THE PAPACY is no stranger to earthly vicissitudes. Popes have beenhoundedfrom their sees by emperorsand kings. Their palaces have been burned,their lands occupied by foreign troops. They have been elected by corrupt processes and turnedinto the puppets of powerful families and monarchs.
Occasionally they havedisgraced their office, or 'made greaterrorsof state for which they havepaid heavily. But somehow the in-stitutionhas endured, even prospered.Under Pius XII, whose long pontifi-cate spanned and survived the great-est war in history, die papacy achieveda degree of centralisation and exer-ciseda weight of unchallenged author-ity unique in its long experience.Even Stalin, who sneered at the Popeforhis lack of divisions, might haveenvied the ease with which Piusexacted unquestioning and voluntaryobedience from the hundreds of mil-lionsof the faithful. His successor,John XXIII, inheriting this great cen-tralised machine, was able to strike anote of warmth and universal charitywhichmade the pope a loved andrespectedfigure even among thosewhoowed him no allegiance. Formany who had different faiths, or nofaith at all, John seemed to standfor decency and rectitude in a worlddominatedby base materialism. Whatatragedy, then, that in a few shortyears, his successor, Pope Paul VI,should have squandered the spiritualcapital handed down to him, shouldhave forfeited the regard, not justofthe outside world but of many incommunion with Rome, and shouldnow preside over a Church bitterly- perhaps irreconcilably - dividedamongitself?
A Sea of Troubles
Today,Pope Paul faces a sea oftroubles,not all of them, by anymeans of his own making. The pas-sage of the Italian divorce law marksthe first major triumph of modernsecularist forces within the statelinked so intimately with the Vaticanitself. The Pope's lawyers believe thatthis breaks the letter of the LateranTreaty; certainly it undermines itsspirit,for it is doubtful in the longrun, whether the treaty can surviveif the clerical parliamentary forcesno longer control the Italian legisla-ture. Recently, too, the Pope has beenobligedto order a drastic reorganisa-tion of Vatican finances, liquidatingits holdings in Italian companies andtransferringthe proceeds elsewhere,so that the wealth of the Church willno longer be under challenge fromItalianpublic opinion. Last Autumn, the Pope met the most influential ofhis cardinals and bishops in solemnsynod,to exact from them a demon-stration of loyalty and obedience heknew to be lacking: he played a per-sonal and persistent part in its pro-ceedings,placing his full authorityand prestige on the scales. But theresult was inconclusive, and the epi-sode, far from rehabilitating themagisteriumof the See, served merelyto underline its decline.
The truth isthat, since Pope Paul chose to defythe progressive forces within theChurch on the issue of birth-control,in a manner which even many of hissupporters felt to be tactless, im-prudent and dictatorial, he has lostthe instinctive allegiance of theChurch. Far from, as he hoped, re-establishing his authority, the birth-control decision has exposed the truevulnerability of the disciplinary pyra-mid, of which the Pope is the apex.The Pope pronounced; but his wordswent unheeded. That a papal decisionof such importance, given after suchlong preparation and thought, andwith such unqualified confidence,shouldbe challenged at all, was re-markable. But that the pope himselfshouldbe criticised, even reviled, bygreat masses of his followers; that hisjudgmentshould be repudiated bymost of the educated laity: thatthousands of priests, and even princesofthe Church, should accept it, if atall, with reluctance, and with provisoswhichmake it meaningless; and that,in consequence, the Church whichhadpreserved its unity and disciplinethrough two millenia should now beriven by dissent and violent contro-versy-all this would have been in-conceivable when Pope Paul tookoffice. He himself is unfortunate inthat he lives in an age in whichauthorityin any shape is being tested;nevertheless,much of the responsi-bility for the present situation is un-questionably his, and his alone. Hemust ask himself, this lonely andembattled figure: 'What went wrong?50Why has the magic of the papacyso suddenly failed?
'Born to be Pope
The irony is that no pope has beenso assiduously prepared and trained,by himself and by his superiors, forthe supreme office. If ever a man wasborn to be pope it was GiovanniBattista Montini. The village of hisbirth, Concesio in the foothills of theItalian alps, is a nest of clericalism,which has given four bishops to theChurch. The nearest town, Brescia,is one of the most Catholic in allItaly, and Montini's father was itschief Catholic layman. A well-to-dominor aristocrat, married to a ladyfromthe same background, GiorgioMontini had the means and the leis-ure to devote his life to the propa-gationof liberal Catholic principles.For 30 years he was publisher-editorof the Catholic dailyIl Cittadino.Hehelped to form the Catholic PopularParty in 1919, and was deputy forBresciauntil 1926. His wife, GiudittaAlghisa, was also noted for her pietyand her leadership of the Catholicwomen'sorganisations in the area.The rooms of their large, austerehouse were hung with religious pic-tures, the library filled with worksof devotion and theology.
Such Italian families train theirsons in a way similar to the Britisharistocracy in its hey-day. The eldestadministers the property and entersparliament, the second joins theChurch, the third the professions.Montini's elder brother became asenator, his younger a doctor; hehimself was marked out for theChurch, both because of his positionin the family and his evident tastefor religious matters, which developedat an early age. He was his mother'sfavourite and his links with her wereunusually intimate. His health wasjudged to be poor (an assumptionwhichhas followed him throughouthis life, though it is belied by hisenergyand prodigious capacity forwork);so his childhood and youthwere marked by special privileges. Helivedat home while attending thegreat Jesuit school in the city. Whenhisdecision to become a priest wasmade, the local bishop, naturally anold friend of the family, took theextraordinary step, in defiance of theCouncil of Trent, of allowing Montinito remain at home while studying forthe priesthood. He thus missed boththe rigour and comradeship of seminary life.
A Personal Library, and Strings Besides
The privileged career movedsmoothlyonward. The bishop, un-willing to subject him to the drud-geryof parish work, sent him to theLombard College in Rome, wherehe took courses at both the JesuitGregorian University and the Romefaculty of letters. (It should be saidhere that he is an exceptionally well-educated man, with a wide range ofinterests: his personal library, towhich he is passionately attached, islarge and comprehensive.) But beforecompleting his courses, he wasbrought to the attention of the Vati-can Under-Secretary of State, whoplaced him in the Pontifical Academyof Noble Ecclesiastics, the trainingcentrefor the Vatican's diplomaticservice, then exclusively Italian.Again, before he had completed eventhis course, strings were pulled, hewas summoned to the Secretary ofState and appointedaddetto,orSecond Secretary, to the Nunciatureof Warsaw. After a few months hewasbrought back to the Vatican andin 1925 promoted tominutanteorsummariser of incoming dispatchesin the Secretariat of State. There heworked for 30 years, steadily climb-ingthe official ladder. At one stagehe was assigned to organise theCatholic student militants, but whenthey came into frontal conflict withthe fascist youth, Montini was quicklysnatched back to the Vatican; he wasalready regarded as too valuable tobe allowed to fall foul of Mussolini.
Montini was promoted by thehighly conservative Pius XI, but itwas only after 1939, when the Romandiplomat Eugenio Pacelli ascendedthe throne as Pius XII, that hebecame a real power-figure. Hisrelationship with Pius XII was ex-tremely close, or rather as close asthis austere, demanding, imperiousand short-tempered pope was capableof making it. But it had a love-hateelement. Pius may well have regardedMontini as his natural successor, butif so he set about ensuring it in anodd way. Not only was he his ownSecretaryof State, but he 'double-banked' Montini with a second pro-secretary,the self-effacing Tardini.What is more, he gave neither ofthem a red hat. It is true that on oneoccasionhe announced that he hadoffered to make them cardinals, andtheyhad refused in the spirit ofhumility. But it is inconceivable thattherefusal would have been acceptedhad Pius really wanted them in theSacred College; and difficult to be-lieve, in Montini's case, that it wasever really made, for he has neverbeen diffident about accepting re-sponsibility and position. Finally, in1954, Pius awarded Montini thegreatestbenefice in his gift, the Arch-bishopric of Milan, the historic seeofSaint Ambrose and the largest andrichest in Italy. But again, oddly he'forgot' to accompany it with a car-dinal's hat: this not only offended theMilanesi,and was no doubt resentedbyMontini himself, but it had drama-ticconsequences. When Pius died,Montini could not take part in the conclave to elect his successor, andwas not therefore in practice eligiblefor election. Had he succeeded Pius,he would not have held a Council,and the whole history of the modernChurch would have been different. Asit was, a much older man, Roncalli,the Patriarch of Venice, was electedas John XXIII, to act as a stop-gapand keep the seat warm for Montini.Butif Montini felt Pius had treatedhim badly he did not show it; onthe contrary, he has always hotly de-fended his old master's reputation-particularly over the extermination ofthe Jews. In a letter to theTabletabout Hochhuth's play, he said thatfor Pius to attack Hitler publiclywouldhave been an act of 'politicalexhibitionism' which would have un-leashed 'still greater calamities'. Bythis he meant a Nazi occupation oftheVatican, and the arrest of thePope-small coin, one might think,balanced against the lives of six mil-lion. It is clear that Montini himselfwasheavily involved in the policy ofcompromise with Hitler. One of hiswartime tasks, at uneasy Vatican re-ceptions, was to sit between theBritish and Nazi envoys.