Romano Amerio’s reflection on the failure of Paul VI to use the papal power is utterly instructive:
The external fact is the disunity of the Church, visible in the disunity of the bishops among themselves, and with the Pope. The internal fact producing it is the renunciation that is, the non-functioning, of papal authority itself, from which the renunciation of all other authority derives (Iota Unum, p. 143).
How did Paul VI renounce his authority? By limiting it to merely directive acts. He taught the truth (Humanae vitae), he warned about errors, he lamented abuses. But he did not reprimand, punish, depose, expel, command. In short, he did not govern.
Failure to govern is failure to wield half of the political power one has been given as pope. Under Paul VI the Church shifted, Amerio claims, from a governing mode to a merely directive mode. Such a shift was highly imprudent. One cannot adequately remove error if one merely repudiates the error itself and not the person causing and expounding the error (p. 145). An analogy from family life will work. If a father merely “instructs” his children but does not put forth the effort to govern, it will very easily happen that his instructions will be disobeyed. Soon after that, his very authority will be disrespected:
“The general effect of a renunciation of authority is to bring authority into disrepute and to lead it to be ignored by those who are subject to it, since a subject cannot hold a higher view of authority than authority holds of itself” (p. 147).
This is a most lucid analysis of the defects of Paul VI’s pontificate. Very serious defects indeed.
It could have been worse.
What if Paul VI not only did not govern but also did not clearly teach, clearly warn, clearly lament? What if with words said in passing, he undermined the very Deposit of Faith? What if with words said in passing, he trespassed against the very revealed discipline of the Church in matters of the reception of Sacraments? (Revealed discipline is not an oxymoron.) What if he not only tolerated but encouraged dissenters by appointing them to the highest ranks, on various synods, to various dicasteries? What if he publicly lauded heretics and renegades and rebels? What if he welcomed to the Vatican those who publicly and scandalously derided the teachings of Holy Mother Church, without any clear rebuke of their error? What if his actions led the average Catholic to question whether or not major teachings and doctrines were within the reach of the papal power to change things?
Granted, Paul VI did not renounce, but reaffirmed, dogma (p. 149). Further, John Paul II began to issue some reprimands (p. 146). However, these reprimands were “feeble” (p. 151). Ratzinger, for example, even withdrew his criticism of the errant acts of the French episcopate, effectively capitulating to their lawlessness.
Worse, “The renunciation of authority is [i.e., as become] not merely a prudent bending of a principle in the light of contemporary circumstances: it has instead itself become a principle” (p. 152).
“Charity is held to be synonymous with tolerance, indulgence takes precedence over severity, the common good of the ecclesial community is overlooked in the interests of a misused individual liberty, the sensus logicus and the virtue of fortitude proper to the Church are lost. The reality is that the Church ought to preserve and defend the truth with all the means available to a perfect society.” (p. 153).