1Some years ago, we started our research for a biography of the twentieth century Dutch Cardinal Willem Marinus van Rossum (1854-1932). He was prefect of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide from 1918 until his death in 1932, a crucial post because the Propaganda Fide played an important role in the development of international Vatican policy just after World War I. In the historiography of the Roman Curia and the central government of the Church, Van Rossum is almost absent, even though he began his curial career as early as 1896, which means that he served under four popes: Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI.
2Writing a historical biography is never easy. Every life poses its own specific problems and so does Van Rossum’s. During our research, we came up against various contextual problems, which were aggravated by heuristic difficulties. It proved to be rather difficult to get an authentic and reliable picture of Van Rossum’s activities and influence at the Curia. We got the distinct impression that he was difficult to detect because he was a straniero, an outsider or foreigner in the Roman Curia. In our contribution we will show how this complicated our research. We also want to demonstrate that the mere fact that he had been a stranger in Rome, at least partly, can account for his absence in the historiography concerning the beginning of the twentieth century compared to other influential members of the Sacred College of Cardinals. But first, to establish with whom we are dealing, we start our contribution with a brief sketch of Van Rossum’s life before he was created a cardinal, followed by a paragraph in which we deal with his « strangeness » in the Roman Curia.
- 1 On Willem Marinus van Rossum see Poels – Salemink – De Valk 2011 ; Prudhomme 2011 ; Vernooij 2007 (...)
3Willem Marinus van Rossum was born on September 3, 1854, in Zwolle, a Hanseatic town in the northern (Protestant) part of the Netherlands.1 He was born in a lower middle class family of barrel-makers, with a German grandfather. Both his parents had died when he was nine years old. He then was placed in the Catholic orphanage of the town. Being devout and having a good head on his shoulders, the local clergy helped him to enter the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of Utrecht (1867-1873). Afterwards, he did not choose a life as a diocesan priest, but entered the Redemptorist Congregation in 1873 and attended their seminary in Wittem.
- 2 Van Rossum 1885 ; Van Rossum 1888.
- 3 Poels 2014.
4At the time, Alphonsus de Liguori, who had been canonized in 1839 and became a Doctor of the Church in 1871, was popular in the Netherlands. Van Rossum was trained in Alphonsian teachings by Petrus Oomen, the then Dutch provincial of the Redemptorists. Soon, Van Rossum developed into one of the leading experts within his congregation, especially in the field of dogmatics. For ten years, from 1883 until 1893, he taught this discipline at Wittem and published several treatises.2 Alphonsus’ « true teachings » became his guideline during his religious life. He did not hesitate to express his views on Alphonsus’ teachings to everyone in clear and compelling arguments. He stood up against his confreres and even his superiors when they deviated from his line of interpretation. And when opponents would not retrace their steps, Van Rossum simply wrote to the general board in Rome. As one can expect, he did not make many friends in this way, but he was noticed by the general board, which decided to place him in Rome in 1895.3
- 4 Orlandi 1999, p. 205-238.
- 5 His letter to the Holy Office is printed in Weiss 2011, p. 66. Loisy feared for Roman suspicion si (...)
5In those days, as it happened, the Holy Office was looking for an expert in Alphonsian teachings. Already in 1896, Van Rossum was appointed consultor of the Holy Office.4 Here as well he stuck to the lines of Catholic orthodoxy. Father van Rossum did not admire modern society with its promotion of ideas like liberalism and democracy. In 1901, he was the first to expose to the Suprema the French priest and exegete Alfred Loisy for his heretical teachings.5 Note, this was still during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII.
6In his successor, Pius X, Father Van Rossum found a kindred spirit. Pius X opted for a closed Catholicism, safe from the threats that could penetrate from the outside world. Nevertheless, fear for the world outside the Church would have its internal consequences. To defend the true faith, any possible error had to be fought by the Holy Office and Van Rossum proved to be an excellent worker in this field. He helped to draw up a list of errors, which became the basis of the 1907 anti-modernist documents Lamentabili and Pascendi. Together with his colleague consultor, the French Jesuit Louis Billot, he formulated the anti-modernistic oath, which had to be sworn by every priest, superior and seminary teacher between 1910 and 1965.6
- 7 Rome, Archivum Generale Historicum Redemptoristarum (AGHR), Correspondence with generalate, W. van (...)
- 8 Poels 2014.2, p. 421-438.
7In those years, a cordial relationship between Pius X and Van Rossum developed and the Pope gave him special assignments. For instance, he sent him on a secret mission to the abbey of Montevergine in the summer of 1908. During the three months of his stay, a new bishop-abbot was appointed.7 Van Rossum’s dedication was rewarded by the Pope. At first in the spring of 1909, Pius X put him forward as the new superior general of the Redemptorists, however, in vain. For one reason or another, the German and Austrian confreres refused to give him their votes.8 Pius X then created Van Rossum a cardinal on November 27, 1911.
8This creation became one of many ways in which Van Rossum became an exception in the predominantly Italian Sacred College of Cardinals. In his earlier years at the Curia, among the consultors there had been colleagues from different countries and from different orders and congregations. Now, within the College of Cardinals, he became part of various (small) minorities.
- 9 Nijmegen, Katholiek Documentatie Centrum (KDC), Archive of the Dutch Pontifical Missionary Works, (...)
9« It is the worst thing you can imagine… being a straniero. » This lamentation of Joseph Drehmanns, private secretary of Cardinal Willem van Rossum, to a compatriot came right from his heart: « I was a straniero too and that is why I had to leave »9. To be able to enter into the life of Van Rossum as a curial functionary, one has to pose some preliminary questions. How did it feel to be a stranger, or foreigner, in Rome? What did it mean to be one in the Sacred College?
10Being a stranger or foreigner, a non-Italian, in the Roman Curia almost certainly put one at a disadvantage. Among its members, Italians not only greatly outnumbered the other nationalities, but its mentality, methods and procedures were deeply Italian as well. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that non-Italians were simply called stranieri, strangers, people whose ways were « strange » to the Italians. Vincenzo Gioberti’s idea that the « national genius » of Italy, as expressed in his famous book Del primato morale e civile degli Italiani, had taken root in Rome is pertinent here: the Italians were a « nazione sacerdotale » with a religious and civilizing mission to the world. Many Italian members of the Curia, therefore, considered governing the universal Church as the exclusive right of their nation.
- 10 Cools – Santing – De Valk 2012, p. 161-172.
11Furthermore, outsiders had different customs and traditions and were not aware of nor did they comply with the prevailing mores. It made them automatically into easy targets for opposition and all kinds of gossip, as the only Dutch Pope Adrian VI (1459-1523) had experienced in the sixteenth century. Adrian, born in Utrecht in the Holy Roman Empire and tutor of the young Emperor Charles V, was pope for only one year. Unfamiliar with Roman customs, the cultural gap that separated him from the Roman Curia and the Roman citizens proved to be an insurmountable impediment in his desire to reform the Curia.10
12We can distinguish some similarities between Adrian VI and Cardinal van Rossum as archetypes of « Dutchness ». Both were considered to be rigid, stubborn, pious and frugal. For Adrian VI, these characteristics proved to be an obstacle to function effectively in the Curia. The American Father Francis C. Kelley observed the same characteristics in Van Rossum. On the one hand, Kelley appreciated the fact that the Dutch Cardinal’s position was that of an outsider and not the result of a carefully planned regular curial office career. On the other hand, when confronted with Van Rossum’s restrained anger, because his plans were thwarted by the American Episcopate, he stated: « Italian tact, Italian caution, Italian tradition would have been helpful to him. Cardinal van Rossum was no diplomat. He was a good man but stubborn. He did not understand how anyone, anywhere, could see the smallest flaw in what he thought flawless »11.
13Kelley’s observation seems to corroborate the strangeness and, therefore, the presupposed unsuitability of a Dutch prelate in the Curia and gives the impression that Van Rossum was out of place. However, the situation of Van Rossum differed substantially from Pope Adrian’s. Actually, Van Rossum was not such a complete stranger to the Italian way of life and the Roman Curia as Adrian had been. He had been a member of the Congregation of the Redemptorists since 1873. Although the rules and directives had developed since its foundation in 1732, the essential spirit and regulations of this originally Italian congregation were still those conceived by the Neapolitan Alfonso de Liguori.
- 12 AGHR, LIX1a1 Van Rossum, Gulielmus 1909-1911 ; W. van Rossum to M. Raus, 8.08.1910.
14Moreover, as recorded, Van Rossum had lived and worked in Rome since 1895, and had almost immediately been attached to the Roman Curia. He became a consultor of the Holy Office in late 1896 and in this function he performed well. Since he had not been educated at the regular Roman seminaries, like the Almo collegio Capranica or the « diplomatic class » of the Accademia dei nobili ecclesiastici, initially Van Rossum had to completely rely on the Redemptorist network. Here, his former tutor, the Dutch Father Petrus Oomen, who had become procurator generalis, was well-informed. Oomen pushed him forward to be presented to the Pope by the Superior General of the Redemptorists, Matthias Raus, as a new consultor in 1896. At the time, there was only one other Redemptorist connected to the Curia: Claudio Benedetti, who was consultor of the Propaganda Fide. Several cardinals frequented the General House of the Redemptorists in Rome, like Casimiro Gennari and Francesco di Paola Cassetta, who were considered good friends of the congregation.12
- 13 Ibid., Correspondence, W. van Rossum to M. Raus, 2.6.1900 and 6.7.1900 ; Ibid., LX 2c Epistolae ex (...)
- 14 Vatican City, Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV), Codex Juris Canonici, Scatola 1 ; Casiraghi 2011, p (...)
15After being attached to the Curia, Van Rossum built up his own professional network. Already in the early 1900’s, he got along well with the Cardinals José Calasanz Vives y Tutó, who was a member of the Holy Office, and Benedetto Lorenzelli, whom he knew from his days in Wittem.13 Apart from the network he created as consultor of the Holy Office, in addition, in 1904, he became a close collaborator of Monsignor Pietro Gasparri, the future Secretary of State. Under his presidency, he worked as a member of the commission for the Codification of Canon Law with many other promising ecclesiastical officials such as the Secretary of the commission (and future Pope) Eugenio Pacelli, Alexis-Marie Lépicier OSM, Luigi Veccia, Alphonse Eschbach CSSp., Bernard Klumper OFM, Gaetano De Lai, Laurentius Janssens OSB, Filippo Giustini, Pie de Langonge OFMCap and Thomas Esser OP. Since May 1905 he was a member of the special committee on the subject of marriage with De Lai, Guglielmo Sebastianelli, Basilio Pompilj and the prominent Jesuits Franz Xaver Wernz and Domenico Palmieri.14
16Nevertheless, when Van Rossum was created a cardinal on 27 November 1911, he remained an exception in various ways. Within the College of Cardinals, he was the only Dutchman, being the first Dutch cardinal since the Reformation. He was the only curial cardinal, who had been born in a predominantly Protestant country (with the exception of the British-born Spanish nobleman Rafael Merry del Val). He was a regular order priest among a majority of secular priests and the first Redemptorist, who functioned as a curial cardinal.
- 15 Annuario 1913, p. 33-54; 66-67.
17Now, we will take a closer look at the exact numbers of the College of Cardinals at the time of Van Rossum’s creation. In 1911, on the 27th of November, seventeen men, of whom seven were not Italian, received the cardinal title. At that time, the Sacred College of Cardinals consisted of 65 cardinals (including the seventeen new members, but without the one in petto). All six Cardinal-Bishops were Italian secular priests. Of the fifty Cardinal-Priests, 23 were Italian, and of the eight Cardinal-Deacons five were Italian. With 34 members, the Italian cardinals counted for slightly more than half of the total number. Of the non-Italians, seven were French, four were from the Austrian/Hungarian Empire, six were Spanish, two American, two German, two Polish, two Irish, one British, one Portuguese, one Belgian, one Brazilian and one Dutch. As for the 28 cardinals attached to the Roman Curia (including the six Cardinal-Bishops), the distribution was even more disproportionate: 24 were Italian, while the four remaining cardinals were the Spanish Capuchin Vives y Tutó, Prefect of the Congregation of the Religious, and Secretary of State Rafael Merry del Val, a Spanish nobleman, who had been born and raised in Britain as well as the two former colleague consultors of the Holy Office, who were raised to the cardinalate in 1911: the Frenchman Louis Billot, a Jesuit, and Willem van Rossum.15
- 16 Ibid. In 1929 the ratio had slightly improved with respect to the number of regular order priests (...)
18In the Sacred College, the secular priests greatly outnumbered the religious order priests. There were two Franciscans, one Capuchin, one Benedictine, one Carmelite, one from the Romitani di S. Agostino, one Jesuit and one Redemptorist.16
19Formal relationships between the cardinals were established through their memberships of congregations, commissions and other dicasteries and institutes within the Curia. Underneath this organizational chart, but not overlapping each other, there existed an informal network of personal relationships. These networks were continuously changing: signals were exchanged, coalitions were made or barriers were erected. For anyone outside this world, these lines were difficult to unravel.
- 17 Chappin 2011, p. 97-107 ; Von Pastor 1950, p. 542-568.
- 18 For the appointments see AAS.
20The importance and influence of a cardinal can be partly deduced from his membership in certain important dicasteries (e.g. Holy Office, Concistoriale, Propaganda Fide, Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari) and of the total number of memberships. Just after Van Rossum was created a Cardinal-Deacon, he was appointed a member of the Congregations of the Religious, of the Council and of the Index; in January 1912, he was made a member of Propaganda Fide (at the time still responsible for both the Latin and Eastern Missions), and in 1913 of the Holy Office as well. In 1912, he received the highly honourable mission to represent the Pope as a papal legate at the international Eucharistic Congress in Vienna.17 In the same year, he became a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and, in 1914, its President. This was a post he held until his death in 1932. In 1915, he was appointed Major Penitentiary (until 1918). In the same year he was promoted to the rank of Cardinal-Priest, with the titular church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.18
- 19 KDC, ROS, inv. nr. 90: W. van Rossum to his family, Rome 22.8.1918.
21On 12 March 1918, while the Great War was still in progress, Pope Benedict XV put Cardinal van Rossum at the head of Propaganda Fide. When trying to explain to his nieces back in the Netherlands what his new job meant, he wrote that he had to govern half the world.19 On 19 May 1918, Pope Benedict XV personally ordained Van Rossum a Bishop, which made a great impression on the Dutch Cardinal. In the same year, he became a member of the new Congregation for the Oriental Churches (split off from Propaganda) and President of the Pontifical Seminary of Saints Peter and Paul for the foreign missions.
- 20 AAS ; ASV, Busta separata Concistori, Protettorie 183 / R / 2, NR. 43 (Van Rossum).
22The next year, he was made a member of the Congregation for the Seminaries and Universities, and finally, in 1931, of the Congregation of the Rites. Next to these, he held memberships of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Canon Law and of the Commission for the Propagazione della Fede in Rome. In addition, his list of Cardinal-protectorships of 32 orders and congregations is quite impressive.20 Twice more, he attended Eucharistic Congresses as a papal representative, first, in 1924, the XXVIIth International one in Amsterdam and then, just two weeks before he died in 1932, the Scandinavian Congress in Copenhagen.
23So, at the end of his life, Van Rossum was Prefect of Propaganda, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and a member of seven congregations. One might conclude that inside the Curia he was a powerful man. However, we also note that there are some important dicasteries missing in Van Rossum’s list. Significantly, the Dutch Cardinal was never a member of the Congregation of the Concistoriale, which handled the appointments of all Bishops. It is, however, true that, as Prefect of Propaganda (the « Red Pope »), he was responsible for preparing the appointments of all Vicars Apostolic, the « Mission Bishops », in the same way as the « White Pope », who held the prefecture of the Concistoriale, was responsible for the appointments of the ordinary bishops. Of course, the fact remains that the latter could always overrule the decisions taken by the Red Pope.
- 21 De Valk 2013, p. 323-342.
24One of the enigma’s of Van Rossum’s career is that he never was a member of the important Congregation of the Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari (AAEESS), the Vatican’s « Foreign Office », not even after he had been appointed Prefect of Propaganda Fide in 1918. This is a striking exception, especially since all the Prefects of Propaganda before and after him were members of this most influential dicastery, and Propaganda’s sphere of activity touched upon the foreign policy of the Holy See in many places. After the First World War, with conflicting western, colonial interests in the mission areas, it was crucial to be well-informed about all the important decisions made with respect to the Vatican’s foreign relationships.21 Van Rossum was not only kept out of the decision making process, but he also missed the information discussed: the meetings of the AAEESS were strictly secretive. We can only speculate about the reason for his exclusion. One wonders if Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Secretary of State under Benedict XV and his successor Pius XI, refused to let him join this dicastery, because of Van Rossum’s « Dutchness », meaning that he was not diplomatic, but stubborn and straight, and, therefore, not inclined to concessions. On the other hand, looking at the Cardinal’s career, one should also conclude that these traits certainly formed no impediments on his path to become one of the most powerful cardinals.
25In the historiography of the Roman curia and the central government of the Church, however, thus far Van Rossum has been conspicuous by his absence. When looking for the reasons of this absence, one can perceive several contextual factors making it difficult to get an authentic and reliable picture of Van Rossum’s activities and influence which may, therefore, (partly) account for his non-attendance.
- 22 Croce 2011, p. 61-62, however mentions other curia officials with a modest background, for example (...)
- 23 KDC, ROS, inv. nr. 132 : Correspondence with the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Ingenbohl ; Ibid., i (...)
- 24 Ibid., inv. nr. 336, Correspondence with J.M. Drehmanns ; ibid., inv.nr. 346, Private life of His (...)
26In the first place, be it because of his background, his character, his nationality or his religious state, Van Rossum seems to have been out of place in the world of curial cardinals. His socio-economic background certainly played a role.22 He came from a rather poor family and was raised as an orphan. It is possible that he felt or acted a bit awkwardly in the elegant surroundings where his Italian colleagues moved, and avoided social occasions. As a religious order priest, he had always opted for an austere life. Although he liked good food and a glass of wine ‑ as their Cardinal-Protector, he was happy to be entertained by various congregations of women religious near Rome23 ‑ he never indulged in rich banquets or pompous outfits. He had a strict daily pattern, not only because of his religious life, but also since 1913, he had become a diabetic. He rose at four o’clock in the morning, he kept, if possible, to the daily prayer moments, worked staunchly, took a daily walk at five and went to bed early around nine. Whenever possible, he retired to his semi-Redemptorist palazzo at the Via dello Statuto or, after 1918, when he had moved to the Piazza di Spagna, he retreated to Castel Gandolfo, where the Propaganda Fide owned a summer villa. Despite this, he was driven there by his chauffeur in his own rather extravagant car, which had been given to him in 1914 by the Dutch Catholics and was one of the few indulgences he granted himself.24
27The fact that he shunned public life and the occasions for informal networking may partly account for his absence in historiography. In memoirs and diaries written by ecclesiastical officials and afterwards published (e.g. the diaries kept by the French Cardinal Baudrillart and Monsignor Tardini), he is usually mentioned only briefly, indicating that he did not move in the center of the influential informal Italian and French Vatican networks. Apart from that, Cardinal van Rossum had never experienced what it meant to be a residential Bishop and had never performed the public duties that went along with this post. Only in 1918 was he ordained a Bishop in partibus infidelium.
28Sometimes one gets the impression that Van Rossum had internalized the Redemptorist lifestyle and ideals to such a degree that he had become devoid of egocentricity. He can certainly not be considered as a run-of-the-mill curial careerist. He lived and worked conscientiously for a higher cause: the advancement of the Holy Mother Church, which he expressed through his loyalty to his congregation and Saint Alphonsus de Liguori until 1895, and afterwards to the Pope and the Holy See. As far as the archival evidence shows, he never seems to have looked for personal satisfaction. In his letters and notes, he never boasts, never gossips about the failures of others, never tries to gloss over his own mistakes. He also never seeks to glorify or even highlight his own achievements and results. Van Rossum liked to pull strings behind the scenes, which makes it difficult to incontestably ascribe certain actions to him personally.
- 25 Interview Vefie Poels with mgr. Karel Kasteel, Rome 15.11.2012.
- 26 Paris, Personal Archives Family Smit, Diary J. O. Smit, June-July 1922.
29We do not know whether he kept a diary, as has been suggested by a former Dutch Propaganda official, Monsignor Karel Kasteel.25 It is not unlikely, because we know he suggested the same to his collaborator bishop Jan Olav Smit.26 But if so, we have not been able to locate it.
- 27 Poels 2013, p. 143-166.
- 28 For instance of the Sisters of Our Lady of Amersfoort. See Amersfoort, Archive of the Sisters of O (...)
30Even though Cardinal van Rossum was the highest Dutch official within the Catholic Church, he was hardly supported by the Dutch Episcopate. In general, the Dutch bishops were reserved towards Rome. Moreover, most bishops were well-known for their distrust of the regular clergy and they never developed a cordial relationship with the Cardinal, who was « only » a Redemptorist. Moreover, he had snatched away the red hat from under the Archbishop of Utrecht’s nose, Henricus van de Wetering (1895-1929), who would have loved to become a cardinal.27 It is no secret that Van de Wetering thwarted missionary ambitions of orders and congregations several times, ambitions which had been stimulated by Cardinal van Rossum.28
- 29 Chappin 2011, p. 106-107.
- 30 The Hague, National Archive, Archief van de Ministerraad 1823-1989, 2.02.05.02, inv. nr. 145, Memo (...)
- 31 Puchinger 1980, p. 277-279.
31The government of the predominantly Protestant Netherlands showed no interest in « their » Cardinal either, and certainly not in public. They did not send, for instance, an official governmental representative to the International Eucharistic Congress in Amsterdam in 1924; only the Catholic cabinet ministers attended the meeting. Van Rossum considered this an offense.29 Moreover, in the Netherlands, there was no formal contact between the Catholic hierarchy and national political institutions. However, the government was aware of the advantages of having its own Dutch cardinal, who could further Dutch interests via the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.30 Now and then they approached Van Rossum for political purposes. For instance, via the Bishop of Roermond, he was asked to inform Pope Benedict XV of the Dutch desire to keep the Dutch regions of Limburg and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, which were subjects of negotiations after the First World War. The Allied Powers discussed the possibility to give them to Belgium as an indemnification of the terrors of war. In January 1919, Van Rossum asked the Pope to bring this Dutch wish to the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, which he did.31 Both regions remained Dutch territory.
- 32 ACPF, Nova Series, vol. 805a, fol. 650-652 : Pro memoria dell’Em. Card. Van Rossum, 20.12.1920.
- 33 Prudhomme 2011, p. 137. Several authors ascribe the authorship of Maximum Illud (and Rerum Ecclesi (...)
32As far as we know, Van Rossum showed no overt political interests. Maybe the neutrality of the Netherlands during World War I made him cautious, or he considered it improper for a religious order priest. As Prefect of Propaganda Fide, most probably appointed because of his origin from a neutral country, Van Rossum opted even more for a neutral position in politics. He tried to further Catholic missions as a supranational and universal ecclesiastical cause. The primary goal in his missionary policy was to overcome national motives and connections as the key element in missionary activity and to build up indigenous churches with an indigenous clergy. National interests and ambitions were not important or even dangerous from this point of view. He ordered all missionaries to remain aloof from politics. He stimulated the training and ordination of indigenous priests, the incorporation of indigenous women in female congregations and the ordination of the first non-western, Chinese bishops in 1926.32 These goals were clearly highlighted in the apostolic letter Maximum Illud (1919). The document is known as the Magna Carta of the missions and was probably largely conceived by Van Rossum.33
- 34 See for instance Lacroix-Riz 2010, p. 26, 62-63, 108-111.
- 35 KDC, ROS, inv. nr. 338, 8.5.1930 : W. van Rossum to J. Drehmanns.
33The outside world tended to take Van Rossum for an ally of the Habsburg Empire and the Germans, and as anti-French.34 The latter was denied by Van Rossum in a letter to his former secretary Joseph Drehmanns in 1930, but the Cardinal admitted that his mission policy, and especially the reallocation of the Propagation de la Foi in Rome, had harmed his relationship with the French.35
- 36 Liebmann 1963, p. 38.
- 37 Von Pastor 1950, p. 730-731.
- 38 De Valk 2013.2, p. 181-203.
34The German-speaking cardinals, indeed, seem to have considered Van Rossum as an ally. From the Viennese Cardinal Piffl we learn that, at the conclave of 1914, the Austrian government had given nine names of favourable papabili to the ambassador: Van Rossum was number three after Ferrata and Della Chiesa. According to Piffl Van Rossum was « d’un naturel calme, serein. Il ferait un pape magnifique. »36 However, the Austrian-German group, which consulted Van Rossum several times, never voted for him and stuck to Della Chiesa. They did not vote for him either in 1922.37 In both conclaves Van Rossum seems to have supported former Secretary of State Merry del Val, not only because Van Rossum shared his doctrinal ideas (opting for the line of thought of Pius X), but also because he did not want to support an Italian candidate. This fits in with his assumed authorship of a document proposing some drastic reforms within the Roman Curia, published in 1931.38
- 39 Prévotat 2001, Chapitre VIII.
- 40 See Menozzi 2004, p. 32-42.
35In the archives, we never come across any remark that would betray sympathy towards Italian fascism or any forms of anti-semitism or racism. On the other hand, Van Rossum had a soft spot for the Action française at least in 1914. At that time, he considered a public condemnation of this movement as inopportune, a conviction shared by Pius X.39 In the 1920s, he favoured the Paris-based Ligue apostolique des nations of his fellow-Redemptorist, the Belgian Auguste Philippe, who was (rightly) accused of sympathizing with the Action française after the latter’s interdiction by Pope Pius XI.40
- 41 Poulat 1969, p. 229-330 ; Fantappiè 2008, p. 893-894, 1166 ; Vereecke 1972, p. 399-404, mentions t (...)
36It would be helpful if we could definitely place Van Rossum in a curial faction, party or clique. This, given his nature, is not easy and, besides, it would most likely not reflect the truth. Since Émile Poulat published his Intégrisme et catholicisme intégral, Van Rossum has been suspected of being an ally of Umberto Benigni and his « witch-hunting » Sapinière. Some of Van Rossum’s contacts indeed belonged to the integristi, who in 1909 supported Benigni’s Sodalitium pianum, like Cardinals Vives y Tutó, Gennari and Gotti, but unlike Gasparri, with whom Van Rossum had worked closely since 1904. Probably, as a staunch supporter of doctrinal orthodoxy and as an anti-modernist, Van Rossum was sympathetic to the group, at least until 1913 when Benigni listed him between those who were « with us ».41
- 42 De Valk 1998, p. 235-267.
37Yet, we should be careful in categorizing Van Rossum indisputably as a member of the broader circle of integristi. During his career at the Roman Curia, we can also discern some dissenting opinions on the part of Van Rossum. This may be illustrated by the fact that he became the victim of accusations from the anti-modernist faction, even from within his own religious congregation. Furthermore, in 1913, Van Rossum supported the interdenominational miners’ union in the Netherlands. In this way, he indirectly took sides in the famous German Gewerkschaftsfrage and joined his friend Cardinal Fischer of Cologne, against Cardinal Kopp of Breslau, who certainly had anti-modernist affiliations. Moreover, in the years between 1912 and 1914, Van Rossum explicitely attacked Benigni’s Dutch sympathizer M.A. Thompson, who had to step aside as editor of the influential Catholic newspaper De Maasbode due partly to Van Rossum’s intervention.42
- 43 Fogarty 1996, p. 552-553 ; Sheerin 1975, p. 72-74; Liebmann 1963, p. 50.
38Nevertheless, years later, Van Rossum was linked to the « clique » around Merry del Val, De Lai and Pompilj, who wanted to revive the old days of Pius X, against Secretary of State Gasparri, whom the Dutch Cardinal accused of nepotism.43
39Research into the life of a curial cardinal (and a fortiori that of a « foreign » one) brings its own set of heuristic and practical difficulties.
40Authentication is one of the main problems one meets when trying to assess the amount of influence of a particular cardinal of the Curia as well as the autonomy of his actions. The central government of the Church is organized as an absolute hierarchy. To the world outside, therefore, only the Pope decides, decrees and sets out policy. Official documents of a general meaning, such as encyclicals, are published under his name. In some cases, the Pope is indeed the auctor intellectualis, and may even write the basic text himself or assign the task of drafting it to a single person or an informal commission. In other cases, the subject to be treated has been presented to him, from inside or outside the Curia. Sometimes, a primary text may be included. To find out who is the real author of a document, who initiated, drafted or edited it, one has to trace the original file which illustrates its origin. In the archives of the Vatican, this is not always an easy task. As mentioned above, we have still not been able to locate the original drafts of the important missionary documents Maximum Illud (Benedict XV, 1919) and Rerum Ecclesiae (Pius XI, 1926), although there is much circumstantial evidence to attribute both documents, at least partially, to Van Rossum.
41What goes for the Pope, goes for the Propaganda as well: everything important is signed by its Prefect. Only when we find handwritten letters and notes by Van Rossum in the Archives of the Propaganda Fide ‑ and it is a joy to read his elegant and clear handwriting ‑ we can be absolutely sure of his personal involvement. After reading many letters, we can by now quite certainly determine the authenticity of his hand. The only texts giving rise to some doubts were those written by Alfredo Ottaviani, who for a short time was an employee of Propaganda. In a curial dicastery, however, many decisions are made or prepared by other officials. They may simply be rubber-stamped by the prefect, after having been drafted independently. Or, they are based on verbally imparted decisions or instructions, for instance from the secretary, who in his turn may have been instructed by the prefect. This means that it is often impossible to exactly determine Van Rossum’s personal involvement in congregational decisions. Given the fact that many decisions were based on verbal agreements, the authorship is even more difficult to determine.
- 44 Smit was dismissed in 1928. The (unsuccessful) assault on his life by a Swedish nurse in St. Peter (...)
42Thus far, two rather brief biographies of Van Rossum have been published. One was written by his former secretary Joseph Drehmanns CSsR in 1935; the other on the occasion of the centennial of Van Rossum’s birth by his protégé Monsignor Jan Olav Smit, former vicar apostolic of Oslo and canon of St. Peter’s in Rome, in 1954. Both biographies are not based on elaborate investigations in the archives. They are coloured, not only because of their hagiographical tenor, but more so because both authors were dishonourably discharged from the offices which Van Rossum assigned to them.44 Therefore, we have to take into consideration the fact that, while writing the biography of their former chief, they may have tried to whitewash their own past.
43In the archives of the Redemptorists and of the Propaganda Fide, we find many documents and letters to and from Van Rossum written in Dutch. For those who are not familiar with this language, it hampers access to important data, for it is in these Dutch documents that one finds interesting details and important background information. For instance, without a « strictly confidential » Dutch letter written by his compatriot Kronenburg in the Redemptorist Archives in the Netherlands, we would have never discovered that Van Rossum was the favourite candidate for the office of Superior General of the Redemptorists in 1909, or that Joseph Drehmanns was not always honest with his chief, while he tried to found a new missionary congregation as secretary of the Work of St. Peter Apostle with money in secret « loaned » from its funds.
44Furthermore, the knowledge of the most important « curial » languages in the first half of the twentieth century (Latin, Italian and French) is limited nowadays, especially in the contemporary English-speaking world. This narrows down the group of historians who are able to conduct such research, a group which has been traditionally limited to Italian, French and German historians. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the added difficulty of a curial cardinal who wrote primarily in Dutch, should have doomed the historicity of Willem van Rossum to a relatively shadowy existence.
- 45 We are grateful to Professor Étienne Fouilloux who pointed out to us the correspondence between Ca (...)
- 46 Turvasi 1974, p. 11.
45When writing about the life of a contemporary cardinal, another important practical problem is the difficult access to at least some of the archives. For the biography of Van Rossum, we have not been able to consult the archives of the Congregation of the Religious, of which Van Rossum was a member for more than twenty years. Our requests for admittance were never answered. The same goes for the archives of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. For eighteen years, Van Rossum was President of this commission, which was most important in the first decades of the twentieth century. With absolute certainty, these archives existed in 1939/1940, when Cardinal E. Tisserant ordered their classification.45 They were still available in the 1960s, when they were consulted by Francesco Turvasi, who in his preface thanked Tisserant for his permission to use the archives of the Biblical Commission for his study on Giovanni Genocchi.46 Rumor has it that they are to be found in a separate section of the Holy Office archives, but, thus far no positive information has reached us. As for the famous buste separate of the Vatican Secretariat of State, they contain among other things the personal files of many prelates with regard to their curial career and the files on the creation of cardinals. As long as these files remain closed for historical research, any research that focuses on post-1900 curia cardinals will remain incomplete.
46In this contribution, we have shown that Van Rossum as a religious order priest and a Dutch cardinal in the years from 1911 until 1932 was an exception in the Sacred College of Cardinals. This mere fact of being an outsider or « stranger » has influenced his place in Vatican historiography. He is almost absent in the current historiography on the first decades of twentieth century Church history. We have described several contextual and heuristic problems which may partly account for this marginalization.
47Of a certain importance is the fact that Cardinal van Rossum often gives the impression that, for various reasons, he felt out of place in the world of the curial cardinals and that he was certainly not what one may call a « socializer ». Furthermore, despite his apparently easy climb to the top, there is documentary evidence indicating a great humility and anti-worldliness, which might have led him to avoid the center stage. Where other « foreign » cardinals in the Curia maintained intimate and top-level relations with politicians and the Episcopate in their native countries, Van Rossum received very little support from both the Dutch government and bishops. As far as international politics were concerned, he tried to steer what he considered a neutral course and to remain on the outside as much as possible. Despite his iron orthodoxy, his active association with integralist circles remains doubtful. Taken together, these factors seem to convey the impression that the Dutch Cardinal was an Einzelgänger, an actor who liked to keep out of the limelight and avoided informal networking.
48Moreover, several heuristic problems increase these contextual ones. Authentification of the acta of curial officials is difficult because every formal act is ascribed to the Pope as the highest authority, while inside the dicasteries the same goes for the prefects. We have also had to deal with unreliable biographies. Difficulties with respect to the Dutch language also may partly account for his absence in the historiography, and so does the accessability of some Roman archives.
49Taken together, these contextual and heuristic problems can explain the comparative absence of Van Rossum in the historiography, a lack which is regrettable because it obscures the fact that the history of the Church cannot be properly understood without the contribution of its less visible, but nevertheless influential, members.