Rorate Caeli

Controlling the mic at Vatican II

One of the central issues regarding the pending agreement between the Vatican and the Society of Saint Pius X is the weight of the pastoral Second Vatican Council and its documents.

Robert Moynihan, in his report on the negotiations, writes about a visit with Monsignor Brunero Gherardini, who attended the Council and lives at the Vatican. This eye-opening account concerning Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, who headed what is now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from 1959 to 1968, is worth a quick read. Cardinal Ottaviani, sans mic, went on to co-author the most credible liturgical plea made to Paul VI.


Whenever I think about the Council, I said, I always have one image in my mind: an aging Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, now blind, about age 80, limping, the head of the Holy Office and so the chief doctrinal officer of the Church, born in Trastevere to parents who had many children, so a Roman from Rome, from the people of Rome, takes the microphone to speak to the 2,000 assembled bishops.
And, as he speaks, pleading for the bishops to consider the texts the curia has spent three years preparing, suddenly his microphone was shut off. He kept speaking, but no one could hear a word. Then, puzzled and flustered, he stopped speaking, in confusion. And the assembled fathers began to laugh, and then to cheer...

"Yes," Gherardini said. "And it was only the third day."

"What?" I said.

"Ottaviani's microphone was turned off on the third day of the Council."

"On the third day?" I said. "I didn't know that. I thought it was later, in November, after the progressive group became more organized..."

"No, it was the third day, October 13, 1962. The Council began on October 11."

"Do you know who turned off the microphone?"

"Yes," he said. "It was Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France."

"But then," I said, "it could almost be argued, perhaps, that such a breech of protocol, making it impossible for Ottaviani to make his arguments, somehow renders what came after, well, in a certain sense, improper..."

"Some people make that argument," Gherardini replied.