I had just finished reading Michael Serafian’s book, The Pilgrim, Pope Paul VI: The Council and the Church in a Time of Decision, before arriving in Rome to attend the third session of the Vatican Council. The jacket of the book tells us that Serafian (a pseudonym) was a career church diplomat and enjoyed contact over a long period with many important religious and political figures. Serafian’s identity was soon known in Rome, but his person is not important. What is crucial is whether his analysis of Paul’s “pilgrimage” is accurate or not.

Serafian describes Paul as a pilgrim of the spirit who began his pontificate with the honest conviction that he would lead the church along the trail blazed by John XXIII but who gradually let himself be dominated by the conservative curial forces. Finally, in an intense and lonely crisis, he came to his independent decision that the period of John and the Johannine spirit had reached its end.

Serafian reports that some time between the eighth and twenty-third of November, 1963, Pope Paul decided that Cardinal Bea and his ecumenical outreach had gone too far and that the progressive movement within Catholicism carried with it so many dangers to the church that he, Paul, could no longer bear responsibility for them. In that critical month of November, Paul experienced a new mystical vision that led him to call the church back to its own house, to Romanism in the traditional form. Serafian concedes that Paul did not lose his world vision but insists that since that November the reorientation of the Roman church has been definite.

With this, the author suggests, the Vatican Council has really lost its hoped-for significance. The renewal of the church and the broadened ecumenical contacts would ...

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