Fears of a ‘pre-fabricated Council’

Cardinal Tardini’s announcement that much of the Council’s work would be done by correspondence even before the bishops met in Rome immediately raised fears.

Belgian Dominican Jérôme Hamer reported Tardini’s comments in a letter to Yves Congar on 7 November 1959:

“The Cardinal gave us to understand that a great part of the work prior to the Council could take place by correspondence, thus shortening the presence of the Fathers in Rome. Here is the outline he presented:

a document prepared in Rome by one of the preparatory commissions to be named; sent to the bishops;

registering their reactions (refusal, simple acceptance or with amendments); redaction of a new document or reworking of the previous one;

finally, meeting of the Fathers in the Vatican to take a stance on a document that has already been reworked and would have received an initial rather general approval in the way indicated above.”

Congar recorded his reaction in a margin note on the letter:

“It’s a prefabricated Council. It’s the procedure followed for the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. This wouldn’t be a real Council!”


Joseph Komonchak, The antepreparatory period (JA Komonchak)

Council name announced: “Vatican II”

At a press conference on 30 October, 1959, Cardinal Tardini officially announced that the Council would be called “Vatican II.”

The chief aim would be “to foster the growth of the Catholic faith, a healthy renewal of
the Christian people’s practice, and an updating of Church discipline according to the needs of the day.”

While it would be “an internal affair of the Catholic Church,” it would “represent so
marvelous a spectacle of truth, unity, and love as to constitute, even for those alienated from the Apostolic See, an invitation to seek and to achieve that unity to which many of them aspire.”

Whether non-Catholics would be invited as observers was a matter under discussion.
The preparations were well underway, Tardini reported.

Eighty per-cent of the residential bishops had already submitted recommendations, and it was likely to require a full three years of further work before the Council could meet. He expected that it would not be of long duration, both so that bishops would not be absent from their sees too long and because of the highly organized preparations.

“An immense correspondence with Bishops all over the world” was to be carried on prior to the Council to ensure that “we will already be agreed on many things by the time the Council meets,” Tardini noted.


Joseph Komonchak, The antepreparatory period (JA Komonchak)

Clarify Catholic Action

Himmer to Tardini 1

On 26 October 1959, Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai, a long-standing proponent of the JOC and Specialised Catholic Action, wrote to Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal DomenicTardini, with his reflections for the Ante-Preparatory Commission.

He first sought clarification on “moral” issues, particularly marital questions. He also raised the issue of using vernacular language in the mass and the use of more appropriate scriptural readings.

Finally, he sought clarification of the notion of Catholic Action, which had been under challenge in various quarters.

He wrote;

“Rogatur ut conceptus actionis catholicae a Pio XI traditus elucidetur et servetur ad rite secernendam hanc apostolatus laicorum formam nostris temporibus maxime adaptatam ab aliis speciebus apostolatus in quibus laici sese devovent.”

Rough translation based on Google

It is requested to clarify the concept of Catholic Action that Pius XI regarded as especially adapted to our times for the promotion of the apostolate of lay people…


Archives Himmer (Diocèse de Tournai)

New Management Committee for COPECIAL

Ramon Sugranyes de Franch

On 6 August 1959, L’Osservatore Romano announced the appointment by Pope John XXIII of a new management committee for COPECIAL, following the departure of Vittorino Veronese, who had been appointed secretary-general of UNESCO.

The six members were:

  • Silvio Golzio, president of the committee. Golzio was a professor of statistics at the University of Turin and director of the Piedmont Hydro-Electric Company. He was also president of the Movimento laureati, the Italian Catholic Action movement for Graduates.
  • Jean-Pierre Dubois-Dumée, a French publisher, who was then working with Cardijn for the eventual publication of a book.
  • Prince Karl zu Lôwenstein, a German nobleman, who was also the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics.
  • Claude Ryan, secretary-general of Catholic Action in English-speaking Canada.
  • Ramon Sugranyes, a Catalan exile living in Switzerland, who played a significant role in the foundation of Pax Romana ICMICA and in the organisation of the World Congresses on Lay Apostolate.
  • Juan Vasquez, an Argentine mathematics professor who also worked for the Argentine Ministry of Transport. He was also responsible for international relations for the Central Committee of Catholic Action in Argentina and president of the International Federation of Catholic Youth.

There was an obvious absence of worker representation here and, no doubt after some feedback if not protest, this was remedied by the addition of three more members:

  • Marguerite Fiévez, Belgian former leader of the JOC Internationale, now working as Cardijn’s personal secretary.
  • Patrick Keegan, another former leader of the JOC Internationale, originally from Britain, now involved with developing an adult lay apostolate in the UK and also coordinator of “The Team,” an exclusive group of mainly former YCW leaders devoted to the lay apostolate.
  • Martin Work, an American, who was secretary-general of the National Council of Catholic Men of the USA.


Bernard Minvielle, L’apostolat des laïcs à la veille du Concile (1949-1959)

Golzio, Silvio (Treccani)

Ramon Sugranyes de Franch (Website)

Ramon Sugranyes de Franch (Wikipedia.fr)

Tribute to Ramon Sugranyes de Franch (Pax Romana ICMICA)

Karl, 8th Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg (Wikipedia)


Ramon Sugranyes

Universities invited to respond

On 18 July , the Holy See wrote to Catholic universities and all faculties of theology seeking their feedback and advice on the preparation for the Council.

They were given until 20 April, 1960 to respond, a period explained by Cardinal Tardini’s suggestion that they may wish to send him their draft responses beforehand.


Joseph Komonchak, The antepreparatory period (JA Komonchak)

John XXIII chooses a name

In a calendar note dated 4 July 1959, after visiting the Vatican gardens, John XXIII wrote the following note:

“When I got back to the house, I found that the ecumenical Council now in preparation ought to be called ‘the Second Vatican Council,’ because the last one, celebrated by Pope Pius IX in 1870, bore the name of Vatican Council I – Vatican le premier.”


Giuseppe Alberigo, The announcement of the Council, History of Vatican II, Volume I, p. 50.


Vatican Gardens (Marek.69 / Wikipedia / CCA BY SA 3.0

A new clampdown on worker priests

On 3 July 1959, Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, the president of the Vatican Congregation for Seminaries and Universities as well as secretary of the Holy Office, which was responsible for doctrinal matters, wrote to French Cardinals Maurice Feltin of Paris and Achille Liénart of Lille, to clamp down even harder on the worker priests.

In 1941, the French Church had launched the “Mission de France” in a bid to reach the working class. Two years later, Cardinal Suhard launched the “Mission de Paris” with a similar objective.

Cardinals Liénart, who was president of the Assembly of (French) Cardinals and Archbishops, and Feltin, both of whom had been early JOC chaplains, were

Many of the priests, including many who had been or were JOC chaplains, also began to work in factories, on wharves and elsewhere as “worker priests.” Indeed, Bishop Alfred Ancel, a Prado father, auxiliary bishop of Lyon and keynote speaker at the JOC Internationale Congress in Brussels in 1950, had also taken up part-time work.

However, as an increasing number of priests became involved in trade union struggles and strikes, often alongside communists and communist trade unions, fears began to rise.

As a result, in 1953, the Holy See requested the French bishops responsible for the worker priests to prohibit them from engaging in fulltime paid employed.

Now, Cardinal Pizzardo had again written to his French colleagues asking for the prohibition of even part-time work outside the Church.

To the extent that this decision was a portent, the early signs for the Council were not promising.


Giuseppe Pizzardo (Press Photo)