Written by Bishop Bernard Tissier de
Mallerais and originally published in the French magazine, Fideliter. The
English translation was taken from the May 2002 issue of
On June 5, 1960, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, then
Archbishop of Dakar and President of the Episcopal Commission for
French-speaking West Africa, was appointed by Pope John XXIII to the Central
Preparatory Commission for the Council. His Excellency took part in all the
sessions of that commission until June 1962, during which time he was able to
assess the seriousness of such preparation. However, he became quickly aware of
the formidable struggle of influence between the "Romans" (e.g., those
wanting to preserve Tradition) and the Liberals. That struggle intensified and
finally broke out in the open at the very beginning of the Council.
Archbishop Lefebvre was not yet
aware of the intrigues and behind-the-scene dealings that would rig the Council
when he received a letter from Cardinal Tardini dated June 18, 1959. That letter was an inquiry asking
bishops around the world questions and suggestions regarding the various topics
which should be addressed during the coming Council. On May 17, 1959, Pope John
XXIII had announced the establishment of such preparatory commission.
Some episcopal responses deserve to be known. For example,
Bishop Carli, from a small diocese in Italy, wished to have the Council
pronounce a firm condemnation of the theory on evolution, as well as of the
moral relativism already rampant. That bishop’s concerns were added to those of
a Brazilian prelate, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, who asked that the coming
council "denounce with the strongest words the conspiracy against the City of
God." Bishop de Castro Mayer thought and wished that the formation of
clerics should result with priests more aware and more combative against what he
called "the Anti-Christian Conspiracy."
as newly-elected Superior General
of the Holy Ghost Fathers
Cardinal Tardini’s Survey
One of Bishop de Castro Mayer’s
compatriots and confreres, Bishop Geraldo de Proenca Sigaud, was no less determined and pugnacious in
denouncing "the implacable enemy of both the Church and Catholic society...",
i.e. the Revolution, insisting on an "active counter-revolutionary
stance," especially against Communism.
The Archbishop of Dakar
(Senegal), who was about to form a holy alliance with these prelates was at
first preoccupied by the ever-increasing dominance of bishops’ conferences,
which he saw as an obstacle to the true authority of diocesan prelates. In his
response to Cardinal Tardini,
His Excellency did ask for some clarifications pertaining to the laity’s
apostolate. He also expressed his concern for sound doctrine by proposing
remedies to the deviations that had begun to spread in the seminaries, in
particular that doctrine be taught following the Summa of Saint Thomas
and with the help of a manual on the Church’s social doctrine. Two aspects of
Church doctrine were of particular concern to the Archbishop:
The dogma "outside the Church, no salvation," which he insisted
needed to be reinforced especially against errors undermining the missionary
role of the Church.
He also asked for a clear affirmation of the Marian
truth that the most holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God is Mediatrix of all
graces. Such affirmation, said Archbishop Lefebvre, would undoubtedly confirm
the spiritual motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
These proposals by the Archbishop
and the three other bishops mentioned earlier were very touchy and more
conspicuous by their demand on doctrinal affirmation than all other suggestions
and proposals made by the rest of the world’s Catholic bishops.
The question regarding the selection of the Council’s
periti (experts) was addressed at the very first plenary session of the
Central Commission. Archbishop Lefebvre had received in advance, like his
colleagues, the list of the experts chosen by the pope, and was the only one to
voice his opposition to such contradiction between theory and practice.
Said the Archbishop:
As for the quality of the
theologians and experts in Canon Law, they must have a true love for the Church
and they must adhere completely first in their hearts, with their lips and by
their actions to the doctrines of the Roman pontiffs and the documents written
by them. This is of paramount importance, since we have been surprised to find
the names of theologians whose doctrine is at variance with the necessary
qualities demanded in advisors.
At least three of these experts had been
censured by the Church hierarchy. "When I mentioned these names," he
Cardinal Ottaviani did not react.
However, after that meeting, during a coffee break, I was approached by His
Eminence, who took me by the arm and said: "I understand your concern, but
what can we do? The Holy Father, himself, wants things to be this way. He
desires to have experts who have made a name for themselves."
By November, 1961, open
sessions began for examining and discussing the schemas prepared by the
various commissions. The Archbishop agreed, generally speaking, with
most of the sessions by giving his placet.
The Council was about to proclaim the truth against contemporary errors, in
order to eradicate them for good. So thought Archbishop Lefebvre, who later
That would have heralded
a new era for the Church, and struck a decisive blow against
Protestantism. Had we followed that route, the Council would have become
a lighthouse for the world. If only they would have used the pre-Conciliar
schemas, which contained a solemn profession of sound doctrine
concerning modern problems.
Two Kinds of Documents
On January 20, 1962, after Cardinal Ottaviani had
introduced his schema explaining that "the deposit of the Faith must be
safeguarded in all its purity," Archbishop Lefebvre, believing that the
Church could not keep the deposit of the Faith without combating errors, said:
"The Council must tackle the current errors. How are we supposed to defend
the Faith if we don’t have principles?"
Then on January 23, His
Excellency made another statement suggesting that the Council commission should
prepare two sets of documents, the first set to be composed of canons condemning
the errors of the day, and the second set of documents comprising a work that
would constitute "a synthesis
of the whole Catholic Faith, while dispelling in passing the principal errors of
the times such as Teilhardism, naturalism, materialism, etc., but presented in a
Archbishop Lefebvre with 2 priests participating in the Council
As the sessions and debates proceeded, it became apparent
that there was a split among the Cardinals. When a schema was introduced by the
chairman of the sub-commission which had drafted it, a debate ensued led by the
cardinals, especially Lienart, Frings, Alfrink, Dopfner, Konig and Leger
opposing Ruffini, Siri, Larraona and Brown.
"It was very clear to all the
Archbishop Lefebvre explained, "that there was a division within the Church,
a division that was not accidental or superficial, but deep; a division that was
more pronounced between the cardinals than between archbishops or bishops."
On June 19, 1962, on the eve of
the last day of preparatory sessions, two schemas opposing each other were
presented for discussion. The first document, Chapter 9 of the schema on the
Church, prepared by the sub-commission on theology, dealt with "Relations
between the Church and State, and religious tolerance." It comprised 9 pages
of text along with 14 pages of footnotes referring to pontifical Magisterium
going from Pius IX to Pius XII. On the other hand, the second text prepared by
the Secretariat for Christian Unity, chaired by Cardinal Bea, was entitled
"On Religious Liberty." It comprised 15 pages of text and 5 pages of
footnotes, with no references at all to the Church’s perennial Magisterium.
Having received the documents ahead of time, the Archbishop wondered:
The first is Catholic Tradition, but as for the
second, how should we label it? Liberalism, another French Revolution, a
Declaration of the Rights of Man - this is what they are trying to impose on the
Church. Just incredible! Let us wait and see what is going to happen at the
And so it came to pass. Cardinal Ottaviani began his
presentation by attacking the opposite schema. Said His Eminence:
In setting forth the doctrine
of the relations between a Catholic state and other religions, I believe that
the Council must follow the Church’s own doctrine, and not the doctrine that
would please non-Catholics or accede to their demands. That is why I believe
that it is necessary to eliminate discussion of the constitution proposed by
the Secretariat for Christian Unity because it betrays the influence of
contacts with non-Catholics.
After illustrating this influence
by several examples, he presented his schema, dominated by concern for the
preservation and defense of the Catholic Faith, and for safeguarding the
temporal common good based on the unity of all the citizens in the true
Then Cardinal Bea stood up to present his own concept of
religious liberty, valid for every circumstance and for every man, even "in
error about the Faith." Until this moment, the Church had only maintained
the right of her own sons; now was she going to demand the same for those who
follow cults? Indeed, this was the case, as Cardinal Bea soon explained,
underscoring the ecumenical significance of the subject:
Today this question is of very
great interest to non-Catholics, who have repeatedly reproached the Church for
being intolerant in those places where her members are in the majority, and of
clamoring for religious liberty in those places where they are but a minority.
Each and every case where intolerance has been found has been carefully noted
and brought up. This objection harms to the utmost all the efforts expended to
bring non-Catholics to the Church. While developing this schema in fulfillment
of its duty, the Secretariat had this circumstance before its eyes, and wondered
what was the Church’s duty concerning religious liberty and how it should be
In order to justify his assertions in opposition to the
prior universal practice of the Catholic world, Cardinal Bea went so far as to
advance the proposition that "in current conditions, no nation can properly
be said to be Catholic, and none can be considered as alone and separate from
the others," which would suggest a common international regime of religious
liberty. "Besides," he added, "the state as such does not know the
existence and realm of the supernatural order." In fine, the reigning
pontiff wanted an aggiornamento,
"that is, adaptation to the current
conditions of life and not the re-establishment of what had been possible, and
even necessary, under other sociological structures."
Tolerance or Religious Liberty
Cardinal Bea concluded: "Our two reports disagree on
the fundamental questions set forth in numbers 3 and 8. It belongs to this
illustrious assembly to judge." Irritated by the historical relativism which
his opponent had just applied to Church law pertaining to public worship,
Cardinal Ottaviani thought it good to reply by underscoring the opposition:
"Now everyone can see that we do not agree about certain things; indeed, that we
disagree on matters of doctrine."
"They were like that, the two of
Archbishop Lefebvre would relate. "The rest of us, seated, watched two
eminent cardinals clash over such a fundamental thesis."
The voting ensued, and Archbishop
religious liberty, non placet… because it is based on false principles solemnly
condemned by the sovereign pontiffs, for example, by Pius IX, who called this
error "a delirium." On the Church, chapters IX-X, placet. But the
presentation of the basic principles could be done more in relation to
Christ-King as in the encyclical Quas Primas. The goal of this Council is
to preach Christ to all men and to reaffirm that the Catholic Church alone can
authentically preach Christ, Christ the salvation and life of individuals,
families, professional societies, and other civil organizations.
The Reign of Christ the King
The schema on religious liberty does not preach
Christ, therefore it is false. The schema presented by the commission on
theology does introduce a sound and authentic doctrine, but reads more like a
treatise, and it does not stress enough the only reason behind all such
doctrine, which is no less than the social kingship of Christ the King. From the
focus of Christ, source of salvation and of life, all the fundamental truths
could be set forth in a "pastoral" fashion, as they say, and at the same time
the errors of secularism, naturalism, materialism, etc., would be expelled.
That intervention, so unique by
its supernatural elevation, which brought the debate back to the highest
principle, could not help but make a striking impression on the minds of the
commission fathers. For a man filled with the spirit of wisdom had stood up
asserting not the rights of man, but the rights of Christ the King.
The Latin Fathers (Italians, Spanish, Latin-American) were
supportive of the Ottaviani schema, whereas the Fathers from America, England,
Germany, Holland and France sided with Cardinal Bea.
And so the Council, whose goal
was to give the Church a new impetus and to manifest her unity, was irreparably
divided only a few weeks before the grand opening of that Council. Archbishop
That division was on one fundamental theme: the social kingship of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Should our Lord reign over all nations? Cardinal Ottaviani
said definitely yes, whereas Cardinal Bea was saying, No! I wondered,
"If things are this way now, what will come out of this Council?"