Pope Paul VI

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Paul VI
Name Giovanni Battista
Enrico Antonio
Maria Montini
Papacy began June 21, 1963
Papacy ended August 6, 1978
Predecessor John XXIII
Successor John Paul I
Born September 26, 1897
Place of birth Concesio, Italy
Died August 6, 1978
Place of death Castel Gandolfo, Italy

Pope Paul VI (Latin: Paulus PP. VI), born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (September 26, 1897August 6, 1978), reigned as Pope and as sovereign of Vatican City from 1963 to 1978. He presided over the Catholic Church during most of the Second Vatican Council and played a central role in implementing its decisions.


Early career

Giovanni Montini was born in Concesio in Brescia province, Italy, of a family of local nobility. He entered the seminary to train to become a Catholic priest in 1916 and was ordained a priest in 1920. He studied at the Gregorian University, the University of Rome and the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici. His organisational skills led him to a career in the Curia, the papal civil service. In 1937 he was named Substitute for Ordinary Affairs under Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI. When Pacelli was elected Pope Pius XII, Montini was confirmed in the position under the new Secretary of State. When in 1944 the Secretary of State died, the role was assumed directly by the pope, with Montini working directly under him.


Some of his work during this period remains shrouded in mystery, with claims and counter-claims, most notably concerning his involvement in the diplomatic activities of the Vatican during the conflict. For example, the Vatican's repeated contacts with Count Galeazzo Ciano, fascist Minister of Foreign affairs and son-in-law of Mussolini, remains an issue of some criticism. Montini, who worked as a diplomat, has been accused of having obtained from the Fascists, at the beginning of the war, some promises of uncleared advantages for the Vatican, in exchange of its eventual support. However, many other historians dispute this analysis.

The unique complexity of the war-time period saw Montini procure large sums of money to aid European Jews, while he is also alleged to have been involved in enabling some leading Nazi officers to escape the collapse of the Third Reich. Formally a simple administrative employee of the Vatican government, but effectively the closest supporter of Pius XII, he has often been recognised as one of the most important political figures of the period. No official confirmation exists, but evidence indicates that he (along with Alcide De Gasperi) attempted to set up a channel of communication between Crown Princess Maria José (daughter-in-law of the King of Italy and wife of the Prince of Piedmont, Umberto) and the United States, in order to find a separate peace for Italy with the United States; the Princess however was not able to meet Myron Taylor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's special representative to the Vatican, and no one knows if Montini was unable to organise this meeting or unwilling to do so.

Archbishop of Milan

Montini was eventually appointed in 1953 to the senior Italian church post of Archbishop of Milan. Traditionally such appointment would be followed by being made a cardinal at the next consistory (when vacancies in the College of Cardinals are filled). To the surprise of many, Montini never received the red hat (as the appointment to the cardinalate is often called) before Pope Pius's death in 1958; what was not known was that at the Secret Consistory in 1952 Pope Pius revealed that Montini had declined the cardinalate. Though many viewed him as the person who would have succeeded Pope Pius, since Montini was not a member of the College of Cardinals,[1] Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected pope and assumed the name Pope John XXIII. Roncalli almost immediately raised Montini to the cardinalate.


Styles of
Pope Paul VI
Image:Vatican coa.png
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Servant of God

Montini was generally seen as Pope John's heir apparent. Montini was an enthusiastic supporter of Pope John's decision to establish the Second Vatican Council. When John died of cancer in 1963, Montini finally was elected to the papacy, where he took the name Paul VI. He brought the Second Vatican Council to completion in 1965 and directed the implementation of its directives until his death in 1978. He was also the last pope to be crowned; his successor Pope John Paul I abolished the ceremony during his reign, though it could be reinstated. Paul VI donated his own Papal Tiara, a gift from his former Archdiocese of Milan, to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.. In 1965 he established the Synod of Bishops but controversially withdrew two issues from its authority, priestly celibacy and the issue of contraception and made both the subject of controversial encyclicals.

Humanæ Vitæ

Image:Paulcrnd.jpg Pope Paul's most controversial decision occurred on July 24 1968, when in his encyclical Humanæ Vitæ, "Of Human Life", he rejected the recommendations of a commission established by John XXIII and reaffirmed the Catholic Church's condemnation of artificial birth control. His decision was unexpected, as many in the Catholic world expected the Church to accept with some reservations the technological advances that had produced the contraceptive pill. In subsequent decades, many Catholics opted to use birth control in spite of church teaching. To its supporters, Humanæ Vitæ is seen as a valued and welcome reaffirming of the sanctity of human sexuality and the procreative act, unencumbered by a modern drift away from absolute to relative concepts of morality.

A commission composed of bishops, theologians, and laity had been established for the purpose of reviewing the teaching on birth control. It was the commission's majority recommendation that the Church relax it's stance on birth control. Upon the receiving the commission's report, Pope Paul made the highly controversial decision to disband the commission, and not only ignored their recommendations, but did exactly the opposite and with his Humanæ Vitæ encyclical reinforced the ban on birth control.

The encyclical gained further significance as the Catholic faithful began to feel disenfranchised from the Church. Whereas in the past, the Vatican's historical conciliarism provided checks and balances on the Pope's authority, with Pope Paul VI's rejection and disbandment of the commission these checks and balances of the past were swept away. The Pope's authority in Church matters had became elevated to monarchical power.

As public opinion seemed to turn against the Pope, it was the last encyclical of his papacy.

Image:Erb-Pavla-VI.jpg To its many opponents, Humanæ Vitæ is seen as a calamity akin to Pope Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors, with the Church turning its back on technological advances that could help humanity deal with the problems of serial births and climbing birth rates, particularly in the Third World. External observers noted that many lay Catholics reacted by moving towards the more typically Protestant attitude that after listening to the Church's teaching, they could judge for themselves what was sinful and what was not.

While Paul's successor, Pope John Paul I, in a meeting with United Nations population experts during his short reign, did give some indication that Humanæ Vitæ might be changed somewhat, Pope John Paul II unambiguously supported the encyclical.

The Pilgrim Pope


Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit five continents, and was the most travelled pope in history to that time, earning the nickname the Pilgrim Pope. In 1970 he was the target of an assassination attempt at Manila International Airport in the Philippines. The assailant, a Bolivian Surrealist painter named Benjamín Mendoza y Amor Flores, lunged toward Pope Paul with a kris, but was subdued. Although the Vatican denied it, subsequent evidence suggests Pope Paul did indeed receive a stab wound in the incident.

Pope Paul became the second pope to meet an Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, after the visit of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII on December 2nd 1960. He was also the first pope for centuries to meet the heads of various Eastern Orthodox faiths. Notably, in 1964 he met Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and they rescinded the 1054 excommunications of the Great Schism and produced the Catholic-Orthodox Joint declaration of 1965.

An Indecisive Pope?


According to some critics, Pope Paul VI was habitually indecisive.

One example of Paul's alleged indecisiveness revolved around his inability to decide how to deal with the scandal-ridden American Cardinal Cody, who was surrounded by allegations of financial and sexual impropriety. Cody even invited his female 'friend' to pose in a picture with him and Pope Paul taken when Cody was being awarded the red hat. Paul changed his mind over whether to remove Cody, on one occasion contacting a Vatican official at Rome Airport, whom he had sent to inform Cody of his dismissal, and telling him to return as he had changed his mind. Cody remained in office until his death.

Some critics point to Paul's response to Archbishop Lefebvre, who challenged papal authority by refusing to accept the New Mass and liturgical reforms produced by Vatican II. The pope summoned Lefebvre to meetings in which he argued with Lefebvre and showed his great frustration, but he did not excommunicate Lefebvre, as many had expected. Lefebvre was eventually excommunicated automatically (latae sententiae) for his illicit ordinations in 1988 during the reign of Pope John Paul II.

The pope's response to the critics of Humanae Vitae is also cited as an example of indecisiveness. When Cardinal O'Boyle, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., disciplined several priests for publicly dissenting from this teaching, the pope gave him encouragement. But when other bishops did nothing to quell dissent, the pope raised no objection. And when bishops in Canada, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands were lukewarm in their support or even publicly expressed reservations about this teaching, the pope did not discipline them in any way.

Some of Pope Paul's statements in the 1970s seemed critical of the direction taken by the Church after Vatican II, expressing his dislike of some of the "pedestrian" language used in some translations of the New Mass. But he did not generally indicate such unhappiness in his public statements. He did oppose Liberation theology after the 1962-65 Vatican Council, frowning on the CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference) support to it.

According to some sources, as Paul became older he spoke of abdicating the papal throne and going into retirement. Some critics see this as another example of indecision, as he remained in the papacy until his death.

It is rumored that Pope John XXIII referred to then-Cardinal Montini as "Our Hamlet" (Amleto), in reference to his indecisiveness. The private secretaries of both popes have denied that John ever made such a statement.

Pope Paul himself reflected that description of himself in a private note written in 1978. He asked:

What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet? Or Don Quixote? On the left? On the right? I do not think I have been properly understood.[2]

Controversial sermons


On June 29 1972 Pope Paul VI in a homily delivered a strikingly downbeat analysis of the state of the Roman Catholic Church post Vatican II. He told a congregation:

We believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. But instead there has come a day of clouds and storms, and of darkness ... And how did this come about? We will confide to you the thought that may be, we ourselves admit in free discussion, that may be unfounded, and that is that there has been a power, an adversary power. Let us call him by his name: the devil.

His fears of satanic infiltration of the Church were even more pronounced in a later sentence which is widely quoted by conservative Catholics. He said:

It is as if from some mysterious crack, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

What he was alluding to was never explained. Some members of the traditionalist movement have used that quote as a defense of their positions on the direction the Church has taken following the council.

A few months before his death, Paul celebrated the solemn funeral of the leader of Democrazia Cristiana, Aldo Moro (Moro was murdered by the Red Brigades), who had sent him a famous letter from captivity. Moro and Montini had been in the FUCI together, a Catholic association for university students, many years before, and in time had become perhaps the two most important Catholic figures in Italy.

Denial of homosexual rumours

Pope Paul VI caused considerable surprise in 1968 when, to the consternation of his aides, he apparently denied rumours that he was homosexual. Though rumours had circulated periodically in anti-papal and anti-Catholic publications as to Paul's sexual orientation, with suggestions of a past relationship while he was an archbishop with a priest who had served as his secretary, when what Paul called the "scandalous rumours" began to feature in some elements of the Italian media, he made the controversial choice of issuing a public denial. It was the first time in the modern era that a pope had commented in any way about his sexual identity. [3] Controversy remains among historians as to whether the term "scandalous rumours" actually referred to the Pope's sexuality, or various other rumours concerning his papacy.

An overview

A man of many virtues, Pope Paul VI spent his pontificate plagued by attacks from all sides. Liberals condemned him on Humanæ Vitæ and for not reforming the Church and its curia further, as well as for opposing Liberation theology. Conservatives within the Church condemned him as too liberal and for "destroying the Tridentine Mass". Other conservatives on the far right condemned him as an anti-pope (an illegitimate and invalid pope, a claim that had not been made against a reigning pope for centuries). It was claimed by some conservative Catholics that the real Pope Paul was kept drugged in the Vatican while an actor "played" his role publicly. Even today there are websites devoted to comparing pictures of Pope Paul in the 1960s and the 1970s to "prove" that the Holy Father seen in public in the latter decade was not the real Pope Paul at all but an Italian actor put in his place by leading liberal cardinals as a political decoy. Few however give such theories any credence.


Pope Paul presided over a Church in transition from the pre- to the post-Vatican II eras. That transition witnessed the most fundamental revision of Roman Catholic liturgy in centuries, a changing priesthood (marked by a wave of priests leaving the priesthood in the easier method provided by Pope Paul), a changing world in which non-marital sex became widespread, as did the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality and the liberalisation of divorce laws. Towering over Paul VI's pontificate remains Humanæ Vitæ and its teaching on sexuality, which some regard as an inspiring statement of Christian sexual morality, while others regard it as a colossal blunder that saw the Church opt out of the modern world and retreat to a nineteenth-century world that on sexuality at least was more in touch with the papal absolutism of Pope Pius IX than the collegiality epitomised by Vatican II. Image:Pope-paul-vi-1978.jpg Whatever the reality, the negative public response to Humanæ Vitæ deeply wounded Pope Paul, who, according to close friends, withdrew into himself and became increasingly critical of, and alienated from, a world he saw as being conquered by evil. It was noteworthy that after Humanæ Vitæ in 1968 he issued no further encyclicals for the rest of his reign. At one point, Paul even said that he understood why Saint Peter went back to Rome—it was to be crucified.

Pope Paul VI died of a heart attack in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, in August 1978 following a long illness.

On May 11,1993 the diocesan process for the beatification of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI was initiated by Pope John Paul II, placing him on the path towards possible sainthood.


  1. ^  In theory any male Catholic, irrespective of his ordination, is eligible for election to the papacy by the College of Cardinals, so technically Archbishop Montini could still have become pope. In fact, at the 1958 election, Montini did receive a couple of votes. But the cardinals in modern times invariably elect a fellow cardinal to the post.
  2. ^  Cathal B Daly, Steps on my Pilgrim Journey (Veritas, 1998) p. 177. [pre-publication review edition]
  3. ^  Peter de Rossa, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy (Corgi, 1989) p.538.

See also

Additional reading

  • Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI: The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993, 749 pages, ISBN 080910461X


External links

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