I write in reference to the letter of January 19 from the Poor Clares of Baddesley Clinton about criticism of Pope Paul, and to the comment by S. J. Power (February 9). I, too, have often been most grieved by derogatory remarks sometimes made about Pope Paul in the media, because these do contribute towards a general undermining of loyalty to the papacy. Many British Press reports about Paul VI were untrue, or distorted the truth — and I write as one who lived many years in Rome and also worked in the Vatican during his papacy. Since returning to England I always followed closely his teaching by reading exactly what he said in its full context from official sources available to all, but very often there were articles in the British Catholic Press making very unfair comments, taking his teaching out of its context, or even reporting him untruthfully.
For instance, Mr Power has got the impression (one presumes from the British media) that Paul VI "never made clear the meaning and status of the Vatican H documents in the light of tradition when the cowboy theologians enjoyed a field day."
The reverse is true! He so often warned the "cowboy theologians" to toe the line, and his energies were literally spent in "making clear the meaning and status of Vatican 11". Is it his fault that so few Catholics in England would care to listen?
It seems that poor Pope Paul's main "crime" was really not to have the immediate attractive media personality of Pope John and the Popes John Paul — in spite of the fact that he too smiled very often and could not resist children! So he was criticised for being both "conservative" and "progressive", "too firm" and "too hesitant", "too Left" and "too Right", "too political" and "too spiritual", according to whoever was the critic! Yet there are many who believe he will go down in history as one of the greatest Popes of all time. Both Popes John Paul have praised him highly and looked on him as a most loving spiritual father. He was indeed a holy and humble man.
However, as Mr Power says, a Pope can make pastoral errors, though only history can really put these into correct perspective. But even if a Catholic thinks his Pope is making an error of judgment at any time, it is not for him to disobey and to be disloyal. A Pope has a global view of the Church which the ordinary layman, priest or bishop does not have.
He also has the grace.of his Office as Peter. He is Peter, at the helm of the Barque, with God as his compass, and if in troubled waters he should sometimes err in the angle of a port or starboard tack, it does not help at all if crew and passengers all rush to grab the tiller. If they stay in their places, this helmsman will soon be led to correct the mistaken angle.
Any other precipitate action on the part of crew and passengers will endanger the Barque and cause it to be dashed on to rocks or to run aground, this endangering their own lives too. Collegiality does not change this vital principle. (Lumen Gentium Ch Ill, 22, and Christus Dominus, Ch. I.) Catholics owe allegiance to Peter, not only in his infallible statements, but in lovingly following his pastoral guidance. (Lumen Gentium, Ch III, 25, para. 2.) Mr Power also mentions St Catherine of Siena, whose writings in the original I know well. Would that We all had her holiness and loyalty to the Holy See! She exhorted all to greater personal virtue, including Popes, in personal letters.
Hers was never public and sterile criticism, made in a person's absence. Her vocation was a very extraordinary and rare one — not one to be imitated in its external apostolate by the majority of Catholics — though many could do worse than to learn from her doctrine.
Her loyalty to Peter and her belief in the Apostolic Succession was such that she literally exhausted herself for the Church and in exhorting the Pope to return to the "See of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul" (she never says "Rome", and her motive was neither political nor to make personal Criticism).
Their seems to be fairly widespread idea in Britain today that one can be a "loyal" Catholic without loyalty to Peter. Yet without Peter there is no Catholic Church, and no one has continually emphasised the importance of Peter more than our present Holy Father, John Paul H. No doubt he will make some pastoral errors too, but he needs our prayers — not our criticism.
(Miss) Wendy Field Hayiing island, Hampshire.