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The Pope under criticism

Heres a very interesting piece in the Times of London, on Pope Benedict and criticisms he is receiving even from among Cardinals for his leadership (or lack of same).

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Ah, that great Catholic theological journal the TIMES of London!

Mr. Austin: I don't know what point you want to make by your clever comment, but you might have assumed that I in sending it and surely most of those who might read it, are quite well aware that the article referenced is a piece of journalism, not of Catholic theology, and would be read as such. In fact, I think it a rather good piece of journalism.

And I didn't think Mr. Austin's commenmt was clever.One wonders if the surrounding Cardinals and curia were operating om a modern communication mode, would they still be able to communicate effectively up the line?Personally I think BXVIU suffers from the problem of being an extremely bright, quite well read, but remote and non-empathic kind of leader who can easily have practical decision making problems which then his colleagues have to smooth over or clean up afterwards, but, in the interim alienates many affected by those decsions.

I feel sorry for the Holy Father, honestly. I hope I'm still up to spending an afternoon in my study when I'm 85. But no matter how capable I might be, I wouldn't want to be responsible for the welfare of a pet, let alone the Church militant, in my ninth decade!

Hear,Hear Mollie from my 9th fecade

Fr. Komonchak, what about the article makes it a good piece of journalism? The unattributed sources or the speculation?Was there a scibe noting down Re's comments? It is presented as verbatim.Imagine a personal secretary being strict! Imagine a pope who is a theologian! Omigosh, gold-rimmed plates!!!

(I meant "scribe," obviously.)

Kathy: No, the attributed sources, who include people I know and trust. And the fact that it confirms what I had suspected and heard told. That enough for you?

Much of the criticism seems to be that the Holy Father offends a lot of people. Good for him. In our "feel good" culture, nothing is worse than offending someone, as if Christ had elevated that to the worst possible sin. That is a steaming load of you-know-what.

I suppose I like less admixture of bad journalism in my good journalism.There is a lot of innuendo, and some blatant silliness.

Fr. KomonchakI'm with you. It is a good piece of journalism. Some Catholics confuse loyalty to the Pope with the mindset that the Pope is always right--which is evidently absurd--or even with a kind of quasi-idolatry as if the Pope truly were God on earth--which seems to me to be almost blasphemous. Loyalty, as to any friend, does not exclude and may even require honest criticism. Certaily no pope can dispense with honest advice from curial figures and others who take pursuing the good of the Church to be more important than humoring the Pope.

My granny had fewer people to lunch than Pope John Paul, and she ran a soup kitchen.I'm as uncomfortable as the next person with unilateral authority, and if I had less in common with this pope I would want to see him criticized too, I suppose. But I've worked for pastors who are prayerful and theological, and for others who have their ears to the wind, and the latter have seemed to me to be very prone to panic. Saying Mass in private is not the same as eating kippers with Rasputin and the Tsarina. He said at the beginning of his pontificate that he would be listening to God, and that seems like a very good plan. I hope that he's listening to bishops, too--but curial cardinals?The long-range results of Regensburg have been good, not bad. The prospects for Vatican-Israel relations have undergone a thaw. Does he seem wrong? Darn skippy. Has he been wrong? I just don't see that as his track record.

Thanks for the heads up on this piece, Fr. Komonchak.If the situation in Rome is accurately described in the article, we can expect no end to the blunders any time soon. The picture of Benedict at the outset reminded me of the old Victorian Fairy Tale about the Little Lame Prince, imprisoned in a lonely tower away from the world. What saves the Prince and his kingdom is the intervention of a Fairy Godmother who provides him with the ability to discover the world from which he has been protected. Of course, the deeper problem with Benedict is that he is not the victim of a conspiracy of kindness, but its architect. Those obsequious appointees of his who echo what he wants to hear are a serious problem. That part of the article rings very, very true. Sad for him and disastrous for the Church. And there is an interesting side link on the TImes page to a piece on Gordon Browns extremely warm reception by the Pope, and Brown's invitation to visit Britain. The Vaticans treatment of Browns visit certainly points up the "short shrift," so to speak, given Nancy Pelosi the other day.

Thank you, Fr. Komonchak. I found the article helpful, and well done. The very interesting bit about Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos caught my attention too. The idea that this move was made in haste, due to personal presure of some sort, is an interesting one. Of course it may just be an exercise is passing the hot potato.We've seen what seems to me a strange dynamic playing out with the SSPX. Namely, they were offered reconciliation not long ago. What was it, a month or two? And they turned it down. So what happens next? They are given a better offer. Unconditional lifting of the excommunications, and the promise of reconciliation, however long it takes to work out the details.Clearly, Williamson is laying low until the storm blows over. And since evidently nothing, nothing at all, will cause the pope to deviate from his quest to reconcile with them, the SSPX can hold out as long as they want. If I were them, I'd wait too. Look at how much more they got when they turned down the last offer.All this is to say that the Pope not only needs some better advisors generally, he needs those who are better skilled in the art of diplomacy. He's not exercising prudence with this. And it the meantime, other people are being alienated and confused by the whole thing. The reaction of the European Catholic Theologians pointed out the ill effects of the whole affair on our other dialogue partners. That is another as-yet unmeasured cost of the present crisis.

The article rings true. There still is goodwill, by and large, for the institutional Church in the world. Many people are cutting the Church slack for old times sake and to be neighbourly and friendly. The response from other religious leaders (Jews and Muslims) to the Pope's faux pas have the feel of generosity to me. This should be appreciated and remembered. But being in a position of having to accept generosity, too often, impedes the ability of the Church to assume strong moral leadership. The Church is also a human institution located in history. I agree with Kahty that too much ear to the wind does make one prone to panic. But too much detachment impedes proper discernment of the work of the Spirit in the world and in the Church.The only way it can be 'fixed' is by having solid, strong people around the Pope. Men (and women) he can trust and who share his vision of Church in the Modern world (and that isn't even exactly clear).

Kathy"He [Benedict] said at the beginning of his pontificate that he would be listening to God, and that seems like a very good plan."It is an excellent plan but the problem is knowing when God is speaking and when some phantom projection of ourselves is speaking. God also speaks to us through others. He even speaks to the Successor of Peter throught others.

It is a fine piece of journalism and interesting at that. One thing that it does not account for, however, is that Benedict leaves very little to chance (witness his election). I have heard from people, who have known him a long time, and people whose opinion I respect, that he is very shrewd and calculating. In the end, I think the truth is a mixture of both perspectives, even if that complicates the picture presented in this article. In my opinion the article parrots too easily the notion of Benedict in an ivory tower disconnected from reality -- a great defense for him, including plausible deniability. It seems somewhat simplistic to me. Sorting it out will be the job of historians.

Fr. Komonchak, I want to apologize for attacking your opinion in my first comment above. I do think the article is of mixed quality, and paints a misleading picture. But that's no excuse for such sarcasm towards someone I respect very much.

I find the Times article not only interesting, but also in a sense sympathetic to Benedict XVI, yet pointing to some serious administrative missteps which have got in the way of his goals. Perhaps it is in its own way an example of fraternal correction of the sort that no doubt we all could use (certainly I could).Two slight demurs not from the article itself but from its surroundings. a) where on earth did the Times dig up that picture that makes Benedict look almost exactly like Chief Inspector Morse of the Oxford police, the music-loving protagonist of the PBS Mystery series some weeks ago? b) I was depressed (yet again) by some of the readers' comments at the bottom of the Times article, particularly those that take it upon themselves to remind us (yet again) that the Church is not a democracy. Of course it isn't. Nor should it be, any more than Harvard University, or Oxford, for that matter, should be a democracy. But surely there is some wiggle room between a) flat-out democracy and b) monarchical absolutism, and I hope someone is at least examining the possibility that changes in governance and administrative practice might enable to Church better to fulfill the mission entrusted to it by the Lord.

The Pope believes he doesnt need to take account of public opinion. He studies the files that are brought to him and decides very much on his own. The atmosphere around him is that he mustnt be disturbed by criticism or visitors. Except for Humanae Vitae, one would have to search far to find so many bishops opposed to a papal action. First we should remind that Benedict was a par excellence "curial Cardinal." Secondly, many, many bishops opposed his actions. Exraordinary for a pack mostly appointed for their loyalty and orthodoxy. In the end this may indicate that Joseph Ratzinger never got his identity straight.Makes one think what might have been if Ratzinger had stayed with his early insights and not succumbed to comfortable orthodoxy.

This is not the only article that has posted statements and comments outlining papal decison-making or lack thereof. Was waiting for David Gibson to weigh in given his biography on B16.One comment Mr. Gibson made on an earlier blog: B16 was the pre-eminent curial master for 20+ years. He was elected and he stated that he was not an administrator - he acts and sees himself as a theologian and lives the life of a professor doing research.Two things are greatly needed today in a pope:a) pastoral skill in terms of building relationships across conferences of bishops, cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious divides; (that is not B16''s strong suit)b) someone who is outside of the curia and willing to make significant changes to the way the modern church governs itself. (again, his role as head of the CDF may limit or compromise his chances of doing this)What this article does not touch on are the other skills and accomplishments that observers have noted:a) relationships with the eastern orthodox, Russin orthodox;b) his "dream" to end schism created/caused by Vatican II;c) his tentative steps to address global warming as a ethic of life issue, initial efforts to connect "natural law" and the NGOs/United Nations/Common World Ethic whose mission is to reinforce a world that defines and supports human dignity in all aspects.Unfotunately, if he is unable to change his current style or curial leadership, my feeling is that much of his good initiatives will be impacted, if not lost.

Nicholas: reading comments on online newspaper articles is nearly always depressing! I try never to give in to the temptation.

Nicholas, I'm pretty sure that the answer is not a governmental model at all, but the model of communion. I think the mystery of VII is the sharing of authority among the pope and bishops. It's not overlap, but it's not divided into distinct areas of responsibility, either. It's not checks and balances and it's not turf. If the East-West schism is on the agenda, that means the relationship of pope and bishops is going to have to be very communal indeed.

If the article is correct, and the Pope is leaving issues of administration to others, then this is the second pontificate in a row to do so. I myself think that the chief roles of a bishop, including the Bishop of Rome, are to preach/teach and to lead the Church's worship, and that administration comes in a distant third. But this must also mean that someone has to be looking after the shop, and the impression right now is that no one is doing that. The problem is that so many people, and not only in Rome, think that the Church can be centrally administered. Bureaucracies are notorious for (1) turf-wars and (2) thinking that they know better than the folks on the ground. It is paradoxical that a Council that so stressed communion and community has given rise, at every level, to unprecedented expansion of bureaucracies. I believe that sociologists would tell us that community-responsibility and bureaucracy are usually at best in tension with one another.

Very interesting. I must say that I find it hard to sympathize with someone who likes to eat his meals alone...Jokes aside, our Pope, by his willingness to take even unpopular decisions when he feels that they are the right thing to do; by his relative disregard for the reaction of media; and by his tough, demanding attitude towards the faithful, is ideally suited for one obvious goal: dealing effectively with the sexual abuse crisis. Maybe that's his mission! And that's my prayer for him.

This is definitely a story that was waiting to be reported. Has any American news organization run a similar piece?

Fr. Komonchak,From the article, it seems like the people who are miffed are the bureaucrats.

Nothing particularly new here. The Times combox suggests that the majority of vocal Catholics are enraptured with Benedict's personality and his monarchical style. Remember that Americans almost adored George Bush, the worst US president ever, and it took Katrina and economic meltdown to dint their enthusiasm. Benedict is a far better thinker and governor than Bush, and the deficiences of his polity are apparent only to the theological sophisticates who may pore over the History of Vatican II. I hope Benedict rules for another 15 years in order to teach everyone, painfully, the same critical theological sophistication.

We are going to learn what "the majority of vocal Catholics" think from a combox? That's about as trustworthy a source as the one that suggested that "Americans" [sic; not just the majority] "almost adored George Bush" before Katrina and the economic meltdown.

I am heartened to learn (from Claire's post) that Benedict is on a mission to deal effectively with the sexual abuse crisis. Perhaps someone could point me towards the evidence for that? Dealing with Maciel and his followers -- yes, there's that. But that's only a very small part of a crisis that has affected many countries in many different parts of the world. Perhaps some effective steps are being taken to deal with it and I've missed them. It would seem to me (getting back to the themes of governance and administration again) that a first vital step would be a forthright look at the question of how, if at all, the Church's governance structures might themselves have to bear a substantial amount of responsibility for the abuse crisis. I see no evidence that any of those in positions of authority are willing to engage the question. As for the pope v. bureaucrats: yes, bureaucracies can be dangerous animals, primarily looking out only for their own turfs, in democracies, monarchies, dictatorships, and everything in between. The ideal certainly would be to have a "creative tension," as Fr. Komonchak suggests (perhaps along the lines of the creative tension that has historically existed between "Roman" and "Catholic." I had a medievalist colleague, now since departed this earth, a devout Episcopalian, who used to tell me that the Vatican had invented bureaucracy. My response was that while that might be true in the West, the Chinese were developing it long before the Vatican came along. And the fortunes of the Chinese bureaucracy have survived millenia of imperial rule, imperial breakdown, and now what Beijing still (sancta simplicitas) likes to refer to as "communism."

I will admit that the thought has occasionally crossed my mind that JPII and Benedict might have been sent to open our eyes to the wrong direction in which church governance has gone with an imperial, absolutist Papacy, Papally appointed bishops, and a dysfunctional bureaucracy, all unable or unwilling to deal with the sexual abuse crisis and many other crucial matters. But HOPING for another 15 years of this? What is it they used to say in geometry? Q.E.D. Weve had enough proof.

Fr. Yves Congar liked to quote an Anglican theologian who said that one problem Anglicans faced with regard to the role of the papacy was that the modern popes had all been decent, even holy men. What we needed, he half-jokingly said, was "a really good bad pope". Congar translated this as "un tres bon mauvais pape", and he too was only half-joking when he said that it would teach people that the Church is not the pope and does not rise and fall with the fate of the pope. He made a similar point with regard to the millennium-old discussion among canonists and theologians about the possibility of a pope's becoming a heretic, a literature important to consult for a balanced ecclesiology. Still, I agree with Susan on what to hope for and not to hope for.

Nicholas: true, not much has happened since that moving occasion when the pope met with abuse survivors during his visit to the US. I'm not saying that. I am only saying that, should he decided that that was his top priority, he seems very well suited to the job.

I've often wondered what people have in mind as an alternative process of episcopal appointments. Wider consultation, or a vote?I suppose that I especially wonder about the practical wisdom of democratization, given the collapsing viability of the mainline denominations. But since Tradition is very much on the side of the involvement of the people of a diocese in the selection of its bishop, what forms could that take?

Fr. Komonchak:As far as the necessity of an "administrative" Pope is concerned, let's remember Paul VI, who was said to have administrative skills, but no theological skills that I could discern, to say nothing of his lack of skills in dealing with people. What I find ironic is that even given his reputation as an administrator, Paul VI was singularly inept when it came to the chaos after Vatican II, particularly in his episcopal appointments or those who represented him (e.g., Jadot). He (and John Paul II) ended up with people who thought they could "administer" change. One example is that of ecumenism, where we had two cardinals in a row, Cassidy and Kasper, who thought it was only a matter of administering ecumenical agreement, which really meant reducing everything to the LCD, just the kind of administrative mindset that should be anathema to the Church. It's reminiscent of the Rahner-Fries book, which Joseph Ratzinger called a "forced march to unity." While there should perhaps be some improvements in the Curia, I don't see where Paul VI was such a stellar success; he was arguably the worst Pope since Leo X, in terms of generating disunity in the Church, principally BECAUSE he "governed" rather than set the example by his holiness, as Benedict XVI does.

While "running" the Church may not be the most important thing a pope does, there is a three-fold munus for him as every bishop, I believe: to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. So governing is an element of this. If some popes were not good governors (as Benedict, by his own admission) seems not to be (or it's not his interest), that doesn't mean, to my mind, that we do away with it. There have been notorious popes, personally and spiritually. But I don't think because of that we'd toss out the idea that the personal sanctity of a pope matters. There are ways to govern that are not in absentia, or dictatorial, or kumbaya hand-wringing. I appreciate Fr. Komonchak's Congar story--excellent! And Michael Miller's reference a few posts back to Rahner's analogy about popes and chess clubs presidents seems spot-on, too.

Thanks, Fr. K. Excellent post and points made. But, reflecting on various contributions, I get the feeling that it is a little like the famous movie, Rashomon; it all depends upon who is doing the viewing and analyzing.Mr. Gibson makes an excellent point - there are 3 roles/skills that a pope needs. We now have two popes in a row (30+ years???) who either do not have administrative skills or no interest. The curia desperately needs to be overhauled to better reflect:a) K. Rahner's Vatican II call that the church is now a WORLD-CHURCH;b) Vatican II marked a division in ecclesialogical history equal to the Jerusalem Conference and the establishment of the Roman church;c) the curia/Rome needs to mirror the call of Lumen Gentium/Gaudium Spes - more lay and female inclusion; fewer ordained bishops/cardinals - ability to manage - age issue......can we really expect popes and curia to manage a 24/7 job in their eighties?BYW - I do not agree with the analysis that Jadot did not lead, did not have administrative skills, or appointed bishops that lacked them. There were a number of articles recently that compared Jadot (who was sleighted if not insulted by JPII) and his replacement. On the whole, it appears that bishops who took office after Jadot's time have responded to the sexual abuse crisis in a very authoritarian and legal fashion which has only deepened the crisis. Also, look the record of JPII's personal prelatures and support of various "new" communities - not sure that they have expressed the ecclesiology of Vatican II, much less a new World Church.

I've felt, ever since his pontificate, that if Paul VI could be so vigorously criticized, as he was, from both left and right, he must have been doing something right!A "world Church" (global Church) is nearly as ambiguous a phenomenon as "globalization" in the many other senses it receives today. It could be taken in a sense similar to that used when one thinks of manufacturers of goods marketed globally, as erasing or minimizing local differences. Rahner himself had a strange view of the college of bishops as the Board of Directors of the Universal Church, which I think is quite wrong and simply adds a collective Board to the monarchical CEO in charge of the multinatinal religious corporation, centrally governed. This was in some tension with his view of the parish as the local realization of the Church. Rahner probably meant the term to refer to a Church that seeks to be at home in the various cultures of the world.His point of comparison with what he thought was going on at and after the Council was the cultural transformation that occurred when Christianity moved out of the Jewish into the Greco-Roman cultural world. He didn't mean "the establishment of the Roman Church."

Fr. Komonchak:Last I heard, Rahner wasn't running the Church. And his interpretation of the significance of Vatican II, with which I assume you agree, would probably have been shared by John Paul II, who constantly spoke of a "new Springtime." But that characterization went in the face of much evidence to the contrary, including the greatly falling numbers of Catholics at the end of John Paul's pontificate (for all of his evangelizing). Benedict's interpretation of the Council has always differed from John Paul's (or Rahner's), particularly as to the "event" status of the Council and also as to the "establishment of the Roman Church."

Mr. Florent: Did I say anything to suggest that Rahner was running the Church? Why the admonition, then?

Fr. K - i was trying to describe the transition from one cultural mind-set to another at the end of Vatican II. Agree with your much better expressed summary.I do believe that his insights are helpful - add that currently more Catholics live in the southern hemisphere and ecclesiology does begin to change.Not sure that the current curial set up either helps or supports an non-eurocentric church.

Hmmmmmmmmm According to J. H. Newman, the Church exists solely to further the realization of Christ. Any lesser aim would be theologically deficient. "Realization" is the very life of true developments; it is peculiar to the church, and the justification of her definitions. Just as Christ is endowed by God with a threefold office of prophet, priest, and king, so, Newman holds, the church shares in this threefold reality. It is engaged, at one and the same time, in teaching, worship, and governance. It is inseparably a philosophy, a religion, and a polity. All three elements are essential to the being of the church; their creative interaction is necessary for her well-being; their inevitable tension can be life-enhancing; their individual imperialistic claims constitute her perennial temptation and agony. Robert P. Imbelli, The Newman Legacy: Realizing Christ (article), Church, Spring 1991.Jesus founded a Church not a school or a magisterium, and he organized a college of apostles, not of rabbis, and he proclaimed love, not torah. John McKenzie, S.J.

The administrative disarray (or lack thereof) in the Vatican is certainly an important and timely issue, especially in light of the lifting of the SSPX excommunications, but while reading John Wilkins's "Why I Became Catholic" in the current issue of Commonweal (I think the online version is available to non-subscribers as well), I was moved by how Vatican II played such an important part in Mr. Wilkins's faith journey to Catholicism, and how what he perceives as a pull back from the reforms of VII (including outreach to a group like SSPX that can never accept VII's reforms) has been so painful for the many Catholics like him for whom John XXIII and the council itself were the magnets that drew them to the faith. For a cradle Catholic like me, Mr. Wilkins's candid comments were something of a revelation about why VII resonates so personally with some converts.

Between 1978 and 2000 the number of Catholics increased 38%.

Miss Ferrone,If John Paul's pontificate was so successful, why did the cardinal electors make the failure of his programme of evangelization one of their discussion points prior to the conclave? It was very plainly a failure in Europe.A large percentage of that 38% are only thinly-evangelized, poorly-catechized "Catholics."

Steven Florent:Just saw your quick reply to Rita Ferrones comment.Will you be replying to Joe Komonchaks?

Mr. Florent,It won't do to change your ground now that you've been caught with your facts in error. So it's a quality question now, eh? You can't possibly know that "A large percentage of that 38% are only thinly-evangelized, poorly-catechized 'Catholics.'"

I am sick and tired of the Paul VI bashing that conservative Catholics are reveling in for the last few years. It is sad that Benedict, created Cardinal by Paul VI, has done so much to undercut his legacy."lets remember Paul VI, who was said to have administrative skills, but no theological skills that I could discern, to say nothing of his lack of skills in dealing with people."His theological skills (he was a moral theologian) were evident in his encyclicals, which are of higher quality than those of his successors, and in his incandescent sermons as Archbishop of Milan.He was a man of exquisite sensitivity, who touched many hearts, and certainly he alienate far fewer people than his successors." What I find ironic is that even given his reputation as an administrator, Paul VI was singularly inept when it came to the chaos after Vatican II, particularly in his episcopal appointments or those who represented him (e.g., Jadot)."He appointed many wonderful bishops, including Jadot; it is well known that his successors have appointed yes men and mediocrities to such a degree as to seriously enfeeble the world episcopate." He (and John Paul II) ended up with people who thought they could administer change. One example is that of ecumenism, where we had two cardinals in a row, Cassidy and Kasper, who thought it was only a matter of administering ecumenical agreement, which really meant reducing everything to the LCD, just the kind of administrative mindset that should be anathema to the Church."If this outrageous claim has any merit it might be in the LCD-ism prevailing in the 1999 joint statement on Justification. But that statement, which the present pontiff approved theologically, had the practical merit of opening a corridor of shared thought among Catholics and Lutherans on Luther's (and Paul's) great theme. Bickering has given way to serene sharing, to the benefit of the Gospel." Its reminiscent of the Rahner-Fries book, which Joseph Ratzinger called a forced march to unity. Not sure what book you mean, but this sounds like one of Ratzinger's poorer moments, where he indulges a penchant for Adorno-esque Besserwissen."While there should perhaps be some improvements in the Curia, I dont see where Paul VI was such a stellar success; he was arguably the worst Pope since Leo X, in terms of generating disunity in the Church, principally BECAUSE he governed rather than set the example by his holiness, as Benedict XVI does."I met Paul VI three times and was convinced of his utter sanctity. I studied under Ratzinger and never thought of him as a saint. But that is all in the eye of the beholder I suppose.As to generating disunity, note that it was John Paul II with Ratzinger who pushed Kung to the margins and excommunicated the Lefebvrites. Paul VI was a man of inclusiveness, which his successors have failed to understand.

Dear Fr Komonchak, I thought my adjective "vocal" Catholics made the point that most Catholic voices today, and certainly the loudest, are rabidly ultramontane. That these are not the majority of Catholics as such I fondly hope.On papal longevity, never forget how Gregory IX, who may have been as old as 80 when he was Pope, lived until 94 and reduced to pulp the advanced German emperor Frederick II, who had been flourishing under the previous Pope. Also remember how many who prayed for John Paul II's resignation were long in their own graves by the time he departed this life. So if we do not hope for a long continuation of the present style, let us at least be reconciled to the hopeful thought that much would be learnt from it by an over-ultramontanizes people of God.

Father O'Leary:In my last post on this wonderful site, I wish to thank you most sincerely for your defense of Pope Paul VI. I was surprised when these calumnies were left to stand. I thought of posting but have no talent for it. Paul VI was a man of profound culture, deeply read in the theological, philosophical, Catholic belle-lettres tradition of 20th century France. Much of this tradition, as we know, prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council. His great encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, his addresses and homilies were (and are) unparalelled in the history of the modern papacy. His homilies in the parish churches of Rome and general audience talks on implementing the liturgical reforms are markedly pastoral and full of the realization of the need for the reform. For a man nearing 70, it is clear that he experienced the implementation of the reforms with a certain, wrenching, personal regret. But he held steady and determined, convinced of the pastoral benefits of the reform. A man of exquisite sensitivity, he suffered much in the papal office. It was clearly a burden for him, hardly an exaltation. As for his sanctity, one has only to read his Last Testament.The most dreadful pontificate since Leo X! As a church historian, I find this statement shockingly ignorant. We have seen failed papacies, and will see them yet again. Not so that of Paul VI.

I lost in my typing the above;Paul VI, in an uncertain hour, chose to continue the great Council and brought it to its enduring conclusion. "Gigantes erant super terram in diebus illis." ("There were giants on the earth in the days of old." Genesis)

Instead of "unparalelled," now two above, I should have said are on a parallel with the great encyclicals of his immediate predecessors -- Divino afflante Spiritu, Mystici Corporis, Mediator Dei of Pius XII; Mater et Magistra, Pacem in Terris of John XXIII. Enough from me.

A sincere "thank you" to Joseph O'Leary and to John Page for their heart-felt tributes to the greatness of Paul VI. His death on the feast of the Transfiguration marked the blessed fulfillment of his own transfiguration in Christ.As a young seminarian in Rome, I was part of a group of New Yorkers who had an audience with him just days after his election as Pope. I still have on my office wall a photo of the vibrant, smiling young successor of John XXIII.But the other indelible image is of the gaunt Patriarch, fifteen years later, in the pulpit of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (just months before his own death), during the funeral of his dear friend, the murdered Aldo Moro. Almost Job-like Paul Vi chided the Almighty for the death of "this good man." But, in a great act of faith, surrendered his friend to the mercy of God.After "Humanae Vitae" Paul never wrote another encyclical. But his magnificent apostolic letter, "Evangelii Nuntiandi" is still unsurpassed.

Hello John and Fr. O'Leary (and all),Late into the discussion again! Hope everyone had a blessed Ash Wednesday.Thank you for your moving comments regarding Paul VI. I hope this additional comment will prove helpful. I have long thought that Paul VI's pontificate has been evaluated solely through the lens of "Humanae Vitae" alone, and that this is unfair. As I read matters, Catholics on one side were outraged by what Paul VI taught here, while Catholics on the other side were outraged when he took no punitive measures against the Catholics who disagreed and even disobeyed him. I still think it is terribly unfair that Paul VI's pontificate is often evaluated as if "Humanae Vitae" were his only contribution.That aside, I also thing the approach Paul VI took with respect to "Humanae Vitae" was remarkable. In "Humanae Vitae" he called on Catholics to continue to follow a moral standard more demanding than that of other sects. And he took much angry criticism and rejection for what he taught with no complaint. He also took no vengeance against those who disobeyed him, but still never wavered in what he taught. Maybe a little like Jesus' approach?

"I ask the Lord... for the grace to make my approaching death a give to the church. I can say that I have always loved her. It was love for her that drew me out of my petty, uncontrolled egotism and began me in her service. I seem to have lived because of her, and not anything else. But I would like the church to know it, and I would like the strength to say it, as a secret from the heart that a person has the courage to share only in the last moments of life" (Pensiero alla morte, cited in Cardinal C. M. Martini, The Gospel According to St Paul, p. 67)

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