A profile of Pope Paul VI
THE PAPACY is no stranger to earthly vicissitudes. Popes have beenhoundedfrom their sees by emperorsand kings. Their palaces have been burned,their lands occupied by foreign troops. They have been elected by corrupt processes and turnedinto the puppets of powerful families and monarchs.
Occasionally they havedisgraced their office, or 'made greaterrorsof state for which they havepaid heavily. But somehow the in-stitutionhas endured, even prospered.Under Pius XII, whose long pontifi-cate spanned and survived the great-est war in history, die papacy achieveda degree of centralisation and exer-ciseda weight of unchallenged author-ity unique in its long experience.Even Stalin, who sneered at the Popeforhis lack of divisions, might haveenvied the ease with which Piusexacted unquestioning and voluntaryobedience from the hundreds of mil-lionsof the faithful. His successor,John XXIII, inheriting this great cen-tralised machine, was able to strike anote of warmth and universal charitywhichmade the pope a loved andrespectedfigure even among thosewhoowed him no allegiance. Formany who had different faiths, or nofaith at all, John seemed to standfor decency and rectitude in a worlddominatedby base materialism. Whatatragedy, then, that in a few shortyears, his successor, Pope Paul VI,should have squandered the spiritualcapital handed down to him, shouldhave forfeited the regard, not justofthe outside world but of many incommunion with Rome, and shouldnow preside over a Church bitterly- perhaps irreconcilably - dividedamongitself?
A Sea of Troubles
Today,Pope Paul faces a sea oftroubles,not all of them, by anymeans of his own making. The pas-sage of the Italian divorce law marksthe first major triumph of modernsecularist forces within the statelinked so intimately with the Vaticanitself. The Pope's lawyers believe thatthis breaks the letter of the LateranTreaty; certainly it undermines itsspirit,for it is doubtful in the longrun, whether the treaty can surviveif the clerical parliamentary forcesno longer control the Italian legisla-ture. Recently, too, the Pope has beenobligedto order a drastic reorganisa-tion of Vatican finances, liquidatingits holdings in Italian companies andtransferringthe proceeds elsewhere,so that the wealth of the Church willno longer be under challenge fromItalianpublic opinion. Last Autumn, the Pope met the most influential ofhis cardinals and bishops in solemnsynod,to exact from them a demon-stration of loyalty and obedience heknew to be lacking: he played a per-sonal and persistent part in its pro-ceedings,placing his full authorityand prestige on the scales. But theresult was inconclusive, and the epi-sode, far from rehabilitating themagisteriumof the See, served merelyto underline its decline.
The truth isthat, since Pope Paul chose to defythe progressive forces within theChurch on the issue of birth-control,in a manner which even many of hissupporters felt to be tactless, im-prudent and dictatorial, he has lostthe instinctive allegiance of theChurch. Far from, as he hoped, re-establishing his authority, the birth-control decision has exposed the truevulnerability of the disciplinary pyra-mid, of which the Pope is the apex.The Pope pronounced; but his wordswent unheeded. That a papal decisionof such importance, given after suchlong preparation and thought, andwith such unqualified confidence,shouldbe challenged at all, was re-markable. But that the pope himselfshouldbe criticised, even reviled, bygreat masses of his followers; that hisjudgmentshould be repudiated bymost of the educated laity: thatthousands of priests, and even princesofthe Church, should accept it, if atall, with reluctance, and with provisoswhichmake it meaningless; and that,in consequence, the Church whichhadpreserved its unity and disciplinethrough two millenia should now beriven by dissent and violent contro-versy-all this would have been in-conceivable when Pope Paul tookoffice. He himself is unfortunate inthat he lives in an age in whichauthorityin any shape is being tested;nevertheless,much of the responsi-bility for the present situation is un-questionably his, and his alone. Hemust ask himself, this lonely andembattled figure: 'What went wrong?50Why has the magic of the papacyso suddenly failed?
'Born to be Pope
The irony is that no pope has beenso assiduously prepared and trained,by himself and by his superiors, forthe supreme office. If ever a man wasborn to be pope it was GiovanniBattista Montini. The village of hisbirth, Concesio in the foothills of theItalian alps, is a nest of clericalism,which has given four bishops to theChurch. The nearest town, Brescia,is one of the most Catholic in allItaly, and Montini's father was itschief Catholic layman. A well-to-dominor aristocrat, married to a ladyfromthe same background, GiorgioMontini had the means and the leis-ure to devote his life to the propa-gationof liberal Catholic principles.For 30 years he was publisher-editorof the Catholic dailyIl Cittadino.Hehelped to form the Catholic PopularParty in 1919, and was deputy forBresciauntil 1926. His wife, GiudittaAlghisa, was also noted for her pietyand her leadership of the Catholicwomen'sorganisations in the area.The rooms of their large, austerehouse were hung with religious pic-tures, the library filled with worksof devotion and theology.
Such Italian families train theirsons in a way similar to the Britisharistocracy in its hey-day. The eldestadministers the property and entersparliament, the second joins theChurch, the third the professions.Montini's elder brother became asenator, his younger a doctor; hehimself was marked out for theChurch, both because of his positionin the family and his evident tastefor religious matters, which developedat an early age. He was his mother'sfavourite and his links with her wereunusually intimate. His health wasjudged to be poor (an assumptionwhichhas followed him throughouthis life, though it is belied by hisenergyand prodigious capacity forwork);so his childhood and youthwere marked by special privileges. Helivedat home while attending thegreat Jesuit school in the city. Whenhisdecision to become a priest wasmade, the local bishop, naturally anold friend of the family, took theextraordinary step, in defiance of theCouncil of Trent, of allowing Montinito remain at home while studying forthe priesthood. He thus missed boththe rigour and comradeship of seminary life.
A Personal Library, and Strings Besides
The privileged career movedsmoothlyonward. The bishop, un-willing to subject him to the drud-geryof parish work, sent him to theLombard College in Rome, wherehe took courses at both the JesuitGregorian University and the Romefaculty of letters. (It should be saidhere that he is an exceptionally well-educated man, with a wide range ofinterests: his personal library, towhich he is passionately attached, islarge and comprehensive.) But beforecompleting his courses, he wasbrought to the attention of the Vati-can Under-Secretary of State, whoplaced him in the Pontifical Academyof Noble Ecclesiastics, the trainingcentrefor the Vatican's diplomaticservice, then exclusively Italian.Again, before he had completed eventhis course, strings were pulled, hewas summoned to the Secretary ofState and appointedaddetto,orSecond Secretary, to the Nunciatureof Warsaw. After a few months hewasbrought back to the Vatican andin 1925 promoted tominutanteorsummariser of incoming dispatchesin the Secretariat of State. There heworked for 30 years, steadily climb-ingthe official ladder. At one stagehe was assigned to organise theCatholic student militants, but whenthey came into frontal conflict withthe fascist youth, Montini was quicklysnatched back to the Vatican; he wasalready regarded as too valuable tobe allowed to fall foul of Mussolini.
Montini was promoted by thehighly conservative Pius XI, but itwas only after 1939, when the Romandiplomat Eugenio Pacelli ascendedthe throne as Pius XII, that hebecame a real power-figure. Hisrelationship with Pius XII was ex-tremely close, or rather as close asthis austere, demanding, imperiousand short-tempered pope was capableof making it. But it had a love-hateelement. Pius may well have regardedMontini as his natural successor, butif so he set about ensuring it in anodd way. Not only was he his ownSecretaryof State, but he 'double-banked' Montini with a second pro-secretary,the self-effacing Tardini.What is more, he gave neither ofthem a red hat. It is true that on oneoccasionhe announced that he hadoffered to make them cardinals, andtheyhad refused in the spirit ofhumility. But it is inconceivable thattherefusal would have been acceptedhad Pius really wanted them in theSacred College; and difficult to be-lieve, in Montini's case, that it wasever really made, for he has neverbeen diffident about accepting re-sponsibility and position. Finally, in1954, Pius awarded Montini thegreatestbenefice in his gift, the Arch-bishopric of Milan, the historic seeofSaint Ambrose and the largest andrichest in Italy. But again, oddly he'forgot' to accompany it with a car-dinal's hat: this not only offended theMilanesi,and was no doubt resentedbyMontini himself, but it had drama-ticconsequences. When Pius died,Montini could not take part in the conclave to elect his successor, andwas not therefore in practice eligiblefor election. Had he succeeded Pius,he would not have held a Council,and the whole history of the modernChurch would have been different. Asit was, a much older man, Roncalli,the Patriarch of Venice, was electedas John XXIII, to act as a stop-gapand keep the seat warm for Montini.Butif Montini felt Pius had treatedhim badly he did not show it; onthe contrary, he has always hotly de-fended his old master's reputation-particularly over the extermination ofthe Jews. In a letter to theTabletabout Hochhuth's play, he said thatfor Pius to attack Hitler publiclywouldhave been an act of 'politicalexhibitionism' which would have un-leashed 'still greater calamities'. Bythis he meant a Nazi occupation oftheVatican, and the arrest of thePope-small coin, one might think,balanced against the lives of six mil-lion. It is clear that Montini himselfwasheavily involved in the policy ofcompromise with Hitler. One of hiswartime tasks, at uneasy Vatican re-ceptions, was to sit between theBritish and Nazi envoys.
Suppression and Clemency
At Milan, Montini set about estab-lishing himself as the unquestionedsuccessor to Pope John. He organiseda massive campaign against the com-munist unions in big factories, thesuccess of which won him approvingnods from the more conservative pre-lates. He made friends with EnricoMattei, Italy's leading industrialist,and strengthened his position amongthe secular establishment. He built 72churches in six years, and vastly ex-panded recruitment of priests, thusestablishing a reputation as an ecclesi-astical administrator as well as a diplo-mat. All his acts were carefullybalanced:on the one hand he sup-pressedthe Catholic paperAdesso,because of its connections with theliberalFrench journalsL'EspritandTemoignange Chretien;on the otherhesent a telegram to Franco, plead-ing for clemency towards politicalprisoners. In public at least he gaveunreserved approval to Pope John'sdecision to call an Ecumenical Coun-cil,but he played a muted part in itsdeliberations.John had doubts aboutMontini's suitability as his successor-hethought him indecisive,Amletto-but on the whole he was inclinedtoagree that he should get the job.He promptly gave him his red hat,and privately cautioned Montini fromspeakingtoo often at the Council, orfrom committing himself too de-cisively on important issues, for fear(it seems ironic now) of alienatingthe moderates and conservatives. ThisadviceMontini prudently followed.
When the good old man died, aftera distressingly long agony, Montiniplayed his cards coolly and well. Onceinside the conclave, a cardinal is for-bidden to make electoral promises towin votes (though this has been done);but there is nothing to stop him issu-ing a cautious manifesto before itbegins. The Friday after John died,Montini, preaching in his own cathe-dral, said: 'John has shown us somepaths which it will be wise to follow.Can we turn away from these pathssomasterfully traced? It seems to mewe cannot.' These words were widelyinterpreted as a pledge that Montini,if elected, would continue John's policies.
A Bandwagon on the Fifth Ballot
There was never much doubt thatMontini would get it. Even as hewas progressing into the sealed con-clave area he was greeted bv murmursof 'The New Pope! ' from the Romanmob. He made a gesture of dis-approval; the episode offended hissenseof decorum; it might offendstill more some of the older cardinalswho witnessed it; and anyway, it wasbad luck: 'He who enters the con-clavea pope emerges a cardinal.' Theauthorities had prepared the conclavewith scrupulous care. The sealed areawas guarded like a fortress andstocked like a city under seige. Apartfrom the 82 cardinals and their per-sonal staff, crowded into the ramblingpalace were 75 attendants and ser-vants, 12 nun-cooks, a doctor, a sur-geon, a chemist, a confessor, twobarbers and (oddly) two architects.Prodigious quantities of food anddrink were stored, including 1,600pounds of pasta, 4,000 pounds ofpotatoes, 1,500 litres of wine and3,000 bottles of beer. They wereready for a long conclave, though fewthought it would happen. Neverthe-less things did not go entirelysmoothly for Montini. An attempt byCardinalCushing of Boston, thatwarm-hearted if eccentric prelate, tohaveMontini elected by acclamationbefore the balloting even began, ap-pearsto have failed completely. Noneofthe four ballots on the first daygave him the majority he needed. Butovernight there was some franticclambering onto the bandwagon, andonthe first vote the next morninghegot the massive score of 79. Hisacceptance of the tiara was prompt;hisannouncement of his title un-hesitating and firm: 'Paul'.
Does power corrupt and absolutepower corrupt absolutely? Certainly,in theory, there is no power so ab-soluteas that of 'God's Vicar onEarth'. But in practice it is a differentmatter. A modern pope has to con-tend, on the one hand, with an im-mensely conservative and entrenchedVaticanbureaucracy, backed by thebulk of the Italian episcopate; andon the other with a vast liberal tide,fromcardinals to laymen, washing against the breakwaters of orthodoxyall over the world. Pius XII had heldthetwo in balance by a policy ofmasterly inactivity and by keepingpower in his sole hands. But evenhe could not have done the trickmuchlonger. Pope John set the linesof battle by summoning his Council,thus superimposing on an absolutemonarchy a kind of temporary par-liament. Paul inherited this constitu-tional anomaly, and it soon becameevident that he would have to resolveit one way or the other. Either hemust accept permanent limitations onhis powers, and progress slowlythrough a collegiate to a democraticsystem; or he must risk an explosion-even civil war-by trying to restorethe monarchy in all its plentitude.In the end he took the second course.He never had much chance of carry-ing it through successfully, and hisevident hesitation before doing, somade failure certain. This strategicerror was compounded by the grosstacticalblunder of choosing contra-ception as the field of decisive battle.
Yet being Giovanni Battista Mon-tini,it is almost inconceivable thathecould have taken any other course.He is plainly a man of the highestambition(not necessarily an ignoblething,even in a clergyman). Imbuedsince early childhood with the prin-ciples and mystique of an authorita-tive religion, accustomed to operatewithin the machine with all its sever-ity and certitudes, the protege anddiscipleof a masterful pope, howcould he, when he finally inheritedpower over the machine, take theterrifyingrisk of dismantling it? Ashe weighed the arguments in hismind,cut off from access to thepublicby a phalanx of doctrinaireofficials, who encompass the pope astheTreasury Knights surround aBritish Chancellor of the Exchequer,how could he be made to see thattherisks of a restoration were evengreater?
A Conservative Again
There were soon portents of whichway he would turn. Under cover ofa great deal of diplomatic activity-missions to India, Jerusalem, theUnited Nations, Portugal and LatinAmerica-which gave a misleadingprogressive flavour to his actions, thePope moved steadily into the con-servative camp, his natural home.Two items, clerical celibacy and con-traception, were removed from thedeliberationsof the Council. And theCouncil itself was eventually woundup in an atmosphere of anti-climax,without provision being made for itssuccessionby a permanent body, en-dowed with real authority. Paul'sspeeches showed an increasing pre-occupation, gradually becoming anobsession, with the, prestige of hisoffice.
Added to this is his insulation fromcommonhumanity, which has beena feature of his entire life. Privilegedat school, denied the communityspiritof the seminary, never a parishpriest, 30 years a bureaucrat, andfinally given pastoral work only inthe politico-ecclesiastic macrocosm ofMilan, Paul has had curiously littlecontact with the problems of ordinaryhuman beings. This may explain hisnotable lack of sensitivity. In Novem-ber 1964, for instance, he placed histiara on the altar of St. Peter's as asymbolic gift to the poor; later, how-ever, it was handed over to CardinalSpellman, of all people, presumablyas a reward for the immense sums hehad raised for the Vatican. Again,during his visit, he lectured theLatin-American rich for not payingtheir taxes, while simultaneously theVatican was fighting a ferocious,though losing, battle to escape payingits own. Most important of all, onlya profound ignorance of people couldhaveled Paul to nail his pontificalcolours to the mast on the issue ofcontraception. What has followedneedsno retelling. Here was one bat- .tle he could not hope to win; indeeditis already clear he has lost it, andthe consequence will be a progressive,andcumulatively drastic erosion ofpapal authority.
Celibacy and the Priesthood
Indeed, the arena in which hisdecisions are being challenged is al-ready widening. Next to birth-control,thequestion of clerical marriage hasbecome the most damaging issue fac-ingthe Church's system of discipline.Insome ways it is even more im-portant. The Church cannot survivewithoutpriests; and priests of suffi-cient quality, and in sufficient num-bers, are becoming increasingly diffi-cultto find. In certain areas, notablyin Latin America, the shortage hasbeen acute for the past two decades,and is growing worse. As with birth-control, Pope Paul has set his faceresolutely against a married priest-hood; and, as with birth-control, hisinflexibility has aroused the opposi-tion, not just of the natural rebels,not just of those who wish to trans-form the Church into a decentralised,loosely-organised collection of com-munities, each reflecting local customsand needs, but of many middle-of-the-road bishops, who believe thattraditional practices should yieldplace to the efficient working of theministry. The Pope's attitude to celi-bacy, they know from their own ex-perience,is not only deterring manypromising candidates from the priest-hood; it is also driving many goodpriests into open rebellion or apos-tasy. In Holland and the UnitedStates, to give only two documentedexamples, the number leaving thepriesthoodeach year-most of themover this issue - now exceeds thenumber being ordained. Among somemoderate-mindedbishops, there is afeeling almost of desperation that theChurch as they know it may virtuallycease to exist, within the foreseeablefuture, unless a general confidencein its ruling authorities can be re-stored. And at a time of doctrinalargument and confusion, the drastic-some would say brutal-changesin the liturgy have come as a devastat-ing shock to millions of ordinary,humble Catholics, whose faith andobedience would otherwise be un-questioned. It is paradoxical that onthis issue the Pope has been anenthusiastic advocate of changes, andhas pushed them ahead with recklessspeed.
There is, evidently, a need for anew pope who, by a combination ofdiplomacy, flexibility and sheer in-spiration, can change the bickeringclimate of the Church, heal some ofthe wounds, rectify some of the errors,and begin a process of reconciliation.Butpopes do not abdicate; and evenif they did, Pope Paul is probablybytemperament incapable of such anact, which he would no doubt regardas a cowardly dereliction of duty. Hewill continue to soldier on; to fighta rearguard action; and if his pon-tificateis prolonged, the best hisChurchcan hope for is an armedtruce between the factions. Mean-while,the process of erosion, theflight from the faith, will continue.The new pope, when the time comes,willprobably be a non-Italian. Andit seems almost certain that he willbeelected on the clear understandingthat he introduces a permanent andformalised system for the devolutionofhis authority. Pope Paul is likely togo down in history as the last of hisline; indeed, it is doubtful if theChurchcould survive another suchpontificate as his.