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New Saints-to-Be: Paul VI and Oscar Romero

The Vatican announced last week that Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized in October. My immediate reaction, on both counts, was satisfaction – though I’ve been trying to explain to myself exactly why.

Saints, of course, can have serious shortcomings. The Apostles abandoned Jesus when He needed them most, and Peter even denied knowing Him. But we sense that it had to be that way: Jesus had to be abandoned by all mankind, and it seemed, almost by the Father Himself, to reach the furthest depths – and thereby bring back up everyone and everything.

More recent saints, though, may give us pause. About Paul VI, for instance, there’s much that – to me – was of doubtful value. A cautious man by nature, he had Vatican II dumped in his lap when John XXIII died and he was elected pope. That and the whole mess of the 1960s and early 1970s was not something that a man of his background and character was well suited to face. Yet he’d been elected pope. Amletico – “Hamlet-like” in his indecision – is a phrase I’ve heard Italians use about him.

And they’re surely right, to a degree. He allowed himself to be used – and openly lied to – by liturgical reformers like Annibale Bugnini. (In his memoirs, Louis Boyer calls Bugnini “a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty.”) When Paul finally saw the light, he sent Bugnini as pro-nuncio – to Iran. But it was too late. Our liturgy was wrecked and is still waiting for renewal.

Paul was also deeply naïve, I believe, about global affairs. Populorum Progressio(1967) is a Jekyll/Hyde concoction: sound in its Catholic social principles, progressive to the point of uselessness in its (gratuitous) policy recommendations. Happily, all that disappeared without affecting much of anything.

But Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae the very next year. His Hamlet-like dithering about the decision probably made the reaction worse than it had to be. Still, he did the right thing, heroically, when nearly everyone told him he was wrong. If the Church had caved on contraception, marriage and family would have soon followed – as has happened in the liberal Christian churches.

Read more at The Catholic Thing. 

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