The Cardinal Who Served Four Popes

Source: FSSPX News

A benchmark figure in Church history at the beginning of the 20th century, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val deserves more works devoted to him. Professor Roberto de Mattei attempts to repair this gap by publishing a work entitled, Merry del Val: The Cardinal Who Served Four Popes.

It is sufficient to leaf through an article on current events in the Church from the first third of the 20th century to come across the name of Merry del Val. The curial career of this man, one of the closest collaborators of St. Pius X, is dazzling. He was appointed supernumerary chamberlain at the age of 21. The chamberlains are in the direct service of the Pope for routine tasks; supernumerary is a purely honorary title.

Ordained priest at 23, he was a secret chamberlain participant at 26; apostolic delegate to Canada at 31; president of the Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles – which trains members of the pontifical diplomatic corps – and archbishop at 34; Secretary of State and Cardinal at 38; Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and prefect of the Fabric of St. Peter’s at 48; and Secretary of the Holy Office at 49.

Born in 1865 in London, Rafael Merry del Val’s parents were Spanish, but he was English by education. From 1880, the young graduate of the Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles proved to be an effective collaborator of Leo XIII, particularly in the delicate question of Anglican ordinations declared to be “completely invalid and absolutely void” by the September 13, 1896 Apostolicae curae letter.

On the death of Leo XIII on July 20, 1903, Archbishop Merry del Val reached the great turning point in his life: he was appointed secretary of the conclave which unexpectedly elected Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto. To everyone's surprise, del Val was chosen by St. Pius X as Secretary of State or, in other words, his right arm.

At only 38 years old, he was created cardinal and, for 11 years, he remained as close as possible to the new Pope, with whom he worked in total harmony, facing with him all the great battles of his pontificate, starting with the fight against the modernism.

Roberto de Mattei deals in particular with the role of Merry del Val in the conviction of Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell, and his relationship with Umberto Benigni, founder of the Sodalitium Pianum: “What he had in common with Giuseppe Sarto was a deeply lived spiritual life, a pastoral breadth of vision, a supernatural spirit which translated into a disposition of mind opposed to modernism” (p. 119).

Cardinal Merry del Val’s years of service did not end with the death of St. Pius X. His successor, Benedict XV (1914-1922), named the high prelate Secretary of the Holy Office, the premier congregation of the Church, presided over by the Pope himself.

The reader will discover Cardinal Merry del Val’s positions in the controversy over Padre Pio in the 1920s; on the Malines conversations, which prefigured conciliar ecumenism; and on certain scandals which rocked the Vatican at the time. Also covered is the  Action Française quarrel, which saw the cardinal clash with Pope Pius XI.

Cardinal Merry del Val died in Rome on February 26, 1930. Pius XII, who had begun his ecclesiastical career at the Secretariat of State under the orders of Cardinal Merry del Val, wanted to raise him to the altar. On February 26, 1953, the high prelate's cause for beatification was officially opened, supported by the Pontifical Spanish College in Rome.

After three years, the procedure was completed, and in 1957, the writings of the servant of God Rafael Merry del Val were approved by the Congregation of Rites. But Pius XII was called back to God, then John XXIII was elected, opening the disastrous conciliar period. Needless to say, the figure of Merry del Val was no longer really relevant at a time of the triumph of collegiality and religious freedom.

While this work is only available in Italian, other translations should be forthcoming.