was still a refugee in the American Embassy of Budapest. He was forced to resign his post by Paul VI. The setting up of a peace hierarchy of bishops and priests friendly to the Eastern governments [the infamous “Pax movement”—Ed.] marked the death knell of the underground Church which was the only hope for Catholics in East.
These short extracts from the book of de Mattei show that this is a must read for anyone interested in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI and its repercussion in the political world.
1 The report of Coronal Arnould, close collaborator of Cardinal Tisserant and French President Auriol.
2 Msgr. Palemon Glorieux (1892-1979) was a canon and mediaeval historian.
3 The date 1962 in brackets indicates the secret agreement of Metz.