These are the ballots a bishop would have used to vote on a document or on part of a document. You can see that there are little punch holes in the ballot, and they would determine what that particular bishop was thinking. So the Bishop could cast a simple yes or no or a maybe.
The ballots are both interesting and rare—you don’t see them out on the market at all; in fact, the only ones I’ve ever seen are the ones I’ve got. And in each case, whoever it was who took these out of the Council, put postage stamps put on them and then had the Vatican post office stamp them for the final day of the Council.
When you look at what those votes did and the influence they had on the Church and its pastoral practices, it’s quite incredible—the courage it took for John XXIII to call an Ecumenical Council was quite significant. And he started to think and talk about it very early on in his papacy. His secretary recalls that in the first few months his desk was littered with problems and questions and situations throughout the church around the world, and they weren’t doctrinal problems; they were pastoral problems. And he sat there one day, and said, “You know, what we need to do is call a Council.” This was the greatest thing to even think, especially with his age, knowing that he probably wouldn’t see it through, but he knew the important thing was that he open it; he start it.
One of the things that is not very well known is that Pius XII was getting a lot of pressure to call a Council himself, and he didn’t. He didn’t think it was the proper time. And it wasn’t the proper time. So John XXIII certainly read the signs of the times.
That’s what he wanted to do–to really bring a breath of fresh air to the Church. And that’s why he called the II Vatican Council.
And that courage and that faith are reasons we call him Saint John XXIII.
Ballots are quite rare. There aren’t too many that I’ve seen. As a matter of fact, the only ones I’ve ever seen in the market, I have. And so these would have been ballots that the cardinals and the bishops would have used to vote. And they’re stamped: you can see those little holes inside of them, and each one of them are like a “punch ballot.” Where the little holes are located determined what the person was voting for and whether he said “yes” or “no.”
One of the interesting things about these ballots is there are stamps on them. So these bishops that took these out—and I’m assuming they smuggled these out, because I don’t know why they’d be available otherwise—they, then, got stamps from the Vatican post office and put them on the ballots, and the stamps were inked for the last day of the Council.
At the Council they were voting on documents, primarily. I am not an expert on Vatican II history, but I think that most of the actual voting would have been on certain aspects that were going to be included in the documents, and, then, on the documents in their final form. Various committees were in charge of drafting certain aspects of each document. So of course, not all the bishops present had a hand in a particular document, but they all had an opportunity to speak in regards to a document, whether pro or con, or whether they wanted some other aspect developed.
Calling the Second Vatican Council is really what makes John XXIII one of the most consequential individuals in modern Catholic history, and even in world history in many ways, because it caused such a transformation throughout the entire world upon many different cultures. That’s one thing that we look at in his life, and it is often talked about most, that he called the Second Vatican Council.
I remember late in 1999 reading a list in some Catholic publication about the top five events of the 20th century. The Second Vatican Council was number one. And so here we have a man who would have probably, if it weren’t for that, gone down in history as a good pope, but not as a consequential one. This man who was pope for under five years, an elderly pope, calls the Council, and because of that, he ushers in the most significant event of the 20th century in the Church.
I remember reading that his secretary spoke of the fact that in the first few months of his papacy, they received a tremendous amount of requests and questions and problems, and the Holy Father looked at all those things on his desk and said, “What we need is a council.” And it wasn’t so much for doctrinal purposes, but it recognized a great pastoral need for major pastoral problems. So oftentimes, when we speak of John XXIII, the main thing we think of is the Council. But there was so much more to him than that.
It’s also important to remember that it was the only Council in all of Church history that was not called because of a doctrinal crisis.
And, then, Blessed Paul VI came right behind him to successfully conclude the Council. –Father Richard Kunst
Chapter 9 of Council Regulations for the Second Vatican Council indicated the methods which governed ballots: placet was a yes vote; non placet, a no vote. The votes were cast in public sessions in the presence of the Holy Father. A placet juxta modum vote, meaning yes, but with changes, had to be explained in writing with reasons for the reservations.
The artifact presented here is a punch-card ballot showing the holes for mechanical tabulation. Ballots were cast with these special cards, which were examined by a mechanical system unless the president of the assembly decided otherwise, case by case.
A two-thirds majority in the ballots cast at public sessions was necessary unless special provisions to the contrary were decided by the Holy Father.