Many of us are familiar with the story that ‘Good’ Pope John was sitting with one of his friends when all of the sudden the word “council” fluttered from his mouth. From this, some say, proceeded with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost an intention to call the Second Vatican Council. There is more to this enthusiastic story, but I think it more interesting to let you know about verified instances that played a more profound role in the decision to bring about the council.
So who was it exactly that encouraged St. John XXIII?
Do the names Cardinal Ruffini and Ottaviani ring a bell?
|St. Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Ottaviani in procession|
Following the early pause of the First Vatican Council, there were many calls to bring the council to a close by finishing the deliberations that had begun prior to the Italian wars that left the Pontiffs prisoners of the Vatican. Different Popes showed varying degrees of support to the idea of breathing new life in the First Vatican Council. Pius XI and Pius XII were not exceptions to this rule. Pius XI had personally thought highly of restarting the council, but was persuaded by his closest advisers that it was not a good time to do so because of the modernist problem. Pius XII was a little more skeptical about restarting First Vatican but he appointed secret commissions in the late 1940’s to study the possibility.
During the conclave of 1958 there were many names being circulated including Ruffini, Ottaviani and a young Cardinal Siri of Genoa. All three of these figures played a key role for the late pontiff and many expected that from this group would come forth the new Pope, which as a fact of history has proven very naïve. The French delegation of cardinals were put under and exerted great pressure to keep the aforementioned names from ascending to Peter’s throne. Charles De Gaulle, who was the French leader at the time still supported the Gallican ways of old, shunning montanism. The French loved Cardinal Roncalli, however, because he had lived with them and they knew his tendencies and could thus manipulate him to an extent.
In his book, The Second Vatican Council: The Untold Story, noted Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei relates the following information:
“The idea had come from Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, the archbishop of Palermo, in an earlier audience on February 24, 1948. “At the feet of Pius XII,” he recounted, eleven years after receiving the purple hat, “I, the last of the priests, dared to ask for an ecumenical council. It seemed to me that it was urgently required by the circumstances and that there would be as much material to deal with as the Council of Trent had. The venerable pontiff did not reject the proposal; he did not even take note of it, as he was accustomed to do in important matters… Faced with differing opinions, which foreshadowed a conflict, Pius XII preferred to set aside the project, not unlike what his predecessor Pius XI had done.
The same Cardinals Ottaviani and Ruffini, who had suggested the idea of a council to Pius XII in 1948, stated that in his cell at the conclave, they were the first to suggest to the newly-elevted John XXIII that he convene the twenty-first universal council of the Church.
In an interview published by the weekly Epoca, Cardinal Ottaviani was asked, among other things: “When John XXIII announced the council what was your reaction?” Ottaviani replied: ‘He had spoken about it to me from the moment of his election. Or rather, to be more precise, it was I who visited him in his little room at the conclave on the eve of the election. Among other things I told him “Your Eminence, it is necessary to think about a council.” Cardinal Ruffini, who was present at the conversation, was of the same mind. Cardinal Roncalli adopted this idea and later had this to say: “I have thought of a council from the moment I became Pope.” It’s true, he welcomed our suggestion.”