EDITORIAL
from issue no. 08 - 2004

Paul VI



Giulio Andreotti


Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI

A recent Italian television program on Paul VI presented this contemporary Pope effectively. In current writings he continues to be described as being: Hamlet-like, tormented, culturally modern but perplexed in drawing operative conclusions.
When, immediately after his election to the papacy, he appeared in the central loggia of the Basilica, he stared for a long while at the apostolic Palace where the windows of the famous third floor can be seen: his Secretariat of State. Those who interpreted his appointment to the archbishopric of Milan as, if not punitive, a deliberate distancing, were right only in part: in small part. Though Pius XII effectively in his final years had a tendency to a certain autocracy and to mainly consulting his two lay confidants Carlo Pacelli and Enrico Galeazzi, it isn’t at all to be excluded that he decided to give Montini that large scale, so to speak, pastoral experience without which the burdensome image of a mere Curia man would have barred him from the possibility of “succession”.
Certainly, Montini had always carried on the apostolate: in particular with the university students and graduates of Catholic Action; as, in parallel, Tardini did in the cenacle of Villa Nazareth. But being exclusively Roman was a burden. The Pope, Pius XII, knew it personally, even if Pius XI had managed with the famous missions as Legate, and otherwise, to clear his path, without intermediary passages.
A recent Italian television program on Paul VI presented this contemporary Pope effectively. In current writings he continues to be described as being: Hamlet-like, tormented, culturally modern but perplexed in drawing operative conclusions…
Montini’s Milanese years were very intense and addressed erga omnes. The apostolate among intellectuals continued, not only through the Catholic University; and the frequenting of outstanding people, French in particular, became habitual. But he also discovered the working world and got such a marked impression from it that the businessmen began to accuse him of leftish leanings. When they then turned out deaf to his appeals for help in the building of new churches, of which there was an absolute necessity, the archbishop polemically named Enrico Mattei as president of the committee. But that did not mean he was of the political field that sympathized with the Christian Democrat wing, BASE; indeed, when Granelli went to ask him pro forma for the green light for his candidacy and said that he would abide by his decision, when he got it, it forced him to stand down. At later elections Granelli was careful not to consult the archbishop.
And toward Marcora he had no leanings at all.
Even more. His Roman reference point (every day it was said) was Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua, who openly, in the events of 1955, acted against Gronchi’s candidacy, in favor of Fanfani as Secretary and the Scelba government. I myself, being parlamentarily and for party reasons ranked against the Dorotea-Scelbian coalition, got a severe ear-wigging from Montini.
Giovanni Battista Montini in a suburb on the outskirts 
of Rome in 1943

Giovanni Battista Montini in a suburb on the outskirts of Rome in 1943

But I must add a significant episode. He chose me as official orator for a solemn commemoration of Pope Ratti in the square of Desio. At the end he was glad, but he reproached me because I had not referred, when speaking of the Concordat, to the role played by the brother of Pius XII, Francesco Pacelli.
On the spot and elsewhere, with significant trips also to the sites of the large works being constructed on the African continent, Monsignor Montini literally completed his “preparation”. And maybe he could have been elected already in the conclave of 1958 if the fact that he was not a cardinal had not stood against him (that was told to me by Cardinal Roncalli the morning of the opening of the conclave, when he received me at the Domus Mariae).
The candidacy for the not easy succession to Pope John was literally a sure thing; and it came about, in fact, after a simple preliminary poll.
The task was tremendous. The popularity gained by John XXIII had to kept for the Church, but by setting the results of his great intuitions on concrete lines: from the Council to the Pacem in terris. Imitating Pope John was impossible. When, at the first group audience, a zealous assistant made him take a child in his arms, the result was the photo of an embarassed Pope, not very tender at all and visibly eager to get rid of it.
His great intellect and the cultural fineness instead enabled him to find the right path by himself, starting from the gracious downscaling of collegiality which risked introducing elements of disorder at the pontifical summit.
…When, immediately after his election to the papacy, he appeared in the central loggia of the Basilica, he stared for a long while at the apostolic Palace where the windows of the famous third floor can be seen: his Secretariat of State. Those who interpreted his appointment to the archbishopric of Milan as, if not punitive, a deliberate distancing, were right only in part: in small part…
He was faced with difficult moments: a particular one regarding Italy that for the first time faced the problem of divorce. In the making of the Constituent the indissolubility of marriage had not passed for the lack of a handful of votes and with the absence from the Chamber of thirty Christian Democrats, among whom people certainly not in favor of divorce such as La Pira, Medi and Zaccagnini. Afterward the alliance between socialists and liberals won through the Fortuna-Baslini law. Monsignor Costa, Assistant General of Catholic Action, had, with a certain naivety, let the Pope understand he had assured the votes against of many deputies from the groups in favor of divorce. However the coalition government survived, shaping the mechanism for the referendum to abrogate. The people would choose to resolve the issue.
The advocates of abrogation gathered signatures immediately, on the initiative of a Committee promoted by Professor Gabrio Lombardi, brother of the well-known Jesuit. The Christian Democrat party, that had done everything possible in Parliament, obviously took sides in favor, but the outcome was negative. The opposition to divorce in the popular response turned out less than what we had achieved in the Lower House and the Senate.
Paul VI had been of emblematic precision: «We have not asked, but we cannot prevent a group of Catholics, making use of a constitutional instrument, from trying to cancel a law that we judge negative».
Since the vote in favor of divorce in the city of Rome was higher than the national average, some foreign bishops did not fail to painfully underline the fact. The Pope suffered considerably because of that and, at the end of the year, in his answer to my note of greetings (an old habit from my times with the Federation of Catholic University Students) he showed all his bitterness.
He suffered personally in another field: the lack of perseverance in the vocation by a number no longer altogether marginal of priests. On the human level he understood the distress and the predicament of some of them. Perhaps they had been less earlier, but Pius XI dealt briskly with it by asking: «And what is the lady called?».
The archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, on a visit to the Sacred Mount of Varese

The archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, on a visit to the Sacred Mount of Varese

Some vanguard social positions, like those of Don Milani, had to be hierarchically blocked, but on the human level the Holy Father’s personal pain was strong. The reaction to Father Balducci was less complicated, who harmed the presumable consent to conscientious objection by unfair attacks on an alleged warmongering spirit among the military chaplains.
The real Montini, however, revealed himself perhaps in the splendid closing ceremony of the consignment of the Conciliar decrees; and – on another level – in the opening of the Vatican Galleries to contemporary art.
The personal archives of the Pope are preserved and listed with intelligence by the Paul VI Institute. There are thousands of little handwritten notes that he made while reading, meditating, praying. And for that matter, in the original collection of Montini’s maxims, edited by Father Leonardo Sapienza, with extracts not from encyclicals or from other official documents (likely produced by several hands), but from original speeches and personal notes, emerges the gigantic figure: intellectual, moral and human of a Pope, whose mark is destined – contrary to shallow impressions – to emerge more and more.


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