The first business session, or First General Congregation of the Council, took place on Saturday 13 October.
The opening item was the election of sixteen Council Fathers to each of the ten conciliar commissions.
Before Cardinal Tisserant, the session president, could begin, however, Cardinal Achille Liénart of Lille rose to make a statement that would upend the Council’s work.
Like many others, Liénart was unhappy with most draft schemas. As he later recalled, the objective, as defined by John XXIII, was not ‘to formulate new doctrinal definitions, but rather to present, in a form better adapted to modern minds, all the truths already established… that [the Church] had the mission of transmitting to every generation.’
This meant, Liénart believed, that the gathered bishops had to develop ‘une pensée commune’ – ‘a common way of thinking’ – as a basis for ‘the total revision of their pastoral attitudes and to engage the Church in the new way where its permanent mission called it today?’
Consequently, the choice of the ‘the most qualified’ commission members was of the greatest importance. But how to identify them if they did not know each other, he asked:
Abruptly, I leaned towards the Cardinal president to tell him in a low voice: ‘Eminence, it is truly impossible to vote like this… If you allow me, I am going to take the microphone.’ ‘I cannot give it to you,’ he replied… So, I said to him, ‘Excuse me but I am going to speak…’.
I rose… to request that a reasonable time be given so we could better inform ourselves of the best election candidates…. Cardinal Frings, archbishop of Cologne, who was sitting beside me at the presidency table, also rose to offer his support and the applause doubled.
This forced the hand of the presidency breaching the stranglehold that the Roman Curia had exercised over the Council. Although Liénart denied that his intervention was ‘a coup planned ahead,’ other bishops had approached him, and even provided him with draft texts for his intervention, including his compatriots Cardinal Joseph-Charles Lefebvre, Garrone and Ancel. Camara apparently also wanted a postponement, while others such as the South African Denis Hurley ‘knew what was brewing.’
Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 7, The Council opens without Cardijn (Australian Cardijn Institute)
Daybook, Sessions 1-2, 24: https://vaticaniiat50.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/council-daybook-vol-1-opening-general-congregation/
Achille Liénart, “Vatican II” in Mélanges de Science Religieuse, 33, Numéro Supplémentaire (1963): 63.
Le cardinal Liénart (à droite) avec Mgr Dubois pendant le concile Vatican II / Roman Catholic Diocese of Besançon / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0