Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Periti of Vatican II: A New Research Project by Sharon Kabel

The indefatigable Sharon Kabel, whose superb research work we have shared several times, has just announced an important new project, documenting the careers of the theological experts, or “periti”, as they were generally known, who advised the bishops at Vatican II: A spreadsheet with all the information she has gathered so far, with more than thirty datapoints, is available from her website here:
Please note that this is an open-source project, and people are encouraged to contribute any further information they may have via this submission form: We are very glad to share Mrs Kabel’s summary and introduction to the project, and to congratulate her for her extraordinarily diligent and useful work - feliciter!

We know (or at least debate) a great deal about the Second Vatican Council, but how much do we really know about who was there? Apart from the Council Fathers, the press, and the observers were the conciliar periti, priests who had expertise in a particular area, appointed to assist the Council and its commissions. These men ran the gamut of theological, pastoral, academic, political, and media experience and influence. During the Council, they assisted and advised, but they also edited, debated, and in some cases, were the leading authors of the Council documents. Some would even become bishops during the Council, and at the stroke of a pen becoming voting members of the Council they had just advised.

After (even during) the Council, the periti gave themselves the weighty responsibility of explaining, interpreting, and implementing the Council to the press, to the Church, to the world, to their home dioceses, even to other periti and Council Fathers. Many became bishops and cardinals after the Council; one became pope.

And yet they remain largely unknown. While the names of some will sound familiar, such as Joseph Ratzinger, Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, or Hans Kung, there is no complete open access list of periti. There have been some studies on the national, such as the Americans and the Belgians, but nothing systematic. These men of influence, learning, and (one hopes) holiness are, as a group, a mystery to us.
The Periti of Vatican II is a new project cataloging information about them; for the first time, you can browse a list not only of 479 Conciliar periti, but of several dozen private periti.
As an example of how unexpectedly time-consuming it was simply to retype the Vatican’s list and to check the first names, here are three:
Jose Moss Tapajos’ name order is wrong, Placid Podipara’s religious and non-Western name has been transmuted (the Latinized abbreviation of his religious order causing even more mayhem), and John Courtney Murray is missing a Ioannes entirely.
I have added over 30 data points to each name, to both verify their identities, and to make this sheet a robust research tool. I also have a Zotero library with references about the periti, and by the periti - including articles, books, and archival finding aids. The list is here, my reference library is here, and you can read more about the project here. The spreadsheet and reference library are freely available to download.
Since I started the project in summer 2022, three periti have passed away: Bill Hunt (left priesthood, married), Donald Dietz, OMI, and of course, Pope Benedict XVI. To my knowledge, the only living conciliar peritus is Archbishop John Stephens Cummins.
Overwhelmingly, the periti occupied roles related to media and education/formation: radio stations, newspapers, journals, magazines, publishing houses, books, television shows, universities, schools, seminaries, etc. The infamous and hugely popular press panel at Vatican II was run largely by periti. Many wrote columns about their experiences and opinions while the Council was still going on. These men, then, were involved not only in the inception, writing, and revising of the Council documents; they also made themselves the emissaries of the Council to the world, interpreting everything to other Council members, to the press, and to ordinary Catholics back home. We need look no further than Father Edward Schillebeeckx’s relationship with the media to see how incredibly messy all of this could get.
After the Council, many became bishops and Cardinals. One wonders if their influence at all stages of the Council, and their relationship with media, is one answer to the perpetual debate and frustration in trying to figure out what the Council really, or “really”, said, did, and meant.
There are so many interesting research rabbit holes to pursue, such as:
● Piero Marini, perhaps the youngest (private) peritus at 20, ordained a priest only a few months before the Council closed.
● John L. Swain, SJ, who has the interesting distinction of being the only person to go from Council Father (session III) to peritus (session IV)
● Thomas F. Devine, who has a golf tournament named after him
● Fabian Flynn, known around the world and confessor to Nuremberg Nazis
● Manuel Bonet y Muixi, survivor of the Spanish Civil War, now forgotten, but once a colleague of Annibale Bugnini and key drafter of Sacrosanctum Concilium
● Basil Frison, CMF, amateur composer whose cassette tapes were found and digitized in the early aughts and sent to WFMU’s 365 Days music project, and you can hear the tapes here and here.
● Georges Marie Martin Cottier, OP, anti-Lefebvre; theologian of the papal household
● Placid (Max) Jordan, OSB, radio pioneer, later-in-life convert, and columnist on the Council
● Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, and his influence (positive and negative) on fellow periti Fenton and Chenu
● Herman Mizzi, OCD, the Maltese with the most interesting obituary, but no other records…
There are some conciliar periti whose identity I could not verify, and I am sure there are more private periti out there. I hope that other readers and researchers will be able to help me solve some of those mysteries!

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