Vatican II - Voice of The Church
Vatican II - Voice of The Church

Who was Who at the Council

By Judith Bennett

The Popes

Vatican II spanned two papacies, firstly that of St John XXIII who convened the Council, and St Paul VI who succeeded him. Although they were quite obviously significant figures, by custom they did not normally attend the working sessions of the Council: John XXIII opened the Council, and Paul VI closed it, although he had made some rare attendances. Instead they followed proceedings on closed circuit television, or by studying reports of proceedings and drafts of final documents. Their interventions (Vatican term for a contribution or comment) are recorded in the Vatican archives and can also be found in various reliable commentaries. The significance of the Council in the view of the popes of the Council and their successors is illustrated in various addresses and written teaching.

Council Fathers

'Father' was the term used for members who were entitled to vote and to speak in the debates, or to make written contributions. They were mainly of episcopal rank but also included superiors of major male religious orders as members with full voting rights. Some 2,500 Fathers were involved in the Council, although not all would be present at any one time. The importance of the Council and its significant impact is conveyed in the recounting of personal experiences by Council Fathers through their writing and addresses after the event.

Advisors or Experts (periti)

Each Council Father was entitled to bring a theologian, or other appropriate expert of his choice, who would usually require formal accreditation. Some were invited by the Pope, or by senior Curial Cardinals, and given specific organisational duties. For long, it has been an uncomfortable fact that only a minority of bishops are themselves specialist scholars in scripture, theology, philosophy, church history and so on. There have been and are, distinguished exceptions, but many have tended to be administrators and pastors. These experts played an invaluable role in shaping debates and the ensuing documents.     


A number of senior members of other Christian denominations were invited to the Council as observers and were not infrequently valuable in private discussions. They could not however join in Council debates or participate in the voting.