The first session of the Vatican Council was convened by John xxiii, the second session by his successor, Paul vi. This change of leadership has been sharply felt. In both sessions the vast majority of Council fathers have shown themselves, in both debates and votes, strongly in favour of the renovation of Catholicism, its theology and its organization. As long as Roncalli was alive this trend enjoyed the support of the pope himself. But the advent of Paul vi has utterly changed the situation. The reforming wing is still in the majority and at times has been extremely combative, but it has not succeeded in winning the overwhelming majority of votes prescribed by the rules. Indeed, it has often been held in check by the intervention (direct or indirect) of the pope.

As a result the Council has been paralyzed. There is a stalemate and the Council is powerless before the choices it should be making. In the second session, which lasted many months, only one schema was finally approved—the schema on liturgy. On every other point—Christian-Jewish and inter-Christian relations; the cult of Mary; the interpretation of scripture; the burning question of curial authority—no progress could be achieved.

The last act of the Council was the election of new members to the steering commissions. This was the opportunity for a further show of strength by the reforming wing. Only one Italian candidate was elected, but French representation went up—France is the homeland of reformism—and there was a general swing towards so-called ‘progressive’ fathers. On the other hand, the closing papal message obviously conflicted with the hopes of this majority. It increased the power of the bishops in a number of fields, but it did this in a way which hamstrung the Great Reform debated by the Council and reduced it to a mere preliminary measure of decentralization. The Council is not concluded, only adjourned. But this adjournment is more than a phase of a timetable—it is a mark of the conflicts which have paralyzed the Roman Catholic church.