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Pope Paul VI

Paul VI (; ), born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (26 September 1897  6 August 1978), reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it. He fostered improved ecumenical relations with Orthodox and Protestants, which resulted in many historic meetings and agreements.

Montini served in the Vatican's Secretariat of State from 1922 to 1954. While in the Secretariat of State, Montini and Domenico Tardini were considered as the closest and most influential co-workers of Pope Pius XII, who named him in 1954 Archbishop of Milan, the largest Italian diocese, yet denying him the Cardinal designation that traditionally accompanies being Archbishop of Milan, a function which made him automatically Secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference. John XXIII elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 1958, and after the death of John XXIII, Montini was considered one of his most likely successors.[1]

He took on the name Paul to indicate a renewed worldwide mission to spread the message of Christ. He re-opened the Second Vatican Council, which was automatically closed with the death of John XXIII, and gave it priority and direction. After the Council concluded its work, Paul VI took charge of the interpretation and implementation of its mandates, often walking a thin line between the conflicting expectations of various groups within the Roman Catholic Church. The magnitude and depth of the reforms affecting all areas of Church life during his pontificate exceeded similar reform policies of his predecessors and successors.

Paul VI was a Marian devotee, speaking repeatedly to Marian congresses and mariological meetings, visiting Marian shrines and issuing three Marian encyclicals. Following his famous predecessor Ambrose of Milan, he named Mary to be the Mother of the Church during the Vatican Council.

Paul VI sought dialogue with the world, with other Christians, other religions, and atheists, excluding nobody. He saw himself as a humble servant for a suffering humanity and demanded significant changes of the rich in America and Europe in favour of the poor in the Third World.[2] His positions on birth control (see Humanae Vitae) and other issues were controversial in Western Europe and North America, but were applauded by people in Eastern and Southern Europe and Latin America.

His pontificate took place during sometimes revolutionary changes in the world, student revolts, the Vietnam War and other upheavals. Paul VI tried to understand it all but at the same time defend the Deposit of Faith as it was entrusted to him. Paul VI died on 6 August 1978, the Feast of the Transfiguration. The diocesan process for beatification of Paul VI began on 11 May 1993.


Early life

His father Giorgio Montini Giovanni Battista Montini was born in the village of Concesio, in the province of Brescia, Lombardy. His father Giorgio Montini was a lawyer, journalist, director of the Catholic Action and member of the Italian Parliament. His mother was Giudetta Alghisi, from a family of rural nobility. He had two brothers, Francesco Montini, who became a physician, and Lodovico Montini, who became a lawyer and politician.[3] On 30 September 1897, he was baptized in the name of Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini.[4] He attended Cesare Arici, a school run by the Jesuits, and in 1916, he received a diploma from Arnaldo da Brescia, a public school. His education was often interrupted by bouts of illness. In 1916, he entered the seminary to become a Roman Catholic priest. He was ordained priest on 29 May 1920 and celebrated his first Holy Mass in Concesio in the Church Madonna delle Grazie which was near his parental house.[5] Montini concluded his studies in Milan with a doctorate in Canon Law in the same year.[6] Afterwards he studied at the Gregorian University, the University of Rome La Sapienza and, at the request of Giuseppe Pizzardo at the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici. At the age of twenty-five, again at the request of Giuseppe Pizzardo, Montini entered the Secretariat of State in 1922, where he worked under Pizzardo together with Francesco Borgongini-Duca, Alfredo Ottaviani Carlo Grano, Domenico Tardini and Francis Spellman.[7]

Vatican career

Polish nunciature

The only foreign diplomatic experience Montini underwent was his time in the nunciature in Warsaw, Poland in 1923. Like Achille Ratti before him[8] he felt confronted with the huge problem, not limited to Poland, of excessive nationalism: "This form of nationalism treats foreigners as enemies, especially foreigners with whom one has common frontiers. Then one seeks the expansion of one's own country at the expense of the immediate neighbours. People grow up with a feeling of being hemmed in. Peace becomes a transient compromise between wars."[9] When he was recalled to Rome he was happy to go, because "this concludes this episode of my life, which has provided useful, though not always joyful, experiences."[10] After his Polish mission, Giovanni Battista Montini returned to Rome, where soon he began to work in the Vatican. Later as Pope he wanted to return to Poland on a Marian pilgrimage, but was not permitted by the Communist government, a request which it later could not deny to the native son John Paul II.

Pius XII

His organisational skills led him to a career in the Roman Curia, the papal civil service. In 1931, Pacelli appointed him to teach history at the Papal Academy for Diplomats[6] In 1937, after his mentor Giuseppe Pizzardo was named Cardinal and was succeeded by Domenico Tardini, Montini was named Substitute for Ordinary Affairs under Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI. From Pius XI, whom he viewed with awe, he adopted the view, that learning is a life long process, and that history was the magister vitae teacher of life[11] His immediate supervisor in the Vatican was Domenico Tardini, with whom he got along well. The election of Pacelli to the papacy in 1939, anticipated by everybody and openly promoted by the late Pope Pius XI in his last years, was a good omen for Montini, whose position was confirmed in the position under the new Secretary of State Luigi Maglione. He met the Pope every morning until 1954 and thus developed a rather close relation:

It is true, my service to the Pope was not limited to the political or extra-ordinary affairs according to Vatican language. The goodness of Pope Pius XII opened to me the opportunity to look into the thoughts even into the soul of this great pontiff. I could quote many details how Pius XII, always using measured and moderate speech, was hiding, nay revealing a noble position of great strength and fearless courage.[12]

As war broke out, Maglione, Tardini and Montini were the main figures in the Vatican's State Department, as despatches originated from or addressed to them during the war years.[13] Montini was in charge of taking care of the "ordinary affairs" of the Secretariat of State, which took much of the mornings of every working day. In the afternoon he moved to the third floor into the Office of the Private Secretary of the Pontiff. Pius XII did have a personal secretary. As did several popes before him, he delegated the secretarial functions to the State Secretariat.[14] During the war years, thousands of letters from all parts of the world arrived at the desk of the pope, most of them asking for understanding, prayer and help. Montini was tasked to formulate the replies in the name of Pius XII, expressing his empathy, and understanding and providing help, where possible.[14] At the request of the pope, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, which in the years of its existence from 1939 until 1947 received almost ten million (9.891.497) information requests and produced over eleven million (11.293.511) answers about missing persons.[15] Montini was several times openly attacked by Benito Mussolini's government as a politician, and meddling in politics, but each time he found powerful defenses by the Vatican.[16] In 1944, Luigi Maglione died, and Pius XII appointed Tardini and Montini together as heads of the State Department. Montini's admiration was almost filial, when he described Pope Pius XII:

His richly cultivated mind, his unusual capacity for thought and study led him to avoid all distractions and every unnecessary relaxation. He wished to enter fully into the history of his own afflicted time: with a deep understanding, that he was himself a part of that history. He wished to participate fully in it, to share his sufferings in his own heart and soul.[17]

At the request of the pope, together with Pascalina Lehnert, Ferdinando Baldelli and Otto Faller, he created the Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza, which aided large number of Romans and refugees from everywhere with shelter, food and other material assistance. In Rome alone this organization distributed almost two million portions of free food in the year 1944.[18] The Vatican and the Papal Residence Castel Gandolfo were opened to refugees. Some 15,000 persons lived in Castel Gandolfo alone, supported by the Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza.[18] At the request of Pius XII, Montini was also involved in the re-establishment of Church Asylum, providing protection to hundreds of Allied soldiers, who had escaped from Axis prison camps, Jews, anti-Fascists, Socialists, Communists, and after the liberation of Rome, German soldiers, partisans and other displaced persons.[19] After the war and later as Pope, Montini turned the Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza, into the major charity, Caritas Italiana.[20]

Archbishop of Milan

After the death of Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster in 1954, Montini was appointed Archbishop of Milan, which made him automatically the speaker of the Italian Bishop Conference.[21] Pope Pius XII presented the new Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini "as his personal gift to Milan". Both had tears in their eyes when Montini parted for his dioceses with 1,000 churches, 2,500 priests and 3,500,000 souls.[22] He was consecrated in Saint Peter's Basilica by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, since Pius XII was forced to stay in bed due to his severe illness. The Pope however, delivered the sermon about Giovanni Batista Montini from his sick-bed over radio to the many faithful assembled in St. Peter's on 12 December 1954.[23] On 6 January 1955, Montini formally took possession of his Cathedral of Milan. Pius XII, who always wanted to be a pastor rather than a Vatican bureaucrat, gladly granted Montini this opportunity which was denied to him. Montini after a period of preparation, liked his new tasks as archbishop, connecting to all groups of faithful in Milan. He enjoyed meetings with intellectuals, artists and writers.[21]

Montini's philosophy

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini walking on Saint Peter's Plaza in 1962 In his first months he showed his interest in working conditions and labour issues by personally contacting unions, associations and giving related speeches. Believing that churches are the only non-utilitarian buildings in modern society and a most necessary place of spiritual rest, he initiated over 100 new Church buildings for service and contemplation.[24]

His public speeches were noticed not only in Milan but also in Rome and elsewhere. Some considered him a liberal, when he asked lay people to love not only Catholics but also schismatics, Protestants, Anglicans, the indifferent, Muslims, pagans, atheists.[25] He engaged in friendly relations with a group of Anglican clergy visiting Milan in 1957 and a subsequently exchanged letters with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher.[26]

He did not receive the traditional red hat of a cardinal during the remaining four years of Pius XII's life, which has occasioned comment. To be sure, Montini was not alone. Because there was no consistory after the severe illness of Pope Pius XII in 1954, several archbishops who could expect the honor (because of tradition and the importance of their archdiocese) did not get the red hat during Pius' reign. In addition to Montini, these included John Francis O'Hara of Philadelphia, Richard Cushing of Boston, Franz K nig of Vienna, William Godfrey of Westminster, Antonio Mar a Barbieri of Montevideo, Alfonso Castaldo of Naples and Paul Marie Andr Richaud of Bordeaux. Pope Pius XII revealed at the 1953 consistory that two churchmen, known to be Montini and Tardini, whom he did not name, were at the top of his list but turned it down.[27] When Tardini, in the name of both of them, thanked him for not appointing him, Pius XII replied with a smile: "'Monsignore mio, you thank me, for not letting me do what I wanted to do'. I replied, 'yes Holy Father, I thank you for everything you have done for me, but even more, what you have not done for me'. The Pope smiled."[28] Montini and Angelo Roncalli were considered friends, but when John XXIII announced a new Ecumenical Council, Cardinal Montini reacted with disbelief: "This old boy does not know, what a hornets nest he is stirring up."[29] He was appointed to the Central Preparatory Commission in 1961. During the Council, his friend Pope John XXIII asked him to live in the Vatican. He was a member of the Commission for Extraordinary Affairs but did not engage himself much into the floor debates on various issues. His main advisor was Monsignore Giovanni Colombo, whom he later appointed to be his successor in Milan[30] The Commission was greatly overshadowed by the insistence of John XXIII, to have the Council complete all its work in one single session before Christmas 1962, to the 400th anniversary of the Council of Trent, an insistence which may have also been influenced by the Pope's recent knowledge that he had cancer.[31]

Pastoral progressivism

During his period in Milan, Montini was known as a progressive member of the Catholic hierarchy. Montini went new ways in pastoral care, which he reformed. He used his authority to ensure that the liturgical reforms of Pius XII were carried out at the local level and employed innovative methods to reach the people of Milan: Huge posters announced that 1000 voices would speak to them from 10 to 24 November 1957. More than 500 priests and many bishops, cardinals and lay persons delivered 7000 sermons in the period not only in churches but in factories, meeting halls, houses, court-yards, schools, offices, military barracks, hospitals, hotels and other places, where people meet.[32] His goal was the re-introduction of faith to a city without much religion. "If only we can say Our Father and know what this means, then we would understand the Christian faith."[33] Montini recognized that Western Europe had become mission country again and was not too optimistic about the outcome of this massive undertaking. But for all his dedication to regular working people, Montini was also a man of letters, favouring classic Italian writers like Alessandro Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi, which to him, was almost a gospel of Christianity.

Pius XII asked Archbishop Montini to Rome October 1957, where he gave the main presentation to the Second World Congress of Lay Apostolate. Previously as Pro-Secretary, he had worked hard to unify a worldwide organization of lay people of 58 nations, representing 42 national organizations. He presented to them to Pius XII in Rome in 1951. The second meeting in 1957 gave Montini an opportunity to express the lay apostolate in modern terms: "Apostolate means love. We will love all, but especially those, who need help.... We will love our time, our technology, our art, our sports, our world."[34]


Paul VI after his election with the first and only Catholic U.S. President John F. Kennedy Although some cardinals seem to have viewed him as papabile (a person suitable to become Pope), and although he seems to have received some votes in 1958,[35] Montini was not a member of the College of Cardinals and thus was not a serious candidate at that conclave.[36] Instead Angelo Roncalli was elected pope and assumed the name John XXIII. On 17 November 1958, less than three weeks after the election of the new pope, the L'Osservatore Romano announced a consistory for the creation of new cardinals. Montini's name topped the list.[37] The new pope raised Montini to the cardinalate in 15 December 1958, becoming Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti. He appointed him simultaneously to several Vatican congregations which resulted in many visits by Montini to Rome in the coming years.[38] As Cardinal, Montini journeyed to Africa (1962), where he visited Ghana, Sudan, Kenya, Congo, Rhodesia, South Africa, and Nigeria. Later, he would be the first pope to visit Africa. After his journey, John XXIII gave him a private audience on his trip which lasted for hours. In fifteen other trips he visited Brazil (1960) and the USA (1960), including New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The cardinal spent his vacations usually in a reclusive Benedictine monastery Engelberg Abbey in Switzerland.[39]


Montini was generally seen as the most likely successor to Pope John because of his closeness to Pius XII and John XXIII, his pastoral and administrative background, and his insight and determination.[40] John, a newcomer to the Vatican at age 77, may have felt outflanked by the professional Roman Curia at times; Montini knew its most inner workings well.[41] Unlike the papabile cardinals from Bologna and Genoa, he was not identified with either the left or right, nor was he seen as a radical reformer. He was viewed as most likely to continue the Second Vatican Council,[41] which already, without any tangible results, had lasted longer than anticipated by Pope John, who had a vision but "did not have a clear agenda. His rhetoric seems to have had a note of over-optimism, a confidence in progress, which was characteristic of the 1960s."[42] When John XXIII died of stomach cancer on 3 June 1963, Montini was elected to the papacy in the following conclave and took the name Paul VI.

Paul knew what was coming. He wrote in his journal: "The position is unique. It brings great solitude. 'I was solitary before, but now my solitude becomes complete and awesome.'"[43] But he was not afraid of this new solitude which was expected of him. He recognized that it would be futile to seek much outside help, or to confide everything to others. He saw himself as alone, with God. The communication with him must be full and incommensurable.[43]

Paul did away with much of the regal splendor of the papacy. He was the last pope to date to be crowned; his successor Pope John Paul I replaced the Papal Coronation (which Paul had already substantially modified, but which he left mandatory in his 1975 apostolic constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo) with a Papal Inauguration. 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. (where is it on permanent display in the Crypt) as a gift to American Catholics. In 1968, with the motu proprio Pontificalis Domus, he discontinued most of the ceremonial functions of the old Roman nobility at the papal court, save for the Prince Assistants to the Papal Throne. He also abolished the Palatine Guard and the Noble Guard, leaving the Swiss Guard as the sole military order of the Vatican.

Completion of the Vatican Council

Pope Paul VI fully supported Cardinal Augustin Bea, credited with ecumenical breakthroughs during the Second Vatican Council

Paul VI decided to continue Vatican II (canon law dictates that a council is suspended at the death of a pope), and brought it to completion in 1965. Faced with conflicting interpretations and controversies, he directed the implementation of its reform goals, which included the largest revision to the Church's Liturgy ever and the first major revision since the Council of Trent, held 400 years prior to Vatican II until his death in 1978.

Ecumenical orientation

During Vatican II, the Council Fathers avoided statements which might anger Christians of other faiths.[44] Cardinal Augustin Bea, the President of the Christian Unity Secretariat had always the full support of Paul VI in his attempts to ensure that the Council language is friendly and open to the sensitivities of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, whom he had invited to all sessions at the request of Pope John XXIII. Bea also was strongly involved in the passage of Nostra Aetate, which regulates relation of the Church with the Jewish faith and members of other religions.[45]

Dialogue with the world

President Kennedy visits Pope Paul VI After his election as Bishop of Rome, Paul VI first met with the priests in his new dioceses. He told them that in Milan he started a dialogue with the modern world and asked them to seek contact with all people from all walks of life. Six days after his election he announced that he would continue Vatican II and convened the opening to take place on 29 September 1963.[21] In a radio address to the world, Paul VI recalled the uniqueness of his predecessors, the strength of Pius XI, the wisdom and intelligence of Pius XII and the love of John XXIII. As "his pontifical goals" he mentioned the continuation and completion of Vatican II, the reform of the Canon Law and improved social peace and justice in the world. The Unity of Christianity would be central to his activities.[21]

Council priorities of Paul VI

The pope re-opened the Council 29 September 1963 giving it four priorities:

  • A better understanding of the Catholic Church
  • Church reforms
  • Advancing the unity of Christianity
  • Dialogue with the world[21]

He reminded the council fathers that only a few years earlier Pope Pius XII had issued the encyclical Mystici Corporis about the mystical body of Christ. He asked them not to repeat or create new dogmatic definitions but to explain in simple words how the Church sees itself. He thanked the representatives of other Christian communities for their attendance and asked for their forgiveness if the Catholic Church is guilty for the separation. He also reminded the Council Fathers that many bishops from the east could not attend because the governments in the East did not permit their journeys.[46] The Council discussed the texts on the Church, ecumenicism and liturgy. He told the assembled fathers that he intended to visit the Holy Land, where no other pope had been since Peter. The opening of the second session of Vatican II

Third and fourth sessions

Paul VI opened the third period on 14 September 1964, telling the Council Fathers that he viewed the text about the Church as the most important document to come out from the Council. As the Council discussed the role of bishops in the papacy, Paul VI issued an explanatory note confirming the primacy of the papacy, a step which was viewed by some as meddling in the affairs of the Council[47] American bishops pushed for a speedy resolution on religious freedom, but Paul VI insisted this to be approved together with related texts such as ecumenism.[48] The Pope concluded the session on 21 November 1964, 1963 with the formal pronouncement of Mary as Mother of the Church.[48]

Between the third and fourth sessions the Pope announced reforms in the areas of Roman Curia, revision of Canon Law, regulations for mixed marriages involving several faiths, and birth control issues. He opened the final session of the council, concelebrating with bishops from countries where the Church was persecuted. Several texts proposed for his approval had to be changed. But all texts were finally agreed upon. The Council was concluded on 8 December 1965, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.[48]

Church reforms

Mary]] Mother of the Church

Synod of Bishops

On 14 September 1965 he established the Synod of Bishops as a permanent institution of the Church and an advisory body to the papacy. Several meetings were held on specific issues during his pontificate, such as the Synod of Bishops on evangelization in the modern world, which started 9 September 1974.[49]

Curia reform

Pope Paul VI knew the Roman Curia well, having worked there for a generation from 1922 to 1954. He implemented his reforms in stages, rather than in one fell swoop. On 1 March 1968, he issued a regulation, a process that had been initiated by Pius XII and continued by John XXIII. On 28 March, with Pontificalis Domus, and in several additional Apostolic Constitutions in the following years, he revamped the entire Curia, which included reduction of bureaucracy, streamlining of existing congregations and a broader representation of non-Italians in the curial positions.[50]

Papal elections

Paul VI revolutionized papal elections by ordering that only cardinals below the age of eighty might participate in future conclaves. In Ecclesiae Sanctae, his motu proprio of 6 August 1966, he further invited all bishops to offer their retirement to the pontiff no later than the completion of their 75th year of age.[51] This requirement was extended to all Cardinals of the Catholic Church on 21 November 1970. With these two stipulations, the Pope filled several positions with younger bishops and cardinals, and further internationalized the Roman Curia in light of several resignations due to age.[49]

Mass of Paul VI

Reform of the liturgy had been a part of the liturgical movements in the 20th century mainly in France, Robert Schuman, and Germany, Romano Guardini, which were officially recognized by Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei. During the pontificate of Pius XII, the Vatican eased regulations on the use of Latin in Roman Catholic liturgies, permitting some use of vernacular languages during baptisms, funerals and other events. In 1951 and 1955, the Easter liturgies underwent revision, most notably including the reintroduction of the Easter Triduum.[52] The Second Vatican Council then went on to mandate a general revision of the Roman Missal. In April 1969, Paul VI approved the "new Order of Mass" (promulgated in 1970), which included many substantial revisions and changes, such as the introduction of three new Eucharistic Prayers to what was up to then a single Roman Canon, the suppression of long standing prayers such as the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and Last Gospel, the reintroduction of prayers that had fallen into disuse, such as the Prayer of the Faithful, and approval for the use of the vernacular languages. There had been other instructions issued by the Pope in 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970 which centered on the reform of all liturgies of the Roman Church[53] These major reforms were not welcomed by all and in all countries. The sudden apparent "outlawing" of the 400 year old Mass, the last typical edition of which being promulgated only a few years earlier in 1962 by Paul's predecessor, Pope John XXIII, was not always explained well. Further experimentation with the new Mass by liturgists, such as the usage of pop/folk music (as opposed to the Gregorian Chant advocated by Pope Pius X), along with concurrent changes in the order of sanctuaries, was viewed by some as vandalism.[41] In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI clarified that the 1962 Mass of John XXIII and the 1970 Mass of Paul VI are two forms of the same Roman Rite, the first, which had never been "juridically abrogated" now being an "extraordinary form of the Roman Rite", while the other "obviously is and continues to be the normal Form the Forma ordinaria of the Eucharistic Liturgy".[54]

Relations and dialogues

Pope Paul VI during a 1973 audience To Paul VI, a dialogue with all of humanity was essential not as an aim but as a means to find the truth. Dialogue according to Paul, is based on full equality of all participants. This equality is rooted in the common search for the truth[55] Paul said: "Those who have the truth, are in a position as not having it, because they are forced to search for it every day in a deeper and more perfect way. Those who do not have it, but search for it with their whole heart, have already found it."[56]


In 1964, Paul VI created a Secretariat for non-Christians, later renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a year later a new Secretariat (later Pontifical Council) for Dialogue with Non-Believers. This latter was in 1993 incorporated by Pope John Paul II in the Pontifical Council for Culture, which he had established in 1982. In 1971, Paul VI created a papal office for economic development and catastrophic assistance. To foster common bonds with all persons of good will, he decreed an annual peace day to be celebrated on January first of every year. Trying to improve the condition of Christians behind the Iron Curtain, Paul engaged in dialogue with Communist authorities at several levels, receiving Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and USSR President Nikolai Podgorny in 1966 and 1967 in the Vatican. The situation of the Church in Poland, Hungary, Romania, improved during his pontificate.[57]

Foreign travels

Countries visited by Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, and was the most travelled pope in history to that time, earning the nickname "the Pilgrim Pope". With his travels he opened new avenues for the papacy, which were continued by his successors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He traveled to the Holy Land in 1964, to the Eucharistic Congresses in Bombay, India and Bogot , Colombia. Fifty years after the first apparition he visited F tima in 1967. He undertook a pastoral visit to Africa in 1969. On 27 November 1970 he was the target of an assassination attempt at Manila International Airport in the Philippines.[58] The assailant was subdued.[58]

During the Pope's first visit to the United States in October 1965, as the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War escalated under President Johnson, Paul VI pleaded for peace before the UN:

Pope Paul VI sent one of 73 Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages to NASA for the historic first lunar landing. The message still rests on the lunar surface today. It has Psalms 8 and the Pope has written, "To the Glory of the name of God who gives such power to men, we ardently pray for this wonderful beginning."

New diplomacy

Like his predecessor Pius XII, Paul put much emphasis on the dialogue with all nations of the world through establishing diplomatic relations. The number of foreign embassies accredited to the Vatican doubled during his pontificate.[59] This was a reflection of a new understanding between Church and State, which had been formulated first by Pius XI and Pius XII but decreed by Vatican II. The pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes stated that the Catholic Church is not bound to any form of government and willing to cooperate with all forms. The Church maintained its right to select bishops on its own without any interference by the State.[60]



Pope Paul VI made extensive contributions to mariology (theological teaching and devotions) during his pontificate. He attempted to present the Marian teachings of the Church in view of her new ecumenical orientation. In his inaugural encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (section below), the Pope called Mary the ideal of Christian perfection. He regards "devotion to the Mother of God as of paramount importance in living the life of the Gospel."[61]


Mense Maio

The encyclical Mense Maio (from 29 April 1965) focused on the Virgin Mary, to whom traditionally the month of May is dedicated as the Mother of God. Paul VI writes that Mary is rightly to be regarded as the way by which people are led to Christ. Therefore, the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ.[62]

Ecclesiam Suam

Ecclesiam Suam was given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August 1964, the second year of his Pontificate. It is considered an important document, identifying the Catholic Church with the Body of Christ. A later Council document Lumen Gentium stated that the Church subsists in the Body of Christ, raising questions as to the difference between "is" and "subsists in". Paul VI appealed to "all people of good will" and discussed necessary dialogues within the Church and between the Churches and with atheism.[49]

Mysterium Fidei

On 3 September 1965, Paul VI issued Mysterium Fidei, on the mystery of the faith. He opposed relativistic notions which would have given the eucharist a symbolic character only. The Church, according to Paul VI, has no reason to give up the deposit of faith in such a vital matter.[49]

Sacerdotalis Caelibatus

Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Latin for "Of the celibate priesthood"), promulgated on 24 June 1967, defends the Catholic Church's tradition of priestly celibacy in the West. This encyclical was written in the wake of Vatican II, when the Catholic Church was questioning and revising many long-held practices. Priestly celibacy is considered a discipline rather than dogma, and some had expected that it might be relaxed. In response to these questions, the Pope reaffirms the discipline as a long-held practice with special importance in the Catholic Church. The encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus from 24 June 1967, confirms the traditional Church teaching, that celibacy is an ideal state and continues to be mandatory for Roman Catholic priests. Celibacy symbolizes the reality of the kingdom of God amid modern society. The priestly celibacy is closely linked to the sacramental priesthood.[49] However, during his pontificate Paul VI was considered generous in permitting bishops to grant laicization of priests who wanted to leave the sacerdotal state, a position which was drastically reversed by John Paul II in 1980 and cemented in the 1983 Canon Law that only the pope can in exceptional circumstances grant laicization.

Populorum Progressio

Populorum progressio, released on 26 March 1967, dealt with the topic of "the development of peoples" and that the economy of the world should serve mankind and not just the few. It touches on a variety of traditional principles of Catholic social teaching: the right to a just wage; the right to security of employment; the right to fair and reasonable working conditions; the right to join a union and strike as a last resort; and the universal destination of resources and goods.

In addition, Populorum Progressio opines that real peace in the world is conditional on justice. He repeats his demands expressed in Bombay in 1964 for a large scale World Development Organization, as a matter of international justice and peace. He rejected notions to instigate revolution and force in changing economic conditions.[63]

Humanae Vitae

Of his eight encyclicals, Pope Paul VI is best known for his encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life, subtitled On the Regulation of Birth), published on 25 July 1968. In this encyclical he reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional view of marriage and marital relations and a continued condemnation of artificial birth control.[64] There were two Papal committees and numerous independent experts looking into the latest advancement of science and medicine on the question of artificial birth control.[65] which were noted by the Pope in his encyclical[66] The expressed views of Paul VI reflected the teachings of his predecessors, especially Pius XI,[67] Pius XII[68] and John XXIII[69] and never changed, as he repeatedly stated them in the first few years of his Pontificate[70]

To the Pope as to all his predecessors, marital relations are much more than a union of two people. They constitute a union of the loving couple with a loving God, in which the two persons create a new person materially, while God completes the creation by adding the soul. For this reason, Paul VI teaches in the first sentence of Humanae Vitae that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.[71] This divine partnership, according to Paul VI, does not allow for arbitrary human decisions, which may limit divine providence. The Pope does not paint an overly romantic picture of marriage: marital relations are a source of great joy, but also of difficulties and hardships.[71] The question of human procreation exceeds in the view of Paul VI specific disciplines such as biology, psychology, demography or sociology.[72] The reason for this, according to Paul VI, is that married love takes its origin from God, who "is love". From this basic dignity, he defines his position:

The reaction to the encyclical's continued prohibitions of artificial birth control was very mixed. In Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland, the encyclical was welcomed.[73] In Latin America, much support developed for the Pope and his encyclical. As World Bank President Robert McNamara declared at the 1968 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group that countries permitting birth control practices would get preferential access to resources, doctors in La Paz, Bolivia called it insulting that money should be exchanged for the conscience of a Catholic nation. In Colombia, Cardinal archbishop Anibal Mu oz Duque declared, if American conditionality undermines Papal teachings, we prefer not to receive one cent.[74] The Senate of Bolivia passed a resolution stating that Humanae Vitae could be discussed in its implications for individual consciences, but was of greatest significance because the papal document defended the rights of developing nations to determine their own population policies.[75] The Jesuit Journal Sic dedicated one edition to the encyclical with supportive contributions.[76]

Pope Paul was concerned but not surprised by the negative reaction in Western Europe and the United States. He fully anticipated this reaction to be a temporary one: "Don't be afraid", he reportedly told Edouard Gagnon on the eve of the encyclical, "in twenty years time they'll call me a prophet."[77] His biography on the Vatican's website notes of his reaffirmations of priestly celibacy and the traditional teaching on contraception that "[t]he controversies over these two pronouncements tended to overshadow the last years of his pontificate".[78] Pope John Paul II later reaffirmed and expanded upon Humanae Vitae with the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, and, Pope Benedict XVI issued in 2005 a short version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which also repeat the teachings of the Church on this matter.

Ecumenism and ecumenical relations

After the Council Paul VI contributed in two ways to the continued growth of ecumenical dialogue. The separated brothers and sisters, as he called them, were not able to contribute to the Council as invited observers. After the Council, many of them took initiative to seek out their Catholic counterparts and the Pope in Rome, who welcomed such visits. But the Catholic Church itself recognized from the many previous ecumenical encounters, that much needed to be done within, to be an open partner for ecumenism.[79] To those who are entrusted the highest and deepest truth and therefore, so Paul VI, believed that he had the most difficult part to communicate. Ecumenical dialogue, in the view of Paul VI, requires from a Catholic the whole person: one's entire reason, will, and heart.[80] Paul VI, like Pius XII before him, was reluctant to give in on a lowest possible point. And yet, Paul felt compelled to admit his ardent Gospel-based desire to be everything to everybody and to help all people[81] Being the successor of Peter, he felt the words of Christ, "Do you love me more" like a sharp knife penetrating to the marrow of his soul. These words meant to Paul VI love without limits,[82] and they underscore the Church's fundamental approach to ecumenism.


Paul VI visited the Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople in 1964 and 1967. He was the first pope since the ninth century to visit the East, labeling the Eastern Churches as sister Churches.[83] He was also the first pope in centuries to meet the heads of various Eastern Orthodox faiths. Notably, his meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1964 in Jerusalem led to rescinding the excommunications of the Great Schism, which took place in 1054.

This was a significant step towards restoring communion between Rome and Constantinople. It produced the Catholic-Orthodox Joint declaration of 1965, which was read out on 7 December 1965, simultaneously at a public meeting of the Second Vatican Council in Rome and at a special ceremony in Istanbul. The declaration did not end the schism, but showed a desire for greater reconciliation between the two churches.[83] In May 1973, the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III of Alexandria visited the Vatican, where he met three times with Pope Paul VI. A common declaration and a joint Creed issued after the visit demonstrated that there are virtually no more theological discrepancies between the Coptic and Roman Catholic Churches.[59]


Paul was the first pope to receive an Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey in official audience as Head of Church, after the private audience visit of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII on 2 December 1960.[84] Ramsey met Paul three times during his visit and opened the Anglican Centre in Rome to increase their mutual knowledge.[85] He praised Paul VI[86] and his contributions in the service of unity.[85] Paul replied that "by entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you."[85] The two Church leaders signed a common declaration, which put an end to the disputes of the past and outlined a common agenda for the future. Cardinal Augustin Bea, the head of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity added at the end of the visit, "Let us move forward in Christ. God wants it. Humanity is waiting for it."[87] Unmoved by a harsh condemnation by the Congregation of Faith on mixed marriages precisely at this time of the visit, Paul VI and Ramsey appointed a preparatory commission which was to put the common agenda into practice on such issues as mixed marriages. This resulted in a joint Malta declaration, the first ever joint agreement on the Creed since the reformation.[88] Paul VI was a good friend of the Anglican Church, which he described as "our beloved sister Church". This description was unique to Paul and not used by later popes.


In 1965, Paul VI decided on the creation of a joint working group with the World Council of Churches to map all possible avenues of dialogue and cooperation. In the following three years, eight sessions were held which resulted in many joint proposals.[89] It was proposed to work closely together in areas of social justice and development and Third World Issues such as hunger and poverty. On the religious side, it was agreed to share together in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to be held every year. The joint working group was to prepare texts which were to be used by all Christians.[90] On 19 July 1968, the meeting of the World Council of Churches took place in Uppsala, Sweden, which Pope Paul called a sign of the times. He sent his blessing in an ecumenical manner: "May the Lord bless everything you do for the case of Christian Unity."[91] The World Council of Churches decided on including Catholic theologians in its committees, provided they have the backing of the Vatican.

The Lutherans were the first Protestant Church offering a dialogue to the Catholic Church in September 1964 in Reykjavik, Iceland.[92] It resulted in joint study groups of several issues. The dialogue with the Methodist Church began October 1965, after its representatives officially applauded remarkable changes, friendship and cooperation of the past five years. The Reformed Churches entered four years later into a dialogue with the Catholic Church.[93] The President of the Lutheran World Federation and member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches Fredrik A. Schiotz stated during the 450th anniversary of the Reformation, that earlier commemorations were viewed almost as a triumph. Reformation should be celebrated as a thanksgiving to God, his truth and his renewed life. He welcomed the announcement of Pope Paul VI to celebrate the 1900 anniversary of the death of the Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul, and promised the participation and cooperation in the festivities.[94]

Paul VI supported the new-found harmony and cooperation with Protestants on so many levels. When Cardinal Augustin Bea went to see him for permission for a joint Catholic-Protestant translation of the Bible with Protestant Bible societies, the Pope walked towards him and exclaimed, "as far as the cooperation with Bible societies is concerned, I am totally in favour."[95] He issued a formal approval on Pentecost 1967, the feast on which the Holy Spirit descended on the Christians, overcoming all linguistic difficulties, according to Christian tradition.[96]


Pope Paul VI held six consistories between 1965 1977 that raised 143 men to the cardinalate in his fifteen years as pope. They were held on 22 February 1965, 27 cardinals, 26 June 1967, 27 cardinals, 28 April 1969, 34 cardinals, 5 March 1973, 30 cardinals, 24 May 1976, 20 cardinals, and, 27 June 1977, 4 cardinals.

Up to and including the current Pope Benedict XVI, all of Pope Paul's successors were created cardinals by him. His immediate successor, Albino Luciani, who took the name John Paul I, was created a cardinal in the consistory of 5 March 1973. Karol Wojty a was created a cardinal in the consistory of 26 June 1967. Joseph Ratzinger was created a cardinal in the small four-appointment consistory of 27 June 1977, which included also Bernardin Gantin from Benin, Africa. This became the last of Paul VI's consistories before his death in August 1978.[97]

With the six consistories, Paul VI continued the internationalization policies started by Pius XII in 1946 and continued by John XXIII. In his 1976 consistory, five of twenty cardinals originated from Africa, one of them a son of a tribal chief with fifty wives.[97] Several prominent Latin Americans like Eduardo Francisco Pironio of Argentina; Eug nio de Ara jo Sales and Aloisio Lorscheider from Brazil were also elevated by him. There were voices within the Church at the time, that the European period of the Church was coming to a close, a view shared by Britain's Cardinal Basil Hume.[97] At the same time, the members of the College of Cardinals lost some of their previous influences, after Paul VI decreed, that not only cardinals but also bishops too may participate in committees of the Roman Curia. The age limit of eighty years imposed by the Pope, a numerical increase of Cardinals by almost 100%, and a reform of the regal vestments of the "Princes of the Church" further contributed to a service oriented perception of Cardinals under his pontificate. The increased number of Cardinals from the Third World and the papal emphasis on related issues was welcomed by many in Western Europe nevertheless.[97]

Final months and death

Aldo Moro, photographed during his kidnapping by the Red Brigades

On 16 March 1978, his friend from FUCI student days Aldo Moro, a Christian Democratic politician, was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, which kept the pope in suspense for 55 days.[98] On 20 April, Moro directly appealed to the Pope to intervene as Pope Pius XII had intervened in the case of Professor Giuliano Vassalli in the same situation[99] The eighty-year old Pope wrote a letter to the Red Brigades:

Some in the Italian government accused the Pope for treating the Red Brigades too kindly. However, he continued looking for ways to pay ransom for Moro but to no avail. On 9 May, the bullet riddled body of Aldo Moro was found in a car in Rome.[100] Pope Paul later celebrated his State Funeral Mass.

Pope Paul VI left the Vatican to go to the Papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, on 14 July 1978, visiting on the way the tomb of Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo[101] who had introduced him to the Vatican half a century earlier. Although sick, he agreed to see the new Italian President Sandro Pertini for over two hours. In the evening he watched a Western on TV, happy only when he saw "horses, the most beautiful animals that God had created."[101] He had breathing problems and needed oxygen. The next day, Sunday, at the Feast of Transfiguration, he was tired, but wanted to say the Angelus. He was neither able nor permitted to do so and instead stayed in bed, his temperature rising.

Tomb of Pope Paul VI From his bed he participated in Sunday Mass at 18:00. After communion, the Pope suffered a massive heart attack, after which he continued to live for three hours. On 6 August 1978 at 21:41, Pope Paul VI died at Castel Gandolfo.[101] He is buried beneath the floor of Saint Peter's Basilica with other popes. In his will, he requested to be buried in the "true earth" and therefore, he does not have an ornate sarcophagus but an in-ground grave.[102]

Cause for beatification

The diocesan process for beatification of Servant of God Paul VI began on 11 May 1993 by Pope John Paul II. The title of Servant of God is the first of four steps toward possible canonization.

Legacy and controversies

The pontificate of Paul VI continued the opening and internationalization of the Church started under Pius XII. He implemented the reforms of John XXIII and Vatican II. Yet, unlike these popes, Paul VI faced criticism throughout his papacy from both traditionalists and liberals for steering a middle course during Vatican II and during the implementation of its reforms thereafter.[103] He expressed a desire for peace during the Vietnam War. This was not understood by all. Along with helping those in Third World countries, Pope Paul VI created labour unions and peasant federations in other countries. These public services assisted the poor and became evidence of his desire to complete the goals of the Second Vatican Council. On basic Church teachings, the pope was unwavering. On the tenth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, he reconfirmed this teaching.[104] In his style and methodology, he was a disciple of Pius XII, whom he deeply revered.[105] He suffered for the attacks on Pius XII for his alleged silences during the Holocaust.[105] Pope Paul suffered in comparison with his predecessors. He was not credited with an encyclopedic memory, nor a gift for languages, nor a brilliant writing style of Pius XII,[106] nor did he have the charisma and outpouring love, sense of humor and human warmth of John XXIII. He took on himself the unfinished reform work of these two popes, bringing them diligently with great humility and common sense and without much fanfare to conclusion.[104] In doing so, Paul VI saw himself following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, torn to several directions as Saint Paul, who said, "I am attracted to two sides at once, because the Cross always divides."[107] The Statue of Pope Paul VI in Milano, Italy

The new theological freedoms, which he fostered  unlike his predecessors and successors, Paul VI refused to excommunicate  resulted in a pluralism of opinions and uncertainties among the faithful[108] He admonished but did not punish those with other views. New demands were voiced, which were taboo at the Council, the reintegration of divorced Catholics, the sacramental character of the confession, and the role of women in the Church and its ministries. Conservatives complained, that "women wanted to be priests, priests wanted to get married, bishops became regional popes and theologians claimed absolute teaching authority. Protestants claimed equality, homosexuals and divorced called for full acceptance."[109] Changes such as the reorientation of the liturgy, alterations to the ordinary of the Mass, alterations to the liturgical calendar in the motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis, and the relocation of the tabernacle were controversial among some Catholics.

Being concerned with the modern world as a whole and not with a Roman Catholic sacristy perspective, Paul VI did renounce many traditional symbols of the papacy and the Catholic Church. Some of the changes Paul VI made to the Papal dress were reversed by Pope Benedict XVI in the early 21st century. Refusing to be the prisoner of a Vatican army of colourful military uniforms from centuries, he got rid of them. He became the first Pope to visit five continents.[110] Paul VI systematically continued and completed the efforts of his predecessors, to turn the Euro-centric Church into a Church of the world, by integrating the bishops from all continents in its government and in the Synods which he convened. His 6 August 1967 motu proprio Pro Comperto Sane opened the Roman Curia to the bishops of the world. Until then, only Cardinals could be leading members of the Curia.[110]

Some critiqued Paul's decision; the newly created Synod of Bishops had an advisory role only and could not make decisions on their own, although the Council decided exactly that. During the pontificate of Paul VI, five such synods took place, and he is on record of implementing all their decisions.[111] Related questions were raised about the new National Bishop Conferences, which became mandatory after Vatican II. Others questioned his Ostpolitik and contacts with Communism and the deals he engaged in for the faithful.[112]

The pope clearly suffered from the responses within the Church to Humanae Vitae. While most regions and bishops supported the Pontiff, a small but important part of them especially in Holland, Canada, and Germany openly disagreed with the Pope, which deeply wounded him for the rest of his life.[113] When Patrick O'Boyle, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., disciplined several priests for publicly dissenting from this teaching, the pope gave him encouragement.

Papal Tiara of Paul VI]], now in the Crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

According to some sources, as Paul became increasingly ill, he spoke of possibly abdicating the papal throne and going into retirement, provided he could not fulfill the duties of the papacy in the fullest. His position mirrors identical statements attributed to Pius XI "a Pope may suffer but he must be able to function" and, repeatedly by Pius XII to the same effect.[114] Pope Paul, reflecting on the description of Hamlet, wrote in a private note in 1978 about himself:

"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. I am filled with 'great joy (Superabundo gaudio)' With all our affliction, I am overjoyed (2.Cor.2.4)."[115]

This inner joy seems to have been a characteristic of Paul VI. His confessor, the Jesuit Paolo Dezza, arrived at the Vatican every Friday evening at 19:00 to hear confession of Paul VI. The only words he ever spoke about his long service to Paul VI during his pontificate were, "that this pope is a man of great joy".[43] After the death of Pope Paul VI, Dezza was more outspoken, saying that "if Paul VI was not a saint, when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate. I was able to witness not only with what energy and dedication he toiled for Christ and the Church but also and above all, how much he suffered for Christ and the Church. I always admired not only his deep inner resignation but also his constant abandonment to divine providence.".[116] It is this character trait, which led to the opening of the process of beatification and canonization for Paul VI.

Pope Paul VI caused considerable surprise in 1968 when, to the consternation of his aides, he publicly denied rumours of "scandalous behaviour". Though rumours had circulated periodically in anti-papal and anti-Catholic publications as to Paul's sexual orientation and possible homosexuality, with suggestions of a past relationship while he was an archbishop with a priest who had served as his secretary, when what Paul called these suggestions 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.[117]

Episcopal succession

See also

Further reading

  • Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners, A History of the Popes, Yale University Press, 1997
  • August Franzen, Kleine Kichengeschichte, Herder, Freiburg, 1991, quoted as Franzen, Kirchengeschichte
  • August Franzen, Papstgeschichte, Herder, Freiburg, 1988, quoted as Franzen
  • Jean Guitton Dialogues Avec Paul VI, quoted from Dialog mit Paul VI, Molden, Wien 1967
  • Malachi Martin, Three Popes and the Cardinal, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1972, ISBN 0374276757
  • Andrea Lazzarini, Paolo VI, Profilo di Montini, quoted from Papst Paul VI Herder Freiburg, 1964


External links

Video on YouTube  Italian documentaries (English subtitled)

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