Just posted to our Web site, Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C., recalls the early days of Vatican II and a crucial moment that set the tone for the rest of the Council:
For the most part, the large American hierarchy had arrived out of duty and with no agenda of their own. Our bishops were used to conforming to the instructions of the Vatican offices, but after receiving the texts for their voting, most recognized the need to go back to school by having leading scholars provide conferences on the issues for which they were suddenly responsible. Soon they began noticing curial maneuvers and subtle violation of the council’s rules, along with what seemed a tactic of deception on the part of leaders of the Roman Curia and some of the Italian hierarchy.
One example of this deception was the way Cardinal Ottaviani had introduced on November 14 the first dogmatic schema to be discussed—that on the Sources of Revelation. He said the pope had approved the text prepared by his own theological commission, and so the bishops should agree to what it said. This speech was not well received by the majority of the prelates, especially after another cardinal rose to point out that the pope approved the work of the theological commission as a basis for discussion by the assembly, but it was not his intention necessarily to approve or mandate its contents as the teaching of the council. The result was a whole week of debate not on the contents of the schema, but whether or not it should be discussed at all.
A growing number of prelates were saying the text was not appropriate for the council Pope John had intended because it was not “pastoral.” In reply, Ottaviani and his followers insisted that correct doctrine was the basis for its pastoral application by the bishops and their priests back home after the council was over. The business of an ecumenical council, he said, was to clarify church teaching by condemning false doctrine as heresy. Other speakers, however, insisted the pope did not want the council to issue any condemnations at all, but rather to present already-defined doctrine in a way to renew the spiritual life of the church and attract modern people to the love of God as revealed by Jesus Christ. As Pope John said in his opening address to the council, doctrine is one thing and the way it is presented is another. From our perspective of 50 years later, we may see this debate still going on, and those opposed to the council sometimes using it as an argument that Vatican II was not a valid ecumenical council because it did not do what councils do, namely, condemn false teaching, especially in the church itself.