The canonization of Pope Paul VI raises the question of how the Papacy is viewed. The elevation to the Altars of the Church of Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II, seems a surprising legacy of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope’s triple crown has been locked up in a museum; his Noble Guard has been disbanded; the harmless fun of ostrich-feather fans at Papal Masses has ceased; and the Gestatoria has been retired. But something has come in instead: a process of canonization which increasingly seems to be the norm and not the exception for a deceased Pontiff.
Many theological conservatives hoped that the canonization of Pope John Paul II would canonize, so to speak, his writings as Pope. It would surely be harder, they said, to ignore his fearless condemnation of abortion, contraception, and divorce, once his heroic sanctity was officially recognized. However, this has not come to pass. Pope Francis, who canonized him, seems to have made the keynote of his pontificate the minimization of John Paul II’s teaching in Familaris Consortio(1981) 84 that divorced Catholics in illicit second unions must not receive Holy Communion. It would be foolish to expect the canonization of Pope Paul VI to offer any extra protection or prestige for his condemnation of contraception in Humanae Vitae (1968), or indeed to the doctrinal orthodoxy defended with such vehemence in his Credo of the People of God (1968) and Mysterium Fidei (1965). The teaching of the Church, which Pope Paul reasserted in Evangelium Nuntiandi(1974) 5, that the preaching of the Gospel to unbelievers is of vital importance for their salvation, has long been unsayable.