In my latest contribution for Crisis Magazine, I write about the connection between Paul VI, Pope Francis, and the divided legacy of the “first modern pope.” Here’s a snippet:
By now, everyone understands (or should understand) that Pope Francis thinks of himself as implementing the agenda of Vatican II. The unstated but occasionally explicit theme of his speeches, letters, and remarks is that his predecessors failed to do so. And his actions, from Amoris Laetitia to Traditionis Custodes, have all aimed to move Catholic teaching past where it was in the 1960s.
He consistently criticizes those who “oppose the council” for being nostalgic for the pre-Vatican II Church and for what he calls “backwardism.” Like many who appealed to the “Spirit of the Council” to justify radical departures from Church teaching, Francis seems to divide Church history into two periods: that before the Council, and what comes after.
Though Catholics who grew up under the pontificate of John Paul II might find this rhetoric unsettling, it did not originate with Pope Francis. As some have noted, Francis’ remarks about the novelty of the council and its irrevocable changes are almost identical to another of his predecessors, St. Paul VI. Francis seems to think he has taken up the mantle of what one writer has called “the first modern pope,” where he thinks his successors have turned away from it. Understanding Paul VI can help us make sense of what otherwise seems inexplicable in the reign of Francis.
Please read the whole thing.