The Real Paul VI: Paul and His Successor

Since today (October 17) is Pope John Paul I’s birthday, I’ll add these excerpts from the draft of the biography of him that I am writing; I don’t have time to polish it  much, but I did my best; I’ve had to leave the references incomplete, but I can assure you everything is well documented.

In September 16, 1972, Pope Paul made a trip to the National Eucharist Congress in Udine. On the way, he was scheduled to pay a visit to Venice. The murmurs of dissatisfaction and dissent against his papacy from both the right and left were increasing.  He was rapidly approaching his 75th birthday (September 26), and this event was not ignored by the press.  Many pointed out that the Pope had asked bishops to resign from their dioceses when they reached 75.  Many people speculated that Paul too might decide to resign at 75. Some even hinted that he really should resign.

On the morning of September 16, just before departing for Venice, he gave a clear sign that he intended to die where he was: he made an addition or codicil to his testament, beginning with the words “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. . .” A final stock-taking, in view of his birthday, and a reminder of death.

Luciani and Paul VILater, after his flight landed in Venice, the Pope, accompanied by Patriarch Luciani, walked down the special platform that had been built the whole length of the piazza in front of the Basilica of San Marco. After the Pope finished giving his blessing, the Patriarch and the whole crowd burst into applause, startling the pigeons who took perfectly timed flight across the square.

Pope Paul then took off his papal stole, embroidered with the symbolic figures of Peter and Paul, the first leaders of the Church in Rome. After first holding it high in the air to attract attention to his gesture, he put it over Luciani’s shoulders, saying, “For the good shepherd!” Luciani began to to protest, but the Pope insisted, “You are an inspiration . . . you deserve this”-(Camillo Bassotto: Il mio cuore è ancora a Venezia, Venice, 1990).

Everyone speculated about the gesture, though Luciani himself never mentioned it. His sister-in-law Antonietta later told me, “Pope Paul was not one to joke, like Pope John.  He knew what he was doing and he did it very seriously.  He thought that it was right that he [Luciani] should be his successor.” (From a conversation on September 30, 1985).

Later on, in 1974, when diocesan archivist, Don Gino Bortolan, wanted to put the photo of Luciani with the Pope and wearing his stole on the cover of the diocesan annual, Luciani objected to the picture being there. “We’re talking about history here,” Don Gino replied. “He is the latest Pope to come to Venice and we have to recall the event, don’t we?” And Luciani said no more (interview with Msgr. Gino Bortolan by Gloria Molinari, November 18, 2004). Luciani was modest, and would not have trumpeted his relationship with the Pope in any case, but it seems as if he also feared what the gesture represented.

Pope Paul, for his part, seemed to have wanted to make a statement to all the world: “I won’t resign now, but in a few years, you can have this man.”

Though before becoming Pope, Luciani was very reluctant to speak about the incident with the stole, he told the whole world about at his first Angelus after his election, when he spoke of his affection for the two Popes from whom he had taken his papal name:

Pope Paul not only made me a cardinal, but a few months earlier, on the runway in St. Mark’s Square, he made me turn red all over in front of 20 thousand people, because he took of his stole and placed it on my shoulders.  I have never been so red!  Besides, in the fifteen years of his pontificate, this Pope showed not only me but the whole world how we should love, how we should serve, and how we should work and suffer for the Church of Christ. (Transcribed and translated from the tape recording Giovanni Paolo I: Il Papa del Sorriso).

It was almost as though he finally felt free to speak of the honor that Pope Paul had paid him, and the warmth that so many had missed in this misunderstood Pope.

The Real Paul VI (Part III): The Assassination Attempt

Well, it looks like I won’t have much more time for this series before Pope Paul’s beatification on Sunday. But after this story, which I especially wanted to do, I hope to do a news roundup as well.

The Vatican has announced that the relic that will be carried at Paul VI’s beatification Mass on Sunday will be an undershirt torn with a knife slash and stained with his blood from an assassination attempt in Manila in 1970. This is a story many people won’t know, or at least won’t know well. Even if they recall the attempt, they might not know Pope Paul was actually wounded. In fact, no one but Paul, his secretaries and the sisters who cared for him knew until after his death. That’s the way the Pope wanted it.

Here are the details that have been most published. At the beginning of the Pope’s visit to the Philippines, at the Manila airport, just after he had descended from the plane and pressed by crowds as usual, was greeting a line of dignitaries and prelates, a man in a priest’s cassock approached him — and then lunged with a dagger at his chest.

Pope-Paul-VI-ManilaThe man was immediately grabbed by Msgr. Macchi, the Pope’s secretary and his other bodyguards, and subdued. Macchi later recalled that the Pope made a sign of reproof to him for roughing up the attacker, and that he was smiling serenely. (La Stampa, September 24, 1979). At the time, almost no one suspected the Pope had been hurt, even though Stephen Cardinal Kim, who the Pope had been greeting at the moment of the attack, had blood on the sleeve of his cassock, and he also noticed some drops of blood on the lower part of the sleeve of the Pope’s white cassock (among other sources, La Stampa, May 14, 1981).

There is certainly more to the story, but even a search of the internet doesn’t yield many details. I do remember the long account by Msgr. Macchi that I read some years ago, but can no longer find it, either in English or Italian. But here is what I remember of what it said:

Pope Paul went through the entire welcoming ceremony without giving any sign of agitation. But later, when they had gone to the residence where they were to spend the night, Paul asked Msgr. Macchi to help him, and it was then that the Pope noticed the Pope’s white cassock was stained with blood (he had been wearing the traditional long red cape, which covered him and helped make the blood unnoticeable). Macchi helped him dress the knife gash on the side of his chest, and then Paul put on clean clothes. He asked Macchi to keep it a secret. And this request might be explained by his words when he returned to thoughts of the attacker, a mentally unstable artist named Benjamin Mendoza. “Poor fellow,” he said “things might go harder for him if they knew. . . ” Pope Paul wanted to keep the wound a secret for his attacker’s sake.

Macchi did indeed keep everything a secret until after the Pope’s death.

There are a few further details. Dr. Timothy O’Donnell on the EWTN program “The Glory of the Papacy” first broadcast back in 2010, tells a story, which was related to him and his wife by the Pope’s other secretary, Msgr. John Magee, over lunch. Magee only joined the papal household in 1974, four years after the attack, but he learned everything directly from the Pope. This is what he said:

Once, when they were walking in the Vatican’s rooftop gardens, Pope Paul asked Magee if he had a devotion to Mary.

“Yes, I do,” Magee replied.

“Do you wear a Miraculous Medal?” the Pope asked.

“Yes, I do.”

“Is it a big one?”

This, of course, puzzled Fr. Magee. He showed the Pope his medal, which was only fair-sized.

“I owe a great deal to the Blessed Mother,” the Pope said. He then explained that wearing the Miraculous Medal had saved his life during the assassination attempt, because the knife first struck the medal instead of his chest, and the blow was deflected to the side.

Msgr. Magee later helped to wash Pope Paul’s body in preparation for his lying-in-state, and he said that he saw a red scar on his side from the knife. He also saw the large Miraculous Medal Paul wore over his heart — and it was dented by the knife right under Our Lady’s feet.

Just like as John Paul II, the Virgin Mary had deflected the fatal blow from Pope Paul’s heart.*

These details truly tell us a great deal about Pope Paul. He kept much of his suffering hidden. Many who knew him recall his compassion for the suffering. Cardinal Rigali, who wrote the preface for my book of John Paul I’s writings, A Passionate Adventure, recalls in particular, the Pope’s closeness in suffering to his brother Paul, who had cancer. Rigali was working in the Vatican at the time, and recalls the Pope frequently asking after his brother and saying “How can I help?”  Like John Paul II, he clearly forgave his attacker. And like all Popes, he was very devoted to Mary – who looks out for these particular sons of hers very well.

Perhaps commentators will have researched this story and will let us know more Sunday.

*I have read some other stories suggesting that the leather neck brace the Pope wore also helped in deflecting the blow. I don’t know the exact source of this assertion, though it seems plausible as well.

While awaiting a longer roundup post, here’s a very interesting article on Bl. Paul VI’s legacy.

The Explosive Synod

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family now going on in Rome has attracted an equally extraordinary amount of attention from the press not only for its subject matter, but also for the unusual amount of drama that has accompanied its course from the beginning. The latest is an apparent uprising by the bishops against an interim report that many of them say was the result of manipulation by its drafters — or perhaps by those even higher up? Conspiracy theories are multiplying, especially on the traditionalist side of the aisle. And, everyone wonders, where does the Pope stand?

Pope-synodTo back up a bit: The subject matter of the Synod is explosive, since the Synod Fathers are exploring the pastoral challenges to marriage and the family arising from the decline in marriage and rise in cohabitation, homosexuals who are more and more part of parish life, even homosexual couples with children, and the thorny question — the one that received the most attention in the lead-up to the Synod — of whether people who have divorced without an annulment and civilly remarried should be omitted to Communion or not. All red meat for the press, which is now running the cheering section for the Church “opening up” to gays and the divorced and remarried.

Another complication: A small coterie led by Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper has been pushing for admission of the divorced and remarried to Communion on the basis of the practice of the Orthodox and the supposed practice of the early Church. Kasper first broached it at the consistory in February; his proposal was rather decisively shot down by the other Cardinals, but this has not prevented him from continuing the push.

But all this is nothing compared to the furor over the Relatio summarizing the first week of interventions, which is to serve as the basis for this week’s small-group deliberations. The Relatio was drafted by a group which was largely appointed by Pope Francis – and this is where the plot really thickens.

The Relatio seeme to give a great deal of space to asking for more understanding and openness on the part of the Church to cohabiting couples, the divorced and remarried, and homosexuals. There was widespread criticism by many Synod Fathers, because the tone and contents of this draft did not seem to reflect what was actually said on the Synod floor — and because it gave scant attention to setting forth actual Catholic doctrine on controversial points.

Then there is the problem, mentioned in some of the small group reports, of poor translation of the Relatio. In fact, at least one sentence had already created considerable consternation: the report spoke of homosexuals being welcomed, “accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale.” The English translation has “accepting and valuing their orientation,” which set off a chain reaction of criticism in Catholic blogs and comboxes across the Internet in the English-speaking world, with a multitude of bewildered Catholics wondering how the homosexual orientation, which the Church has always considered fundamentally “disordered,” could be “valued” in any way?

This furor was largely due to a bad translation.  The Italian word valutare means “to appraise, estimate, evaluate, measure the value of,” and by extension, “to consider, take into account.” To say “value” in the sense of “place a positive value on” in Italian you have to say valorizzare or something similar. So the proper translation should be something like “accepting and taking into consideration their sexual orientation.” (I can credit myself with catching this error and publicizing it Tuesday and Wednesday on the blogs, though I’m sure others caught it as well).

But this is nothing compared to the uprising on the Synod floor when the Synod’s general Secretary, Cardinal Baldisseri, announced that the small group (Circuli Minores) reports would not be published.  (From a report by Marco Tosatti of La Stampa, translated by Fr Z here.

[Cardinal] Erdo took the floor, implicitly distancing himself from the report that bore his name [he was Relator for the report], and saying that if that “disceptatio” [debate] had been made public, then the others of the Circulo Minores ought to be made public.

His speech was followed by an avalanche from many others along the same line, underscored by thunderous applause.

The Secretary of the Synod, Card. Balidisseri, was watching the Pope, as if in search of advice and lights, and the Pope remained silent and very serious.

Silent also were the Under-secretaries of the Synod, Fabene, Forte, Schoenborn and Maradiaga.

Kasper wasn’t there.

The upshot: Vatican Press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, has announced that the reports of the Commission would be made public, presumably at the order of the Pope. He also said that “the Pope decided to act” by adding two new members to the writing committee that will synthesize the reports from the Circuli Minores. The original composition of the group had been criticized, because it didn’t contain any African Fathers. The two new appointments are Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa and Abp. Denis J. Hart of Melbourne. Cardinal Napier, perhaps not coincidentally, is among the critics of the controversial Relatio. Both are also native English speakers, which should help with the translation issues.

But, people say, didn’t the Pope stack the deck to begin with, by appointing the drafting committee – which is said by some to lean progressive?  Hasn’t  Cardinal Kasper said the Pope supports his view? I personally don’t find Kasper very credible on this point. What’s more to the point is that the Pope has seen there is a problem and has moved to correct it.

All of this is more than a little reminiscent of Pope John’s interventions at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, when the Council Fathers protested against Curial attempts to manipulate the Council and asked for a new set of schema to replace the Curia-written ones. The Pope acquiesced to their requests. Everything suggests that Pope Francis, like Pope John, is in favor of collegiality, that is, he trusts the decision-making of the majority of the Fathers. The majority does not appear to be in favor of the problematic report.

So the traditionalists should simmer down. They shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that there is a difference in that on one occasion there was a perceived “opening up” in the Church and in the other, a perceived retreat from such an opening. It was impossible to see back in 1962 what the long-term effects would be, and they were good on the balance. It’s impossible to see now. The Holy Spirit sees a lot farther than we do, and the Holy Spirit is in charge. So be of good cheer.

The reports of the Circuli Minores are fascinating. You can read them here. Interestingly, two of the three English-language groups were headed by Americans: Cardinals Raymond Burke (a major critic of both Kasper and the Relatio) and Joseph Kurtz, current president of the USCCB. The other is Cardinal Napier.

A surprisingly coherent and balanced mainstream media report on all this, as well as the reaction of Cardinal Dolan, who joined in the criticism of Cardinal Burke and others, can be found here.

Stay tuned for more drama.

UPDATE: The Vatican has now issued a revised English translation of the controversial Relatio. And it is . . . . really weird. It is in fact, a simple attempt to water down the language, without affecting the actual mistranslation!  The original Italian spoke of “welcoming” (accogliere) homosexuals in parishes. The new one says “providing for.” Not an accurate translation.  The “precious (preziosa) support of homosexual couples for each other is changed to “valuable.” Not quite as bad, but still . . . But the “valuing their orientation,” which actually was incorrect, was not changed at all!  Something is afoot here, it’s hard to say what. The big question: who is doing the translating?

FURTHER UPDATE (10:00 p.m.)  Cardinal Pell of Australia now working at the Vatican, was actually the first to insist on publishing the small group reports. Here’s his take:

No Hiding Place for Ignorance and Bigotry

I have been reading about the controversy over the supposed banning of Corrie Ten Boom’s World War II memoir The Hiding Place by a California charter school. (Many blogs have been covering it, Rod Dreher, for instance, here).

Hiding_place_bookThere is a lot of controversy about what the school was doing in removing the book from the official “Curriculum Warehouse” to a cart of donated books  — both are used to lend books to parents/teachers in the associated home schools. There is controversy over what a “sectarian book is (the school claims The Hiding Place, the story of a Dutch Christian family who hid Jews and other wanted people in their home, can’t be in the Official Curriculum Warehouse as a textbook because it’s “sectarian”).

But the thing that really got me going is this comment on the affair by a blogger for Library Journal with the handle of “Annoyed Librarian” (here) who says:

I was unfamiliar with Corrie ten Boom or her book The Hiding Place, but if the Wikipedia entries are accurate, it does seem like the book is pretty Christian. Supposedly, the entire time she and her sister were in a German concentration camp, they “used a hidden Bible to teach their fellow prisoners about Jesus,” because not enough people had told the Jewish prisoners that they were wrong to be Jewish. . . .

I’ll stop here just long enough to interject that according to the same Wikipedia entry, the Ten Booms were first imprisoned in a Dutch camp for political prisoners of all stripes, then a German concentration camp for women named Ravensbruck. A little more research would have shown that only 15% of Ravensbruck prisoners were Jewish.  Now back to our story.

If you want to teach kids about the Holocaust, using the testimony of a Christian evangelist doesn’t make a lot of sense, so only teachers who wanted to evangelize their students would have used it, and most of them probably don’t teach in California charter schools.

After all, there must be some other book that might help students learn about hiding Jews from Nazis during the war, maybe one whose main audience is broader than that of evangelical Christians, perhaps a book written by an actual Jewish person who was in fact hidden from the Nazis, and maybe she could be roughly the same age as the students who are learning about her, helping the students to identify with her more.

There must be a book like that out there somewhere.

I really can’t determine what is most offensive about this poisonous little little screed. Is it:

1) That an ostensibly educated person has never even heard of Corrie Ten Boom and her memoir? (I confess that I haven’t read it, though I have heard about it for many years; it would be hard not to know something about it).

2) That a librarian does his/her research on Wikipedia? (That isn’t really so bad in this case, since the entry seems to be pretty well-informed. But still. . . ).

3) That a modern educated person would not understand that the Nazi horrors affected more than just Jews, and that Jews were not the only people at the camps, or the only ones to die at the hand of the Nazis? In fact, millions of Poles, Czechs and other Slavs were killed by the Nazis for racial reasons. (But then, this just isn’t written about, at least not in liberal circles. For a certain set of people, Jews are the only ones who died at the hands of the Nazis. Oh, and homosexuals. A few might deign to mention the Romany or gypsies).

4) The idea that only a story told from the viewpoint of an oppressed class is worthwhile? (This is what Annoyed Librarian has apparently been indoctrinated in). The Diary of Anne Frank is broadly hinted at as the only appropriate book to read here. The Ten Booms were apparently too “establishment,” too “white” (both literally and figuratively speaking) to count, in spite of the fact that several of the Ten Boom family died heroically in defense of the oppressed. They are not the “oppressed minority,” so like European Slavs and unlike the dark-skinned minority (gypsies) they aren’t worth writing about, especially since they were Christians.

Oh, now we’re getting to it.

5. The author thinks the Ten Booms aren’t worth reading about, especially by impressionable students, because they’re “evangelical Christians.” (In reality, the Ten Booms belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, but who cares about details?) So nothing they write could be of any interest to anyone but other “evangelical Christians.” (This whole comment betrays both general ignorance of European culture and its Christianity, who the author identifies 100% with modern American evangelicals). If they are heroic defenders of the oppressed, they don’t count, and their witnesses has to be discounted an sneered at, as the author imagines scenes of them browbeating Jews with their evangelism, and I do mean imagines, because once again, this blogger has not read the book.

In fact, the Ten Booms were not the only Christians hated by the Nazis for their Christian faith. Up to one-third of the Catholic clergy in Poland in WWII were housed in the camps at one time or another. There were a number of Catholic saints and martyrs killed by the Nazis, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Titus Brandsma, and St. Edith Stein (who was both Jewish and a Carmelite nun). But you are not going to find these in the common “liberal” accounts of the Holocaust.

Three conclusions:

1) There is no excuse and should be no hiding place for ignorance and bigotry. Happily, this blogger caught hell in the comboxes for it (though he/she refused to back down).

2) I’m glad I let my subscription to Library Journal lapse years ago.

3) I’m going to read The Hiding Place as soon as I can.

Pope John Paul I: Let the Priests Be of Gold!

Pope John Paul I died 36 years ago today.

As bishop of Vittorio of Veneto he once told his people in a sermon:

The other day, at the Synod [either 67 or 69], a cardinal . . . said: “Sacerdotes auri calices ligni!  It matters nothing if the chalices are made of wood, instead of silver.  The important thing is that the priests be made of gold!” The people, when they come to church, and see themselves represented at this altar, want to be represented by priests of gold!  By priests who truly feel that they are, and try to be representatives and vicars of Christ. (Transcribed from a cassette tape put out by the diocese of Vittorio Veneto called Albino Luciani tra noi).


Happy Birthday in heaven, Pope John Paul I, golden priest and Vicar of Christ!

Update, same day: Out of curiosity, I decided to try and find the origin of the saying. It seems to have been first used by St. Boniface, the great medieval missionary. When asked whether it was lawful for a priest to use a wooden chalice, he said: “Formerly golden priests used wooden chalices, now, on the contrary, wooden priests use golden chalices.” The source for this is Walafrid Strabo, who was born about 50 years after St. Boniface’s death in 755, and was educated at Fulda, the monastery Boniface helped found and at which he was buried. This saying evidently comes from local tradition about the saint.