The approval of the decree of canonization of Bl. Paul VI was published together with the approval of the decree of canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero, of El Salvador. The Pope will set the date of the canonization during a consistory. It seems the Pope will canonize both of them in Rome, in the very same day, a Sunday in October during the Synod on Young People.
If this double canonization would take place, it is certain that a certain pattern of discussion will emerge, as it has happened so many times during Pope Francis’ pontificate. This pattern will present life issues in parallel with social issues. This is the contrary of what Pope Francis teaches. The Pope always calls for life issues not to be separated from social issues.
However, the Church’s news are read through political lenses, and that is what will likely happen with the double canonization. It is a misleading reading: the Church must be read through the lenses of faith.
Bl. Paul VI is the Pope of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical addressing birth control that still sparks controversy. It is significant that the canonization of Paul VI will take place on the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. And it is also significant that both the miracle that paved the way for the beatification and the miracle recognized for the canonization were miracles about unborn children, both of them at their 5th month of pregnancy. Is it a way of the soon-to-be saint to reiterate the importance of the teachings of Humanae Vitae?
The encyclical still provides food for discussion. Its gestation was long. A commission was established by Pius XII and then confirmed and enlarged by Paul VI. The work of this commission was instrumentalized for political purposes.
Prove of it is the fact that, on the eve of the publication of the encyclical, one of the commission’s final reports was leaked to and published by The Tablet and Le Monde. The report looked favorably at making concessions on the use of the contraceptive pill. This generated expectations that Paul VI did not meet at all, as he reaffirmed the traditional teachings of the Church in his encyclical.
The facts that preceded and followed the publication of the encyclical are among the most controversial in the history of the Church. Bernardo Colombo, one of the experts of the commission, recalled in an article he published in the magazine “Teologia” in 2003 the maneuver to swing the encyclical toward a certain agenda, and emphasized that the report leaked to the media outlets was only one out of 12 reports of the commission of experts.
Still today, Humanae Vitae remains the center of the discussion, as there is a push to change the Church’s teaching on sexuality. There is a study group that is looking back to the encyclical gestation, while the criterion of discernment highlighted in Amoris Laetitia is exploited in order to overturn Humanae Vitae and a series of magazines try to point to divergences in the teachings of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
It is a sort of information war that can be won only with history, the only effective weapon. And history was the tool used by Pawel Galuska in his book “Karol Wojtyla and Humanae Vitae.”
Galuska published the report of the working group set up by Cardinal Wojtyla when he was appointed member of the Commission, together with a letter that the same Cardinal Wojtyla wrote to Paul VI to ask him to issue an instruction in five parts to clarify and reiterate the Humanae Vitae teaching. This is a sign that Paul VI and Karol Wojtyla shared a common position, contradicting the frequent portrayal of John Paul II as a rigid Pope who closed any opening brought by Paul VI.
History is also a good criterion to understand Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1981, whose beatification cause had been stuck for a long time for ideological reasons in the opposite side: he was considered close to Liberation Theology.
Was he, really? Archbishop Romero was shot dead because he never stopped criticizing the military rule, accusing paramilitary forces and death squads for their killings of political opponents and shedding blood throughout the El Salvador. He spoke up strongly, and this generated some misunderstandings with the Roman Curia. He was, though, a conservative prelate close to Opus Dei.
Aside from any decisions on whether it would be opportune to carry forward with the beatification cause, John Paul II undoubtedly considered Archbishop Romero a martyr. Although his martyrdom was not yet recognized at the time, the name of Romero was among the martyrs celebrated during Jubilee 2000. On Nov. 19, 2002, John Paul II told Salvadoran bishops during an ad limina visit: “He is a martyr. Yes, Msgr. Romero is a martyr!”
A martyr, then, but above all a priest, a man who dedicated all of his life to others. He was not a politician, and he did not act as a politician.
Again, history illuminates. His writings show he as a very traditional Catholic. When he comes to Rome to study in the 60s, Romero is not enthused by existentialist and Protestant hermeneutic trends. Instead he remains strong in doctrine. His favorite Pope was Pius XI: he had seen him in Rome when he was very young, and admired his strength in facing the totalitarian regimes.
The historian Roberto Morozzo Della Rocca, Archbishop Romero’s biographer, noted that Romero “in a 1977 letter quoted Pius XI: ‘When politics touches the altar, the Church defends her altar.’ In 1978, he wrote to Cardinal Baggio (then prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, editor note) to explain his behavior against the government, stressing that he had felt the duty to behave ‘like the saint Bishop of Milan, Ambrosius, when he prevented Emperor Teodosius from entering Church, requiring from him a public penance for his responsibility in the unjustified slaughtering of people.”
These words show his spiritual attitude and his connection with the fathers of the Church. “If they kill me, I will be risen in the Salvadorian people” is a popular sentence attributed to Archbishop Romero. But Morozzo Della Rocca describes this sentence as “apocryphal, and utilized to give a messianic-political meaning to his death.”
Paul VI’s Papacy was mystified, so much so that there is a Paul VI’s papacy of the media that was used to set it against that of St. John Paul II. The same happened with Archbishop Oscar Romero, chosen as the champion of a Church poor for the poor by a progressive world that wanted to make his figure political.
The Paul VI of the media and the Romero of the media generate a narrative intended to claim that Pope Francis wanted to bring together the two saints in a single celebration to emphasize that people are as important as doctrine, if not more.
This narrative has probably no reason to be, but in a media campaign that always describes things as pro or anti Francis, pro or anti modernity, pro or anti tradition.
In the end, in order to avoid the risk of over-interpreting Pope Francis, it is more appropriate to think that the two canonization causes are being approved concurrently because their time had come. And it is more logical to think that the canonizations will happen at the same time in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’s Conference. Born out of an intuition of Pius XII, Paul VI promoted the CELAM to the point of presiding over its first general assembly in Medellín in 1968, when the Church in Latin America stated its “preferential option for the poor.”
Beyond any dispute, it is important to go back to history. This is the only way one can discover the Church, in all of his nuances. The rest is just propaganda.