Most people think that Archbishop Lefebvre was stubborn and unwilling to work with the Vatican at any expense, but this is a grave mis-characterization. For instance, when the first document exploring “Religious Liberty” was provided to the council fathers, the English and Italian speaking fathers sided with the document, while Spanish, Polish speaking fathers and those from the mission field stood strong in favor of Cardinal Ottoviani’s stance against the Cardinal Bea document. It is interesting to note that even a young Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (later to be JPII) stood against the revolutionaries proclaiming that only the truth will set men free!
Below you will find an excerpt from Roberto de Mattei’s book on the council explaining how the attempt to reign in the revolution was thwarted by the French and Pope Paul Vi himself:
“On October 9, Cardinal Bea received a letter from Bishop Felici informing him of the Holy Father’s wish that the text on religious liberty be rewritten and telling him that for this purpose a Joint Commission would be set up, comprised of members of the Secretariat for Christian Unity and the Theological Commission, along with Cardinal Michael Browne, the master general of the Dominicans Aniceto Fernandez, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop Carlo Colombo. Apart from the last-mentioned, a man on whom the Pope relied, the other three were staunch opponents of the declaration on religious liberty.
The progressives immediately mobilized, alarmed especially by the name of Archbishop Lefebvre. On Sunday, October 11, there was an afternoon meeting at the residence of Cardinal Frings, attended by Cardinals Leger, Joseph-Charles Lefebvre, Meyer, Ritter, Silva Henriquez, Dopfner and Alfrink attended. That same evening a dramatically phrased letter, signed by thirteen cardinals, arrived on the pope’s desk. It read: “Not without great sorrow have we learned that the declaration on religious liberty (…) is to be sent to a certain Joint Commission, of which, it is said, four members have already been designated, three of whom seem to stand in contradiction to the orientation of the council on this question.”
On October 12 a note by the Secretary of State referred to the fact that the French episcopate was not disposed to accept the possible nomination of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre as a member of the commission for the revision of the schema. The note, passed on by Cardinal Cicognani to the pope, was expressed in these words: “1) His Excellency Bishop Marcello Lefebvre (sic) would be considered as a sort of lack of confidence in the episcopacy, among whom such a nomination would not be favorably received (sic, given the more than ‘extremist’ positions that Archbishop Lefebvre has taken in various circumstances. I thought it advisable to authorize Bishop Martin to announce that no nomination had been made and that Archbishop Lefebvre will not be among those chose beforehand.”
Two days later, the notice was made public by the daily Il Messagero and caused quite a stir. On October 16, in the new instructions conveyed by the Secretary of State to Bishop Felici, the names of Archbishop Lefebvre and of Father Fernandez had disappeared and the role of the commission was reappraised. The two principal “theorists” of religious liberty, John Courtney Murray and Pietro Pavan, would assume the task of working on the revision of the text, favoring an “Anglo-Italian” approach of a political-juridical type rather than the theological and moral one, as the French-speaking theologians were requesting with these words: “You shall see, our document will be approved.” In an interview with Daniel Pezeril, the pope asserted: “perhaps I am slow. But I know what I want. After all, it is my right to give careful consideration. Bishop Pavan described Paul VI’s intervention on the conciliar document as “decisive.”