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  • English name - Paul VI
Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI (Latin: Paulus PP. VI), born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (September 26, 1897August 6, 1978), reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and as sovereign of Vatican City from 1963 to 1978. Succeeding John XXIII who had called the Second Vatican Council, he presided over the majority of its sessions and oversaw the implementation of its decrees.

Early career[]

Giovanni Montini was born in Concesio in Brescia province, Italy, of a family of local nobility and masonic affiliatiation on his maternal line. He entered the seminary to train to become a Catholic priest in 1916 and was ordained a priest in 1920. He took the solemn oath against modernism before an open tabernacle initiated by Pope St.Pius X. He studied at the Gregorian University, the University of Rome and the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici. His organisational skills led him to a career in the Curia (Roman Catholic Church), the papal civil service. In 1937 he was named Substitute for Ordinary Affairs under Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI. When Pacelli was elected Pope Pius XII, Montini was confirmed in the position under the new Secretary of State. When in 1944 the Secretary of State died, the role was assumed directly by the pope, with Montini working directly under him.

Some of his work during this period remains shrouded in mystery, with claims and counter-claims, most notably concerning his involvement in the diplomatic activities of the Vatican during the conflict. For example, the Vatican's repeated contacts with Count Galeazzo Ciano, fascist Minister of Foreign affairs and son-in-law of Mussolini, remains an issue of some criticism. Montini, who worked as a diplomat, has been accused of having obtained from the Fascists, at the beginning of the war, some promises of uncleared advantages for the Vatican, in exchange of its eventual support. However, many other historians dispute this analysis.

The unique complexity of the war-time period saw Montini procure large sums of money to aid European Jews, while he is also alleged to have been involved in enabling some leading Nazi officers to escape the collapse of the Third Reich. Formally a simple administrative employee of the Vatican government, but effectively the closest supporter of Pius XII, he has often been recognised as one of the most important political figures of the period. No official confirmation exists, but evidence indicates that he (along with Alcide De Gasperi) attempted to set up a channel of communication between Crown Princess Maria José (daughter-in-law of the King of Italy and wife of the Prince of Piedmont, Umberto) and the United States, in order to find a separate peace for Italy with the United States; the Princess however was not able to meet Myron Taylor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's special representative to the Vatican, and no one knows if Montini was unable to organise this meeting or unwilling to do so.

Archbishop of Milan[]

Montini was appointed in 1953 to the senior Italian church post of Archbishop of Milan. Traditionally such appointment would be followed by being made a cardinal at the next consistory (when vacancies in the College of Cardinals are filled). To the surprise of many, Montini never received the red hat (as the appointment to the cardinalate is often called) before Pope Pius's death in 1958; what was not known was that at the Secret Consistory in 1952 Pope Pius revealed that Montini had declined the cardinalate.[1] Though modernist liberals viewed him as the person who would have succeeded Pope Pius, since Montini was not a member of the College of Cardinals,[2] Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected pope and assumed the name Pope John XXIII. The new pope raised Montini to the cardinalate after only two months in office, becoming Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti.


Papal styles of
Pope Paul VI
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleServant of God

Montini was generally seen as Pope John's probable successor. Montini was an enthusiastic supporter of Pope John's decision to establish the Second Vatican Council. When John died of cancer in 1963, Montini finally was elected to the papacy, where he took the name Paul VI. He brought the Second Vatican Council to completion in 1965 and directed the implementation of its directives until his death in 1978. He was also 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. as a gift to American Catholics. In 1965 he established the Synod of Bishops but controversially withdrew two issues from its authority, priestly celibacy and the issue of contraception and made both the subject of controversial encyclicals. He also abolished the Palatine Guard and the Noble Guard, leaving the Swiss Guard as the sole military order of the Vatican.

Humanæ Vitæ[]

Paul 6 coa

Coat of arms of Pope Paul VI in fleur de lys

To the world Pope Paul is most well known for his encyclical Humanæ Vitæ (subtitled On the Regulation of Birth), published on July 25 1968. In this encyclical he reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional condemnation of artificial birth control. His decision was unexpected as many had expected the Church to accept the technological advances that had produced the contraceptive pill and many Catholic couples opted to use birth control in spite of church teaching.

A commission composed of bishops, theologians, and laity had been established by John XXIII for the purpose of reviewing the teaching on birth control. In the furore surrounding the publication of the encylical, stories appeared in the press that it was the commission's majority recommendation that the Church relax its stance on birth control but that the Pope had suppressed the so-called 'Majority Report'. This is the version of events that is widely accepted. However it has not gone unchallenged. For example in an interview in 2003 with the Catholic news agency Zenit, the natural lawyer and moral theologian Germain Grisez gave a different version of events:

The final report of the commission was not one of the documents that were leaked to the press, and, so far as I know, it has never been published. The leaked documents, which were misleadingly labeled, were among the appendices to the final report, and none of them was agreed upon by the majority of the 16 cardinals and bishops who made up the commission after it was restructured in February 1966, although they did approve sending those documents along to Paul VI...[He] was not interested in the number of those who held an opinion but in the cases they made for their views...Having received the commission's final report, he studied it. After about four months, he announced on Oct. 29, 1966, that he found some aspects of the majority's case to be seriously flawed. He continued studying and concluded that the commission was right in holding that the pill is not morally different from other methods of contraception. Eventually he became completely convinced that there was no alternative to reaffirming the received teaching. He then took great care preparing the document that was eventually published as Humanæ Vitæ. True, the majority of the theologians, who were then among the periti [experts] advising the cardinals and bishops, had argued that contraception was morally acceptable, and nine of the 16 cardinals and bishops agreed with their position. But virtually all the theologians and all but one of the cardinals and bishops also agreed that the pill was not morally different from other contraceptives, which had long been condemned.[3]

Pope Paul was shattered by the reaction to the encyclical, and it would become his last. His biography on the Vatican's website notes of his reaffirmations of priestly celibacy and the ban on contraception that "[t]he controversies over these two pronouncements tended to overshadow the last years of his pontificate".[1] However Pope John Paul II unambiguously supported both teachings and expanded on Humanæ Vitæ in a series of 129 talks delivered at his weekly audiences.[4]

Meeting with Orthodox Patriarch[]

Paul was the first pope in centuries to meet the heads of various Eastern Orthodox faiths. Notably, his meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1964 in Jerusalem led to rescinding the 1054 excommunications of the Great Schism. 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 December 7, 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 1054 schism, but showed a desire for greater reconciliation between the two churches, represented by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. Nevertheless, not all Orthodox leaders at the time were happy with this Catholic-Orthodox Joint declaration, e.g., Metr. Philaret's 1965 epistle to the patriarch.

Pope Paul also became the second pope to meet an Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, after the visit of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII on December 2nd 1960.

The Pilgrim Pope[]

Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit five continents, and was the most travelled pope in history to that time, earning the nickname the Pilgrim Pope. In 1970 he was the target of an assassination attempt at Manila International Airport in the Philippines. The assailant, a Bolivian Surrealist painter named Benjamín Mendoza y Amor Flores, lunged toward Pope Paul with a kris, but was subdued. Although the Vatican denied it, subsequent evidence suggests Pope Paul did indeed receive a stab wound in the incident.

An Indecisive Pope?[]

According to some critics, Pope Paul VI was habitually indecisive. For example he appeared unable to decide how to deal with the scandal-ridden American Cardinal Cody, who was surrounded by allegations of financial and sexual impropriety. Cody even invited his female 'friend' to pose in a picture with him and Pope Paul taken when Cody was being awarded the red hat. Paul changed his mind over whether to remove Cody, on one occasion contacting a Vatican official at Rome Airport, whom he had sent to inform Cody of his dismissal, and telling him to return as he had changed his mind. Cody remained in office until his death.

Some critics point to Paul's response to Archbishop Lefebvre, who challenged papal authority by refusing to accept the New Mass and liturgical reforms produced after Vatican II. The pope summoned Lefebvre to meetings in which he argued with Lefebvre and showed his great frustration, but he did not excommunicate Lefebvre, as many had expected. Lefebvre was eventually excommunicated automatically (latae sententiae) for his illicit episcopal ordinations in 1988 during the reign of Pope John Paul II.

The pope's response to the critics of Humanae Vitae is also cited as an example of indecisiveness. When Cardinal O'Boyle, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., disciplined several priests for publicly dissenting from this teaching, the pope gave him encouragement. But when other bishops did nothing to quell dissent, the pope raised no objection. And when bishops in Canada, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands were lukewarm in their support or even publicly expressed reservations about this teaching, the pope did not discipline them in any way.

Some of Pope Paul's statements in the 1970s seemed critical of the direction taken by the Church after Vatican II, expressing his dislike of some of the "pedestrian" language used in some translations of the New Mass. But he did not generally indicate such unhappiness in his public statements. He did oppose Liberation theology after the 1962-65 Vatican Council, frowning on the CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference) support to it.

According to some sources, as Paul became older he spoke of abdicating the papal throne and going into retirement. Some critics see this as another example of indecision, as he remained in the papacy until his death.

It is rumored that Pope John XXIII referred to then-Cardinal Montini as "Our Hamlet" (Amleto), in reference to his indecisiveness. The private secretaries of both popes have denied that John ever made such a statement. Pope Paul himself reflected that description of himself in a private note written in 1978. He asked:

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.[5]

Final Months and Death[]

Pope Paul VI left the Vatican to go to the Papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, for the final time on July 14, 1978, uncertain of whether he would return. While mass was being said for him near his bedside during the afternoon of August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, he became agitated, but managed to receive communion one last time. He soon fell into unconciousness for four hours and died soon after. The agitation had been a massive heart attack.


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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pope Paul VI : 1963 - 1978, Retrieved 2 March 2006.
  2. In theory any male Catholic, even a layman, is eligible for election to the papacy by the College of Cardinals, so technically Archbishop Montini could still have become pope. However, the cardinals in modern times invariably elect a fellow cardinal to the office.
  3. Germain Grisez on "Humanae Vitae," Then and Now, Retrieved 2 March 2006.
  4. See for example, the brief overview: What is the theology of the body?, Retrieved 2 March 2006. For the text see General Audiences : John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II, retrieved 6 May 2006
  5. Cathal B Daly, Steps on my Pilgrim Journey (Veritas, 1998) p.

See also[]

  • Roman Curia
  • Archbishop Annibale Bugnini
  • Aldo Moro
  • Fleur de lys
  • Liberation theology


  • Ecclesiam Suam
  • Mense Maio
  • Mysterium Fidei (Encyclical)
  • Christi Matri
  • Populorum Progressio
  • Sacerdotalis Caelibatus
  • Humanae Vitae

Additional reading[]

  • Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI: The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993, 749 pages, ISBN 0-8091-0461-X

Encyclicals on Vatican site[]

External links[]

Preceded by
Alfredo Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster
Archbishop of Milan
1953 – 1963

Succeeded by
Giovanni Cardinal Colombo
Preceded by
21 June 19636 August 1978

Succeeded by
John Paul I
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