It’s Set: Paul VI Will Be Canonized this Year

Pope Francis confirmed at a private meeting with Roman priests on Thursday that Pope Paul VI will be canonized yet this year, Reuter reports.

Francis also joked that he and pope emeritus Benedict are “on the waiting list.”

Pope Paul VI, who served as pope 1963-1978,  is known for leading the Catholic Church through the turbulent and dynamic years of implementation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He oversaw the implementation of the liturgical reforms mandated by the Council, and steadfastly promoted and defended those reforms for their fidelity to the Council’s intentions.

Paul VI issued the controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae, prohibiting artificial contraception, in 1968. It seems to be the case that this document, along with all the Catholic Church’s teachings on family life and sexuality, are to be understood in the light of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia of March 2016. There is a certain difference of opinion across the Catholic Church, however, on the interpretation and pastoral implications of Amoris Laetitia.

For those wishing to learn more about the ministry of Paul VI, there is the massive 1993 biography by Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI: The First Modern Pope.

For an account of Paul VI’s liturgy reform, written by the man who facilitated this work and drew together the world’s experts in devising the reformed liturgical books, there is Annibali Bugnini’s The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975, unfortunately now out of print.

Paul VI’s magisterium on the Church’s understanding of the theology of the liturgy is rich and extensive. The Church’s magisterial and legislative documents on liturgy are pulled together in Documents On The Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts.






  1. “There is a certain difference of opinion across the Catholic Church, however, on the interpretation and pastoral implications of Amoris Laetitia.”

    Fr. Ruff: you win the 2018 Award for Ecclesiastical Understatement!

  2. Would it not be cheaper to declare that all modern popes will automatically be declared saints at their election?

  3. To be a bit less facetious – I believe that the Church is today so divided and respect for the papacy has fallen so low (not least because of the Chilean child abuse scandal that cast grave doubts on Francis’s honesty) that a canonisation will only be seen as a policy statement of one party, bereft of any unifying power.

    1. I think you have this backwards. People, especially Popes, are canonized because they stand out as defenders of one side in a divided Church. They capture the attention of some group of people who revere them for their commitment to a particular worldview.

      The process of canonization mitigates that somewhat, giving the Church a more unifying figure. Pius X was canonized as an Antimodernist crusader by people who wanted others to accept that Antimodernism was equal to Catholicism. Pius IX and J XXIII were linked in the canonization process, with the affirmation of the one by conservatives joined to the affirmation of the other by progressives. Together the factions were able to get both canonized; without cooperation, neither would have been. And the Church got an image of both factions leading the Church at different times, surely an image of unity triumphing over factions.

  4. This is an issue where I think both those on the right and those on the left can find common ground for concern.

    How is it that every pope now is a de facto if not de iure canonized saint? The comment about waiting in line is tasteless and cheapens the notion of canonization.

    Francis will now have canonized three popes in close succession, all of whom were elected within some 20 years of each other.

    I fear such trivialization of canonization in this case bespeaks a papal maximalism that seeks to enshrine the teachings every pope with the aura of saintliness.

  5. I think this is a disturbing trend, and the remark above about canonising all popes automatically being cheaper, while no doubt intended as humorous, is eerily apposite.

    I’m tempted to see this as a continuation into the eschatological horizon of the trend to idolise the Bishops of Rome which seems to have begun with Pius IX (Historians correct me, please!).


  6. The bigger problem as I see it is that under Pope John Paul II canonizations in general skyrocketed. According to statistics he canonized 482 Saints of the Church and beatified 1338. Far more than his predecessors over the centuries combined. Back in the day when I was in grade school we were taught that canonizations were extremely rare Now we have gone crazy. This multitude on news saints has watered down sainthood. This is certainly not to say these people were not truly holy people. There certainly is no reason for every pope to be made a saint but people can find reasons. Pope John Paul I is on the path. Why? For a papacy which sadly lasted only a month.

    1. I wouldn’t mind the number of canonizations if they better reflected the fullness of the body of Christ. I think the race to canonize popes is a disgrace especially given peoples divergent views on recent popes and only befuddles and frustrates the typical Catholic. Priests and Religious are recognized by the church as saints – particularly those with the person-power and resources ($$$) to put into the process. The average Catholic – far less likely. As a young person, I used to be enamored by the saints; any more, I don’t even use the term.

      It’s become a lot of “wind and fury signifying nothing…”

      1. If liturgical translation can be a grassroots-up rather than a Holy See-down dynamic, I don’t know why canonization can’t follow the former rather than the latter.

  7. “Pope Paul VI, who served as pope 1963-1978, is known for leading the Catholic Church through the turbulent and dynamic years of implementation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He oversaw the implementation of the liturgical reforms mandated by the Council, and steadfastly promoted and defended those reforms for their fidelity to the Council’s intentions.”

    From what I understand, Paul VI could have brought the work of the Council to a halt in 1963 when he was elected. His decision to continue it may have been as Spirit-inspired as was John XXIII’s decision to call it.

    Love the quip about “the waiting list.”

  8. It isn’t only popes, is it? Every religious order seems to see it as a requirement that their founder is canonised.
    Would it be good for the health of the church if for a while only lay people were canonised – except for martyrdom?

  9. Is there truth to the story of Pope Paul concealing the extent of the injury received in the attempt on his life in the Philippines, in order to spare his attacker from the death penalty, or is that apochryphal?

    It’s quite the example of heroic virtue suited to our time! And it serves as some reassurance that this is not just another speedy canonization of a VIP.

  10. My prediction:

    The “Centre-Right” — “Paul VI, Pope Who Boldly Defended Church Teaching on Artificial Contraception amidst Enormous Pressure, Declared Saint”

    The “Centre-Left” – “Paul VI, Reforming Pope Who Brought Catholic Church into Modern World, Canonized”

    The “Far Right” — “Saint Paul VI? Hannibal Bugnini’s Elephant, Whose Devastating Liturgical Reform Destroyed the Faith of a Generation, Set to be Declared a Saint”

    The “Far Left” — “The Saint Who Invaded Our Bedrooms: Reactionary Contraception Hardliner Pontiff’s Oppressive Magisterium to Receive Rubber-Stamp of Sainthood”

    1. The trad: ‘I do not think that this will make all this 1970s stuff more popular, so we can just ignore it and keep growing.’

  11. Being canonized is not like being elected to the Hall of Fame, right? Shouldn’t we hope that all of us achieve sainthood? If a pope’s life, work and example is worthy, I’d say, canonize him.

    In my view, Paul VI’s practical influence, both as implementer of Vatican II (including the reformed liturgy!) and as author of readable and approachable pastoral writings, exceeds that of every other pope of our lifetime.

    1. +1

      In terms of “practical influence,” Paul VI was able to get a lot done despite opposition from the curia. I don’t remember any dicastery heads waiting more than a year to do what he asked, as Cardinal Sarah did with the Holy Thursday regulations. Or cardinals demanding immediate responses to dubia like Burke et alia.
      Maybe it is just my memory lol. But my impression is that Paul VI made the trains run on time in the Vatican.

  12. I think we are aware that many individuals—mostly members of religious orders—are acknowledged as saintly because the communities to which they belonged cultivated a devotion to them. Mass communications over the last 70–80 years have made it possible for people worldwide to know of the holiness of the bishops of Rome. During their tenure they are prayed for daily by name. Their funerals are very public events during which much “ink” is dedicated to spelling out their great faithfulness. Even Pius XII would have been a saint by now were it not for a playright besmirching him as a Nazi collaborator. Those flames were spread by media outlets seeking to be politically correct. My money is on both JP I and Benedict being canonized over the next 25 years or so. We do, after all, address them as “your holiness”. I think it’s a good thing and look forward to the canonization of Paul VI.

  13. Amongst the digits that should be included in the total number of votes in favor of Pope Paul’s canonization is his concern for Latin. People excoriate him for his liturgical reforms but never praise him for how he enabled the improvement of the Latinity of Divine Service and augmented the amount of Latin available to the heart of western Christianity. The best Latin hymns and lections that once lay covered with dust in the storage rooms of libraries are again available to interested readers through the various volumes issued with this pope’s consent, nay, urging. The sacramental services and the book of blessings are just that. The ordination services could use a revision in a more Roman direction, but that’s just my opinion.

    It is such a pity such excellent resources are so little appreciated by the official church, but that is hardly Pope Paul’s fault.

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