VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has signed a decree confirming that a miracle attributed to Pope Paul VI is authentic and that the former Pontiff will be beatified at the Vatican on Oct. 19.
In a statement, the Vatican said that in the afternoon of May 9, the Pope received in private audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and “authorised the Congregation to promulgate” a decree regarding “the miracle attribute to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God, Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini).”
It added that at the same audience, the Holy Father “authorized the Congregation to communicate that the rite of beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI will take place at the Vatican October 19, 2014.”
Speaking to the Register May 9, the postulator of Paul VI’s cause for beatification, Redemptorist Father Antonio Marrazzo, said cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had verified all requirements concerning the miracle “with great unanimity,” and “now we’re in the last room, waiting for the voice of the Holy Father to promulgate a decree on the miracle.”
According to Vatican Insider, the cardinals and bishops came to a decision on May 6.
The attributed miracle involves an unborn child in the 1990s in California who was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. The child’s bladder was damaged and doctors reported ascites (the presence of liquid in the abdomen) and anhydramnios (absence of fluid in the amniotic sac). Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted her pregnancy to the intercession of Pope Paul VI, who succeeded St. John XXIII on June 21, 1963 and served till his death Aug. 6, 1978.
Abortion was offered as an option but the mother reportedly refused, instead taking advice from a nun who was a friend of the family and had met Paul VI. She then prayed for Paul VI’s intercession using a fragment of the Pope’s vestments that the nun had given her.
Ten weeks later, the results of the medical tests showed a substantial improvement in the child’s health, and he was born by Caesarean section in the 39th week of pregnancy. He is now a healthy adolescent and considered to be completely healed.
Not only has a Vatican medical commission ruled that the healing is medically inexplicable, but the consulting theologians for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have also agreed that the healing was a “supernatural intervention,” according to Father Marrazzo.
The Italian postulator said it is not possible to give more details about the case in order to “respect the privacy” of the family and the boy concerned.
“It’s logical to leave the boy in peace,” he said. “I don’t think it’s important at this stage to know who received the miracle, but rather know what the miracle consisted of.”
Some had speculated that the beatification could take place on Oct. 19, soon after the end of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. The date is fitting: Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965 and in August, the Church will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Paul VI’s first major encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (On the Church).
Born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 into a middle class family near Brescia, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, the future pope was ordained a priest at the age of 22. He trained as a papal diplomat and later worked at the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he remained in posts of increasing importance for more than 30 years. He served as archbishop of Milan before his election as pope.
As head of the Church, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been convoked by Pope St. John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969 and published the encyclical Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth) in 1968, which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception and reaffirmed the merits of priestly celibacy.
His pontificate suffered through the problems and uncertainties of a Church facing a new role in the contemporary, increasingly secular world. His supporters praised him for his careful assessment of each concrete situation, and his sharp awareness of the many varied complications that he believed could not be ignored. But critics say he was too timid, indecisive and uncertain and argue that he let aspects of the Council be at times wilfully misinterpreted and abused, especially when it came to liturgical reform.
But whatever his legacy in terms of governance, these are not relevant to the cause, according to Father Marrazzo.
“The criteria used for analysing the life of a person, a candidate for sainthood, does not include controversial points concerning governance,” he explained. “Otherwise no one would become a saint as some would see these as positive, and others as negative.”
He noted the importance of the decisions Paul VI took but said they were made in “good conscience” and that “one cannot say: He should have done this or that. With respect, that is secondary and we leave it to history, what has been done has been done and historians can decide if what he did was opportune or not. As far as we’re concerned, he acted in good conscience and that’s what is of interest.”
The postulator added: “We have only a few things to verify: That this man acted with goodwill, his comportment and actions were carried out in close communion with God, and in conformity with God’s will.”
Recalling his heroic virtues, Father Marrazzo said the pre-eminent one was “charity” followed by “prudence in discernment.” Giovanni Battista Montini lived a life of “heroic Christian virtue in conformity with the Gospel,” he said.
The cause for the canonization of Paul VI was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtue of Paul VI, giving him the title “Venerable.”
To be canonized, the Vatican would need to receive details of another miracle attributed to Paul VI’s intercession, occurring after the date of his beatification. However, the Pope is free to waive this necessity if he wishes, as happened with Pope St. John XXIII who was canonized last month.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.