POPE PAUL VI AND TODAY'S PROBLEMS
Arthur McCormack, M.H.F.*
MONCi the magnificent
presents which the people of Milan sent to their beloved Archbishop on his elevation to the Papal Throne was one which they knew he would he thrilled to get: the gift of 70 million lire (about £40,000) for the Freedom from Hunger Campaign.
In his first Address as Pope in the Sistine Chapel on the Sunday after his election, Pope Paul put high in the list of priorities the international social problem when he said:
The unequivocal order of love of neighbour, which is the acid test or love of God, demands of all men a fairer solution of social problems. It requires far-seeing action and care for the under-developed countries, where the standard of living is often unworthy of the human beings. It calls for a voluntary study on a universal scale for the betterment of living conditions. Ten years previously as a close coflaborater of Ping XI I, whose concert, for the poorer countries was evidenced from the very first encyclical of his reien. Archbishop Montini, as he then was, wrote a letter to Cardinal Sin i for the 26th Italian Catholic Social Week at Palermo, which was studying the problems of overpopulation and under-tieyeloptnent• This letter was a summary of the main aspects of the subject about which Pius XII had written and spoken unceasingly.
It has been said of Pope Paul that he has the intelligence of Pitts X11 with the social conscience of John XXIII. This does less than justice tu Pius XII, for it was he who laid the foundations in social questions on which Pope John built, as many citations "from our predecessor" in Mater ci Magisira and elsewhere testify. Those who are looking for a clue to the policy of the new Pope with regard to modern problems, especially this central problem of our times, would do well to study this letter, written for Pius XII. but confirmed by Paul VI in his own name at the opening of his Pontificate. Although the population explosion and world poverty have become "news" only in the last five years or so, the letter to Cardinal Sin i came at an opportune moment. Experts had already been considering the problems of increasing population. mainly in the AngloSaxon world, mainly pessimistically and generally with an emphasis on the need for a world-wide campaign of birth control as an alternative to starvation or catastrophe. By implication the Church's attitude of opposition to contraception was condemned. Not only by implication. In 1954. the American William Vogt, had said: The unwanted child may become as unusual as a case of cholera. yaws and malaria. The only effective obstacle is religion, and the people of the world are not likely to tolerate intimidation by a minority sect.
Archbishop Montini's clear statement of the Church's position infused a balance and sanity into the consideration of a rapidly expanding world population of which so many millions were already in want.
He began by stressing the urgency of the "vexed question of population with especial regard to the relations between population increase and economic development" and "the need to determine the causes which upset the equili!triune between these two things and to indicate possible remedies", for. he said "There is, in truth, nothing more important to society than these delicate problems."
These problems are not, as so many people were maintaining, and still do, purely economic ones. They have for Catholics especially a moral and religious character, as they are so closely related to family welfare.
The letter insisted on the vonnection between such problems and world peace which the Archbishop defined, with St. Augustine, as "the tranquillity or order", by virtue of which each State can carry out its social mission and make its contribution to the welfare of the international community. The threat of nuclear power to world peace is nowadays much more immediate and obvious. but these words of our present Pope, written in 1953, have a heightened validity today. The existence of glaring inequalities in standards of living in the world is as much a threat to world peace as nuclear weapons and the cold war. Even if a Test Ban Treaty or even genuine nuclear disarmament were achieved, this explosive situation would remain and will remain until the abundant resources of
the world are used to help everyone in it to a standard of life in keeping with their human dignity.
Archbishop Montini then referred to the apprehension caused by the acute disproportion between population increase and food supplies and how this had led to a revival of neo-Malthusian propaganda, attacking the "eery source of life".
In words which anticipate those of John XXIII in Mater et MakiIra, Mgr, Montini said that no solution of the problems can ever be considered just and true, unless it takes due account of the sacred and inviolable value of human life, and unless it refrains from disregarding in any way the laws which regulate its proper transmission . ..it embraces both the procreation and education of offspring.
But the most striking passage in the letter is where he repeats the teaching of Pius XII in Serial?' Loch*liar, the encyclical issued on November 1st, 1939, "that those goods created by God for all men should be equitably shared in by all. according to the principles of justice and charity". He linked this to the 1941 Pentecostal Radio Address of the Pope which took this principle a step further and said that "every man as a. living being gifted with reason has a right to make use of the material goods of the earth".
He further declared that this is not a right which can in any way be suppressed even by other clear rights, because this right is first and fundamental. Even the right to private property and the right of a State to its land, although these derive from the natural law and are basic rights, arc not so fundamental as this right of human beings to the goods of the earth, and must give way to it when necessary.
This principle is one of the most important enunciated by any Pope in the 20th century. Formerly the vexed question of land reform, so necessary for example in South America, had seemed to be held up by the Church's doctrine of private property. This principle gave a clear lead and formed the moral basis for such redistribution of land which since Mater et Magisira. the South American bishops have been putting into practice with regard to Church lands and exhorting big landowners to follow suit. The next passage is so full of wisdom and so topical Ihal would like to quote it in full : It follows that a really adequate study of the relations between population density and the means of subsistence must tend to take place on a worldwide scale, while the problem to which they give rise cannot he solved except on the same scale. through the industrious solidarity of all peoples, so that those artificial barriers which divide them being removed, there may arise a more orderly circulation of peoples, of capital and of material goods. With this subordination of particular economic welfare to the common good of the society of nations, frontiers will no longer be valleys that divide but bridges which unite and material good will be free to fulfil their natural function of satisfying everyone's needs. This is an impressionistic sketch and does not do justice to the thought of Archbishop Montini or to that of Pius XII with whom he was so closely associated in studying modern problems, hut it does show where Pope Paul's interests lie.
It is surely significant that Cardinal Suenens should have been invited in an unprecedented gesture to appear on the balcony and be introduced by the Pope to the crowds on the Sunday after the election. He is the Cardinal entrusted with the section of the CoOrdinating Commission on modern social problems. His speech at the Council on December 4th was a decisive one, stressing the really important questions that the Fathers should he considering, namely world population, under development, family problems, etc, (The Pope is reported to have said after his speech which he listened to on his closed circuit television "At last the Fathers are beginning to understand what this Council is for,") Cardinal Suenens' famous hook, The Grupe! to Every Creature, has an Introduction written by the then Cardinal Montini. The progressive and pastoral ideas of the great Archbishop of MalinesBrussels. will surely find every encouragement from Paul VI, especially when they are concerned with international social justice.
*Fr. McCormack is author of The Population Explosion and World l-luiiger recontfy published in the Faith and Fact series of &urns Oates.