THE DRIFT BEGINS WITH THE COUNCIL
It was exactly the same thing for the Council. "I have the intention to hold a Council." Already Pope Pius XII had been asked by certain Cardinals to hold a Council. But he had refused, believing that it was impossible. We cannot in our time hold a Council with 2,500 bishops. The pressures that can exercised by the mass media are too dangerous for us to dare hold a Council. We are liable to get out of depth. And there was in fact no Council.
But Pope John XXIII said: "But it’s fine: we don't need to be pessimistic. You have to look on things with confidence. We will come together for three months with all the Bishops of the entire world. We will begin on October 13. Then everything will be over with between December 8 and January 25. Everybody will go home, and the Council will be over and done with."
And so the Pope held the Council! Nevertheless it did have to be prepared. A Council cannot be held off the bat just like a Synod. It was indeed prepared two years in advance. I was personally named as a member of the Central Preparatory Commission as Archbishop of Dakar and president of the West African Episcopal Conference. I therefore came to Rome at least ten times during the two years so as to participate in the meetings of the Central Preparatory Commission.
It was very important, for all the documents of the secondary commissions had to come through it so as to be studied and submitted to the Council. There were in this commission seventy Cardinals and around twenty Archbishops and Bishops, as well as the experts. These experts were not members of the Commission, but were only present so they could eventually be consulted by the members.
During these two years the meetings followed one another and it became clearly apparent for all the members present that there was a profound division within the Church itself. This profound division was not accidental or superficial but was even deeper amongst the Cardinals than amongst the Archbishops and Bishops. On the occasion of the casting of votes the conservative Cardinals could be seen to vote in one way and the progressive Cardinals in another. And all the votes were always more or less the same way. There was obviously a real division amongst the Cardinals.
I describe the following incident in one of my books A Bishop Speaks. I often mention it because it truly characterizes the end of the Central Commission and the beginning of the Council. It was during the last meeting, and we had received beforehand ten documents on the same subject. Cardinal Bea had prepared a text “De Libertate Religiosa,” “Concerning Religious Liberty.” Cardinal Ottaviani had prepared another, “De Tolerantia Religiosa,” “Concerning Religious Tolerance.”
THE APPEARANCE OF DIVISION
The simple fact the two different titles on the same subject was significant of two different conceptions. Cardinal Bea spoke of freedom for all religions and Cardinal Ottaviani of freedom for the Catholic religion along with tolerance of error and false religions. How could such a disagreement have been resolved by the Commission?
From the beginning Cardinal Ottaviani pointed the finger at Cardinal Bea and said, “Your Eminence, you do not have the right to present this document."
Cardinal Bea replied, “Excuse me but I have perfectly the right to put together a document as President of the Commission for Unity. Consequently, I have knowingly put together this document. Moreover, I am totally opposed to your opinion."
Thus two of the most eminent Cardinals, Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office, and Cardinal Bea, former Confessor of Pope Pius XII, a Jesuit having a great deal of influence on all the Cardinals, who was well known in the Biblical Institute and responsible for advanced biblical studies, were opposed on a fundamental thesis in the Church. Unity for all religions is one thing, that is to say that liberty and error are placed on the same footing; but liberty of the Catholic religion along with tolerance of error is something quite different. Traditionally the Church has always been for the opinion of Cardinal Ottaviani and not for that of Cardinal Bea, which is totally liberal.
Then Cardinal Ruffini, from Palermo, stood up and said; “We are now in the presence of two confreres who are opposed to one another on a question which is very important in the Church. We are consequently obliged to refer to a higher authority."
Quite often the Pope came to preside over our meetings. But he was not there for this last meeting. Consequently the Cardinals requested to vote: "We cannot wait to go and see the Holy Father. We are going to vote." We voted. Just about one half of the Cardinals voted for the opinion of Cardinal Bea and the other half for that of Cardinal Ottaviani. All those who voted for Cardinal Bea's opinion were the Dutch, German, French and Austrian Cardinals, and all those in general from Europe and North America. The traditional Cardinals were those of the Roman Curia, from South America and in general those of Spanish Language.
It was a true rupture in the Church. From this moment I asked myself how the Council could proceed with such opposition on such important points. Who would win? Would it be Cardinal Ottaviani with the Cardinals of Spanish or romance languages or would it be the European Cardinals and those of North America?