Cardinal Van Roey, foe of Nazis, dead at 87

BRUSSELS, Aug. 10—Requiem Mass has been offered here for Josef Cardinal van Roey, who defied the nazis, battled the communists and brought school peace to his nation after more than a century of Church-State strife.

The Archbishop of Malines died (Aug. 6) at the age of 87. Long a victim of a circulatory ailment, he took a turn for the worse and received Extreme Unction the day before his death.

Belgium’s King Baudouin and Queen Pablóla, whom the Cardinal married last December, were out of the country when he died. They were expected to return for his funeral. Also due to return for the funeral was Belgian Premier Theo Lefevre.

After the Requiem Mass in St. Rombaut’a cathedral, presided over by Archbishop Efrem Forni, Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, the cardinal was buried in the cathedral’s crypt.

Cardinal van Roey was the third member of the College of Cardinals to die within eight days. Domenico Cardinal Tardini died on July 30 and Nicola Cardinal Canall died on August 3. Their deaths reduce membership in the Sacred College to 81.

(At his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, Italy, His Holiness Pope John XXIII went to his private chapel to pray as soon as he was told of Cardinal van Roey’s death. The Pope offered his August 7 Mass for the repose of the Cardinal’s soul.)

Cardinal van Roey was bom in Vorsselaer, Belgium, on January 13, 1874. After studying at the Malines seminary he was ordained a priest on September 18, 1897.

After earning a doctorate at the Catholic University of Louvain, he taught theology there until 1907# when he was made vicar general, of the Malines archdiocese. He was named Archbishop of Malines in 1926 and created a cardinal a year later.

The Cardinal took a special interest in Catholic Action activities and set up a Catholic Action committee in every parish to coordinate the work of various organizations.

The Catholic congress at Malines which he organized in 1936 to give the nation’s Catholics doctrinal direction on religious, social, economic and cultural matters, is a milestone in the history of the Churoh In Belgium.

The rise of nazism in Europe brought the Cardinal perhaps the greatest challenge of his career. His reaction was among his greatest achievements.

Even before the outbreak of war, in Deoember, 1938, Cardinal Van Roey condemned nazi race theories as an expression of materialism. The Cardinal stated: “To consider the will, morality and even religion as coining from the blood is to reduce high values to mere material things.” Such race theories, he added, represent for men “what stockbreeding is for cattle.”

With the fall and occupation of Belgium in the early days of World War II, the Cardinal became a center of resistance to the nazi invaders. His resistance at first was of the passive variety, a display of the silent diplomacy which had earned him a reputation as the “silent Cardinal.” By simply refusing to reply either to friendly overtures or gibes from the nazis, the Cardinal frustrated their efforts to persuade Catholics to collaborate with them.

But when Belgian quislings began a violent attack on the Church, the Cardinal fought back.

“The unjustified invasion of a country,” he declared in an address to a Catholic Action group in September, 1941, “cannot be defended on moral grounds. There are those who say that the Church can adapt Itself to any regime. We must distinguish. The Church adapts herself to any regime that safeguards liberty and does not violate conscience. If a regime violates the rights of conscience, the Church does not adapt herself.”

He added: “It is not licit for Catholics to collaborate in the introduction of a regime of oppression… Reason and good sense will direct us in the way of confidence, or resistance, because we are certain that our country will be restored and will rise again.”

The Cardinal followed his words with actions. He ordered the expulsion from Catholic schools of students who Joined nazi youth organizations, forbade Catholics to read collaborationist papers, refused admittance to churches to uniformed groups of collaborators.

Following the war the Cardinal was quid: to recognize and speak out against the threat of communism. In a pastoral letter to Belgian Catholics he said: “We admired the Russians when they were defending their country and contributing to the collapse of the nazis. Why should Russia now sully its glory by persecuting millions for their faith?”

As Europe strove to recover from the effects of the war, Cardinal van Roey wrote in “While the United States—whose spirit of human solidarity and Christian charity has been admirable all over Europe since the end of the fighting—proposes to offer material help enabling exhausted nations to recuperate, one witnesses this incredible spectacle: Soviet Russia, its satellites and partisans, not only repudiate any help for the peoples that they dominate, but strain every nerve to thwart this kind offer.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinal also warned against a postwar wave of anticlericalism in Belgium, which manifested itself especially in efforts to reduce the subsidies granted by the government to Catholic schools. Typical of his many statements on this subject was his 1957 Lenten pastoral, which declared that such a campaign to impede Catholic education “hurts freedom of conscience and violates equality among citizens.”

His efforts led to the 1958 school pact signed by Belgium’s three main political parties which ended the generations-old controversy over government aid to Catholic schools. The pact doubled the subsidies granted to Church schools and put them on a par with provincial and local-government schools in regard to state aid.

Early in 1960 the Cardinal and Belgium’s Catholics were praised for their efforts to spread the Faith in the Belgian Congo, now an independent nation. The praise came In a letter to Cardinal van Roey from Gregorio Pietro XV Cardinal Agagianlan, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

At the same time Cardinal van Roey, who had given protection to persecuted Belgian Jews as he fought the nazis during the wartime occupation, again spoke out against a renewed wave of antisemitism.

Last December the Cardinal successfully urged workers engaged in a series of strikes that threatened to paralyze the nation to return to their Jobs. During the same month he officiated at King Baudouin’s marriage.


Catholic News Service – Newsfeeds, 7 August 1961 (Catholic News Archive)