Paul VI, the pope of the Creed and of life

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In the storm that followed the Second Vatican Council, in an increasingly secularized society, the holy Pope Paul VI governed the Church flexibly, holding firm on doctrine and the protection of life.

Pope Paul VI , who was pope from 1963 to 1978, will be canonized this October 14. He governed the Church in the difficult period after the Second Vatican Council. The first major decision of his pontificate was to continue the Second Vatican Council that his predecessor, John XXIII, had convened and which had a first session in 1962. There were three more sessions under Paul VI and the council lasted until December 1965. The Pope, while leaving great freedom to the council, intervened on several occasions in a decisive manner: by imposing a Note which specified and limited collegiality (the participation of bishops in the government of the universal Church) and by removing conciliar debates on certain sensitive subjects (contraception, celibacy of priests, the organization of the synod of bishops) which he reserved to deal with.

Decisive reorientations

It was also in the middle of a council, but by his own decision, that he solemnly gave a new title to the Virgin Mary, proclaiming “Mary, Mother of the Church” . The sixteen constitutions, decrees and declarations passed by the Second Vatican Council decisively reoriented the Church and opened up new perspectives for it. The most visible form of this reorientation was the liturgical reform which was implemented after the council and the development of which Paul VI followed very closely.

We should also note that Paul VI was the first pope in the history of the Church to meet the faithful on all continents. These will successively be trips to the Holy Land and India in 1964, to New York to the United Nations headquarters in 1965, to Portugal in 1967, to Colombia in 1968, to Geneva and Uganda in 1969, to Asia in 1970.
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The Creed of the People of God

Paul VI was also confronted with a major crisis in the Church: in an increasingly secularized society where religious indifference was increasing, doctrinal challenges increased on the part of certain theologians and certain bishops. We have also witnessed a considerable drop in the number of vocations in many countries and impressive defections among the clergy. According to statistical data established by the Congregation of the Clergy, more than 40,000 priests (diocesan and religious) left the priesthood during the pontificate of Paul VI.

What was called the Dutch Catechism, published in 1966 with the approval of the bishops of the Netherlands, symbolized this post-council doctrinal questioning. It has been translated into different languages. It contained statements contrary to the faith and, in many points, sinned by silence or omission. Faced with the scandal and protests, Paul VI established a cardinal commission which drew up a long list of corrections and clarifications to be made.
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More generally, Paul VI wanted to solemnly reaffirm the Catholic faith in a Creed of the people of God which he proclaimed in June 1968. This solemn Profession of Faith was a reaffirmation of the faith of the Church in the face of challenges and doubts at the same time as a personal commitment of the Pope to be the pastor who transmits and keeps the teaching inherited from the origins. This Creed of Paul VI also marked the limits that he intended to place in dialogue with the world, with secular cultures and with other Christian confessions. The beginning of this magnificent text clearly shows how the Pope wanted to give a new form to a traditional text:

“We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator of visible things like this world in which our passing life passes, of invisible things like the pure spirits which we also call angels, and Creator in each man of his spiritual and immortal soul. »

The audacity of Humanae vitae

That same year, 1968, in July, Paul VI dared to offend what today would be called “political correctness” by publishing the encyclical Humanae vitae . The question of birth control and contraception — can Catholics use the pill, a chemical means, to limit the number of children in their home? — was mentioned at the council. A tendency had begun to be heard among the cardinals and bishops which went in the direction of a modification of the teaching of the Church on this point. Paul VI preferred to withdraw this question from the conciliar debates and reserved the right to give a definitive answer himself.

According to the philosopher Jean Guitton, who was his friend , his liberal mind was tempted to accept this contraception claimed by some as a liberation of women. In France, the Neuwirth law legalizing contraception was passed in 1967. Paul VI hesitated for a long time, multiplied the commissions and consultations for several years, then finally he had the courage to go against public opinion. dominant.

Pastoral Encouragement

The refusal of contraception is based on natural law and the Catholic doctrine of marriage. “This doctrine,” says the encyclical, “is based on the indissoluble bond, which God willed and which man cannot sever on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: union and procreation.” It is the same defense of life and creation desired by God which excludes abortion, sterilization and contraception. This doctrinal reaffirmation was accompanied by an encouragement to priests to offer pastoral and spiritual support to the faithful: through good preparation for marriage and by attentive listening to the difficulties subsequently encountered in their life as a couple.

The encyclical was contested, in Western countries, by hundreds of theologians and seminary professors, and criticized or relativized by certain episcopates. On the other hand, in South America and Africa it was very well received because the contraceptive pill seemed to them to be Western interference in the life of the poorest countries.

The Pope of Protection of Life

It is remarkable that the miracle necessary for the beatification of Paul VI and then that for his canonization are both linked to the defense of life. The first took place in 1996. A young American woman was pregnant. Doctors diagnosed a malformation of the fetus she was carrying and advised an abortion. She refused and invoked the intercession of Paul VI. The child was born without malformation.

The second took place in 2014. It concerns a young Italian woman who was five months pregnant and experienced a rupture of the placenta. This endangered his life as much as that of the fetus. Doctors advised a therapeutic abortion. The future mother refused and went to Brescia to pray in front of a relic of Paul VI, “the pope who healed unborn children”. The child was born on December 25, in good health.

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