1st and 2nd General Congregations: Short Meeting Opens Council

1st and 2nd General Congregations

October 13 and 16, 1962

The first general meeting of the ecumenical council lasted less than an hour and then adjourned to give the council Fathers time to study the qualifications of candidates for 160 important council offices.

According to council regulation, the Fathers must elect 16 of their number to each of the 10 commissions which will draw up the final decrees and constitutions which will be passed by the council. Pope John XXIII names the other eight members of each commission.

Preliminary council plans called for the beginning of voting for the officers at the first general meeting.

Before business began, however, Achille Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France, asked to speak. He presented a motion asking for a delay in the voting. He gave as his reason the need for prior consultation, especially among members of different ecclesiastical regions, and also to give the Fathers time to gain a fuller knowledge of the candidates.

Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany, announced that he associated himself with the French Cardinal’s statement.

As a result, the first general meeting was adjourned shortly before 10 a.m. and was not convened again until Oct. 16, thus giving the Fathers the weekend and the following Monday to consult on the choice of candidates.

The meeting had opened at 9 a.m. while rain pelted down outside the vast Basilica of St. Peter. Mass was offered at the special council altar by Archbishop Ermengildo Florit of Florence, Italy. After Mass, Archbishop Pericle Felici, secretary general of the council, read the prayer, Adsumus, which opens each session of the council.

Then those Fathers who had not yet received them were given three pamphlets. One contained a full list of the council Fathers, another the names of the Fathers who had served as members or consultants of the council’s preparatory commissions, and the third contained ballots for voting for the 160 offices on the council commissions.

It was at this point that Cardinal Lienart made his motion.

Immediately after the adjournment of the session the Presidency of the Council — composed of 10 cardinals appointed by Pope John XXIII — met in private session.

These cardinals are: Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, French-born dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals; Cardinal Lienart; Ignace Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian Rite Patriarch of Antioch; Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York; Enrique Cardinal Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain; Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne; Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy; Antonio Cardinal Caggiano, Archbishop of Buenos Aires; and Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

These cardinals were received in audience by the Pope two days later (Oct. 15).

Before the second general meeting of the council there were many meetings of national groups of bishops to study possible candidates for the 160 posts.

The largest meeting was that of the almost 400 Italian Bishops at the Domus Mariae, a center operated by the Italian Catholic Action organization. Later the more than 200 Brazilian Bishops met at the same place. Similar meetings were held throughout Rome, many of them in the national colleges of the hierarchies involved.

The communique on the first session issued by the council press office stated:

“At the beginning of the voting, Cardinal Lienart, the Bishop of Lille, requested permission to speak and he was seconded by Joseph Cardinal Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne, in presenting a motion adjourning the voting because of the necessity of special consultation among members of the various ecclesiastical regions in making possible better knowledge of the candidates.”

“As a result of this motion, shortly before 10 a.m. the assembly broke up.

“Immediately after, the Council Presidency met in the Council Hall.”

At the second general meeting of the council, the Fathers voted for their choices for the 160 posts on the 10 council commissions.

The morning began with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Zaragoza, Spain, who was named (Oct. 15) one of the four undersecretaries of the council.

Following the Mass, Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and member of the Council Presidency, read the prayer Adsumus. Following that, Archbishop Pericle Felici, secretary general of the council, carried the book of Gospels to the altar where it remained open between two lighted candles for the entire session.

Before the meeting’s business started, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, president of the council’s Doctrinal Commission for Faith and Morals, and Ernesto Cardinal Roberti, president of the council’s Administrative Tribunal, asked for clarification of the manner of voting.

In the name of the council presidency, Cardinal Tisserant and Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy, also a member of the presidency answered the questions raised. Then the voting on the first ballot began.

As the Fathers were preparing their ballots, a communication was read to them in six languages — Latin, Spanish, French, English, German and Italian. This dealt with the program of work for the following days and with the procedure for the elections.

The Fathers were also told that all the Fathers are eligible for election, except for the officers already named by the Pope. These officers are the members of the presidency and of the Secretariat for Extraordinary Business and the presidents of the commissions and administrative tribunals, as well as the secretary general of the council and his four undersecretaries.

Before the vote was taken, a leaflet was distributed to all the Fathers which contained the names proposed by various national episcopal conferences as suggested candidates for the commissions. It was made clear, however, that every council Father is free to choose the members he wishes, even those not appearing on the distributed lists.

By mutual but unwritten understanding, the lists of proposed candidates did not contain more than two Fathers from any one nation. The Fathers were not required to remain in the basilica during the voting, but could leave for a time and then return to hand in their ballots before the deadlines.

Tabulation of the votes began in the afternoon and will continue until the counting is completed. Since the ballots are so numerous and the number of names could reach a possible total of more than 400,000 the next general meeting takes place Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 17, as originally planned.

During the session, the Fathers were informed that the order of each day’s business will be published at least five days before any session. This will enable those who wish to speak on a particular matter on a given day to make the required request to the secretary general of the council three days before the general meeting he wants to address.

It was announced that on Oct. 22, the first proposal presented for discussion will be on a constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.


The term “council Fathers” appearing in dispatches about the ecumenical council is defined in council regulations as “the bishops and others called to the council.”

This group includes all cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, residential bishops (even though they have not yet been consecrated), heads of independent abbeys and prelatures, abbots primate, abbots who are superiors of monastic congregations and superiors general of exempt congregations of Religious. Also included in the bull convoking the council are auxiliary bishops.

Proxies for bishops and others are not council Fathers. They have no vote, although they must sign the decrees of the council.

The experts of the council are not council Fathers. These are the theologians, canon lawyers and specialists in other fields covered by the council’s preparatory commissions, such as those on the liturgy, Christian unity and communications media. They attend all general council meetings but they may not speak or be questioned. They help members of the council commissions to compile and correct texts and prepare reports.

Non-Catholic observers have no right to speak but, they may attend the closed sessions of general meeting and are bound by the same secrecy binding all participants at such sessions. They may, however, report on their sessions to the groups they represent.

* * *

There was no “straight ticket” in the election of the 160 prelates on the working commissions of the ecumenical council and voting was no easy task.

When the Fathers of the council met (Oct. 16) to vote on the 160 posts for the 10 commissions, they were presented with several printed lists showing the choices of a number of national or regional groups of bishops. But that was about as much help as they got.

Intense study, comparison and discussion of candidates had filled the three days prior to the voting. The effort was directed at finding and nominating the most suitable men for the commissions, with particular interest given to the qualifications of each in relation to the task of the commission in question.

The Bishops of Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands supported, with only a few minor changes a list of candidates prepared by a group composed of German, Austrian and Swiss members of the council. It was also understood that bishops from Poland and Yugoslavia indicated they would support these candidates. This list was later sent to the Italian episcopal conference for scrutiny, and if possible, support.

The Italian bishops for their part are said to have rejected a list proposed by one group which suggested that five Italian bishops be nominated to each commission. This group then agreed on another list which gives wider representation to the different nationalities, it was understood.

The bishops from the United States met at the North American College in Rome and drew up their own list of candidates after consulting with various national hierarchies.

Other lists had meanwhile been prepared by Asian and African bishops as well as by the heads of Religious orders.

Thus when the council Fathers assembled in St. Peter’s to vote they were given lists of candidates which indicated which of the national episcopal conferences had drawn them up.

That was the only guidance. The individual bishop had to fill out his own ballot. Each council Father was requested to print in block letters each of the 160 candidates he selected, and to indicate the full name of the diocese of origin of the candidate along with his title.

James C. O’Neill

NC Rome correspondent

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