82 years ago, modern reforms in the Curia

pope francisMany hope that Pope Francis will undertake something of an overhaul of the Roman Curia, to bring it up to date and make it more efficient. But a Dutch cardinal may have proposed much the same thing more than 80 years ago, so Sandro Magister suggests. Citing a recently published book from the Vatican Secret Archives in honour of its vice-prefect, Dutch Father Marcel Chappin S.J., Magister discusses an older work, published anonymously in 1931. It offers strong criticism against the bishops and Curia of the time.

van rossumAliquando autem totus episcopatus alicuius nationis ita est compositus, veluti si coecorum, claudorum et infirmorum omne genus esset refugium,” (Sometimes, however, the whole of the episcopate of a country is composed as if it were a place of refuge for the blind, the lame, and the sick of all kinds.)

Harsh words, but who wrote them? The only hint is a synonym: “Paulus Bernardus a S. Catharina“. And there are some who say that this is, in fact, Willem Marinus Cardinal van Rossum, in 1931 the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The reasons for thinking that he is behind the writings is, to me at least, obscure, as no element of the synonym seems to be linked to the person of Cardinal van Rossum.But, then again, as a member of the very Curia he so strongly criticises, Cardinal van Rossum may well have had reason to keep his identity secret.

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How Archbishop van de Wetering missed the red hat

van de weteringIn 1946 the archbishop of Utrecht became the first resident cardinal in the Netherlands since the Reformation. But Cardinal Jan de Jong need not have been the first.

Historical research indicates that in 1911 Pope Saint Pius X had his eyes on Archbishop Henricus van de Wetering as the first Dutch cardinal of modern times. But the publication of his encyclical Editae saepe, a year earlier, made that rather difficult, as that encyclical on Saint Charles Borromeo brought forth the fury of Queen Wilhelmina, who was less then pleased with the strong anti-Protestant language in the papal publication.

Making Archbishop van de Wetering, who headed the Archdiocese of Utrecht from 1895 to 1929, a cardinal would unnecessarily antagonise the queen and perhaps increase the anti-Catholic tendencies existing in Dutch society at that time.

Instead, Pius X went for a safer option: a Dutch cardinal, but one who was working in the Curia, on the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law and as general consultor of the Redemptorist order: Willem Marinus van Rossum.

After Cardinal de Jong, every archbishop of Utrecht was created a cardinal, if he wasn’t one already, such as Cardinal Willebrands.

Photo credit: Katholiek Documentatie Centrum, Nijmegen

The undeservedly forgotten cardinal

I came across a pretty nice-looking website that heralds the publication of an extensive biography of a forgotten Catholic great: Willem Marinus Cardinal van Rossum (1854-1932). Born a year after the Catholic hierarchy was re-established in the Netherlands, his career coincided with the period we now call the ‘rich Roman life’ (Rijke Roomsche Leven), when Catholics took full advantage of their newfound freedom to form all kinds of Catholic associations, unions and other clubs, to organise processions (if only below the great rivers) and take their devotions out of centuries of secrecy and hiding.

Cardinal van Rossum, then, was one that Dutch Catholics took pride in. His return to the Netherlands in 1924, as the papal legate to the Eucharistic Congress of Amsterdam, was basically the next best thing to the pope himself visiting. And his career was impressive in any case. In 1911, he was the first Dutch priest to be created a cardinal since the Reformation. He wasn’t a bishop then yet (something that is customary today, but less so in the past), but was appointed as President of the Pontifical Bible Commission in 1914, and two years later also as Major Penitentiary. In 1918 he also became Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (the current Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples), and his consecration to bishop followed in that same year. There’s a fuller list of his various duties on the biography page on the website I linked to above.

The titular churches he held (first as Cardinal-deacon and later as Cardinal-priest) were suitably high profile. From 1911 to 1915 he held the S. Cesareo in Palatio, which was later held by Blessed Karol Wojtyła, for one. From 1915 until his death in 1932, the cardinal was cardinal-priest of S. Croce in Gerusalemme (right), which before him was held by two later popes (Innocent VII and Benedict XIV) and today by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the emeritus archbishop of Prague.

As bishop he was the titular archbishop of Caesarea in Mauretania (there it is again), later held by to name but two, my own Bishop Gerard de Korte and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.

Willem Cardinal van Rossum, because of his pioneering role for the rejuvenated Dutch Church, is deserving of a proper biography, and judging by the website above, this could be it.

Photo credit: [1] incaelo.wordpress.com, [2] Anthony Majanlahti/Wikipedia