Monday, September 6, 2010

Cardinal Mercier

Here is a collection of wartime letters and speeches of Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines. He achieved a heroic reputation among Catholics and non-Catholics alike for his bold, fearless denunciations of the German occupiers. He was also seen as a compassionate, beatific man of God. I will admit, however, to harboring some reservations about Mercier. Doctrinally, it is claimed that he was a mentor of the radical Cardinal Suenens, and he was suspected of Modernism in his day. While some portray this simply as hysterical Vatican witch-hunting, and Mercier himself condemned the heresy, there are some odd facts which make me skeptical of him. You would expect a Prince of the Church to be eager to assist in bringing about an end to World War I, which was destroying the remnants of Christendom, but apparently this was not the case. On the contrary, Marie-Rose Thielemans, in her editions of the war diaries and letters of Albert I, contends that the Cardinal's intransigent political attitudes actually obstructed the King's peace efforts, which depended upon Church support. In his diary, Albert voiced his frustration with Mercier, and even complained that the Archbishop was fraternizing with freemasons. Finally, although Mercier professed great devotion to the Belgian mystic Berthe Petit, who pleaded for the solemn consecration of Belgium to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, he was curiously reticent in fulfilling her request. He agreed to dedicate Belgium privately to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, but the solemn, public consecration never took place. This always strikes me as a strange omission coming from an ostensible champion of God, King and Country.


MadMonarchist said...

The words I have read of Cardinal Mercier, calling the people to duty, loyalty and righteous patriotism, I have greatly admired. However, other things that have come to light, such as you mention, have made me more skeptical. Not embracing the effort to end the war peacefully seems quite striking to me, not only because his King was pushing such an effort but because the Holy Father in Rome was advocating the same. One would have thought Mercier should be at the forefront of such an effort.

May said...

Yes, it is odd. Even his words to the people, while apparently righteous, might have been a little *too* stirring at times. His addresses always laid heavy stress on the emotions and "how much we have suffered," some of which might simply have inflamed Belgian-German enmity further rather than helping anything. There are some odd lines in them too- like "our Belgian, British and French wounded," as I recall, in one of his pastoral letters, which is a bit odd since, strictly speaking, only the Belgian soldiers were "ours" in that context. But again, that is a sort of excessive mingling of Allied and Belgian war aims.