Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Among History’s Vanished
The archivist of the Oriental Congregation, Gianpaolo Rigotti’s recent article “Uomini e attività della Congregazione per la Chiesa Orientale tra i motu proprio Dei providentis (1917) e Sancta Dei Ecclesia (1938)” deals with key figures that served the Congregation of the Oriental Church(es). However, one person is conspicuously absent from among these figures: Monsignor Enrico Benedetti. For twenty years, Benedetti was one of the most important employees of the two oriental departments of the Roman Curia, from 1904 to 1924. After this date he largely vanishes from history and obtaining his biographical data continues to be difficult. There are few overt references to his person and activities in the archives of the Oriental Congregation but, surprisingly, more significant information is to be found in other archives of the Apostolic See and in works dealing with Ukraine and the Greek-Catholic Church. Recently, Benedetti’s memory was brought back to life by the research of Monsignor Giuseppe M. Croce. In his now famous edition of Cyrille Korolevskij’s autobiography and correspondence, there are significant references to Benedetti, a protagonist of Byzantine Catholicism in the Roman Curia. Croce’s work has finally lifted the veil from the mystery of aspects of Benedetti’s curial career. This brief biography, based on what appears to be left of Benedetti’s personal file and supplemented by other archival sources, is intended as a modest addition to such research.
Enrico Benedetti was born in Rome in 1874 and was ordained for his native diocese in 1897, at the age of twenty-three. He subsequently obtained a teaching degree, as well as degrees in theology and in canon law, the latter for which he received top marks. In 1899 he was taken on provisionally at the Congregation of the Council [of the Clergy]. On 13 January 1900, he was given the chair of letters at the schools of the Pontifical Urban College run by the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide where he later taught ecclesiastical history. It was in this teaching capacity that Angelo Roncalli (future Blessed John XXIII) remembered Benedetti in his famous memoirs, Journal of a Soul.
Propaganda Fide called Benedetti to additional responsibilities in 1904. At that time the minutante for the Ruthenian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Georgian Rite affairs received another posting and resigned his charge at the Congregation. According to the custom of the time, Italian priests were asked to submit their names for the vacant post. Among the eighteen contestants, Benedetti ranked among the top three for “the best physical, intellectual and moral requisites.” Benedetti was further prized for his knowledge of Greek, French and a little English and German. On 4 July 1904, the cardinals selected Benedetti and Pope Pius X approved the selection the following 12 July. The new minutante was informed of his appointment in a letter from the Assessor of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide for the Affairs of the Oriental Rite, Monsignor Savelli Spinola, dated the following day.
When Pope Benedict XV suppressed the old Congregation De Propaganda for the Affairs of the Oriental Rite, in 1917, Benedetti passed over to the newly created Congregation Pro Ecclesia Orientali [for the Oriental Church]. In the new department, his past faithful service and expertise earned him the promotion from simple minutante to official, in which capacity he could co-sign documents with the cardinal-secretary or the bishop-assessor. Additionally, Don Enrico was granted the honourary distinction of papal chamberlain which carried with it the title of Monsignor.
The new Congregation was charged with demonstrating a more sympathetic image to Eastern-Rite Christians and its modus operandi was to be exclusively attuned to their needs. For this purpose the Pope chose Cardinal Marini, who had a certain interest in oriental scholarship, as the Congregation’s head. As second-in-command the Pope chose a Greek-Catholic, Bishop Isaias Papadopulos.
Among those who showed the greatest interest in the Christian East was Monsignor Benedetti himself, especially in his area of competency, the Greco-Slavic Churches, the largest among which was the Byzantine-Ruthenian, which comprised several of what we now call ecclesiae sui iuris. Benedetti soon began publishing material about the history of the Ruthenian Churches. In 1916 he published Punti di storia religiosa del popolo ruteno (Notes on the Religious History of the Ruthenian People) in Cardinal Marini’s journal Bessarione. The article was later printed as a booklet. Another important work appeared in 1922, entitled Le Chiese Orientali (The Oriental Churches).
One of the early issues that the new Oriental Congregation had to tackle was the Ukrainian problem. Benedetti had developed a relationship of trust with the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchs, the most senior of which was Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. Ukrainian political leaders, Catholic and Orthodox, also reached out to the Apostolic See to secure political recognition. In exchange for which they promised freedom for Catholicism in Ukraine, especially for the Eastern-Rite variant. The Congregation, however, was not authorized to address political questions. These were the responsibility of the papal Secretariat of State and the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which dealt with any religious questions connected with state governments. The Ukrainian question was, in the language of the Curia, a questione politico-religioso (a political-religious mix). The religious values that the Apostolic See intended to promote were intertwined with the political questions of the day. And therein lie the seeds of conflict over Ukraine within the Roman Curia.
With Europe in flux, Benedict XV and his secretary of state Cardinal Gasparri showed significant openness to Ukrainian independence. In 1919 an extraordinary Ukrainian diplomatic representation was received at the papal court. In turn, the Oriental Congregation recommended a papal representative to the Ukraine. Such a pontifical liaison was to assess the situation and present the religious goals of the Apostolic See to Ukrainian notables. The Pope accepted these recommendations and appointed Father Giovanni Genocchi as apostolic visitor to Ukraine.
But who recommended Genocchi to this post? According to his friend and biographer Vincenzo Ceresi: “Enrico Benedetti was a faithful admirer of the religious and devoted to him like a son.” Genocchi’s charming personality had made him many friends in Italian social and intellectual circles but these associations had made him enemies in the Curia, especially during the Modernist Crisis. and recognized his fidelity. Pope Benedict sought Monsignor Benedetti’s counsel to find a way to remove Genocchi from the climate of curial suspicion. Benedetti proposed the apostolic visitation to Ukraine and Eastern Galicia at the beginning of February 1920 and, according to Ceresi, the Pope accepted the proposal a week later, naming Genocchi on 13 February.
The instructions that Genocchi received from the Oriental Congregation in March 1920 had been composed by Benedetti and contained a long and sympathetic summary of the history of Ruthenian-Ukrainian questions. Don Enrico’s sympathy was keenly felt by Ukraine’s religious and political men, who, together with Genocchi, corresponded privately with him, seeking counsel and encouragement.
Benedetti also helped many Ukrainian priests. Through the mediation of Ukrainian diplomatic representative Father François-Xavier Bonne, in January 1920 Don Enrico arranged for the future Cardinal Josyf Slipyj to further his studies in Rome. Slipyj received funding through the Congregation for which he wrote to thank Benedetti in November. Two years later, with the Ukrainian diplomatic cause going badly, Bonne himself received a stipend through Benedetti’s intercession.
The turning point in Enrico Benedetti’s curial career occurred at the beginning of 1922 regarding political ramifications to the Ukrainian religious question; namely, the restoration of the ancient Byzantine bishopric of Lutsk.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky had ordained Josyf Botsian Bishop of Lutsk (Volyn) in 1914, using special powers granted him secretly by Pius X. But when Botsian attempted to begin his mission in Volyn he was blocked by Polish civil and religious notables. They feared that the restoration of the illegally suppressed Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Lutsk would help the Ukrainian independence movement and block centuries-old Polish hegemony over the territory. Following his release from Russian captivity in 1917, Sheptytsky made repeated attempts to have Botsian’s appointment legitimized. Finally in 1921, Metropolitan Andrei was able to prove to Benedict XV the existence of the secret faculties granted by Pius X. Thus on 21 February 1921, Pope Benedict did not hesitate to confirm Botsian’s appointment. However, due to the extreme opposition to Botsian in Poland, the Pontiff added the reservation that, although truly Bishop of Lutsk, until a modus vivendi with the Polish government could be achieved, Botsian was not to exercise episcopal jurisdiction.
One of Monsignor Benedetti’s duties was to correct the drafts of the papal Catholic directory, the Annuario Pontificio. In doing so, he added the name of Josyf Botsian under the resident diocese of Lutsk. Shortly before his death in January 1922, Benedict XV had examined these notations but had made neither comment nor objection. During the sede vacante, Polish prelates in the Curia put pressure on the papal secretariat of state to have the entries removed. Monsignor Borgongini Duca ordered the head of the Annuario to remove Botsian’s name but the priest in charge replied that, since the late Pope had approved the drafts, he required a written order. Borgongini complied with the request and the name was removed from the list of resident bishops (page 161). However, the priest-in-charge apparently forgot to remove the name from the index (page 902). Several copies of the first and second editions had already gone into circulation, before the third and final edition removed Botsian’s name altogether.
News about the original versions of the Annuario reached Ukrainian diplomatic representatives resulting in a series of articles in the Italian journal Il Popolo Romano, written by the secretary of the Ukrainian Legation in Vienna, Volodymyr Bandrivsky. A diplomatic incident occurred, resulting in vehement protests from the Polish Legation to the Holy See. Following an internal investigation, Cardinal Gasparri wrote a strong letter to Cardinal Marini blaming Monsignor Benedetti for divulging confidential information. Gasparri argued that, Benedetti, who had added the entries by hand, could not possibly be free from blame because he was aware that the late Pope had ruled that Botsian was not to exercise episcopal jurisdiction. “Mons. Benedetti put the Holy See in a very embarrassing position before the Polish Government.”
Benedetti ardently denied the charge but someone had to take the blame. Recently uncovered archival sources point to the fact that Ukrainian priests in Rome had been the source of the information, especially Basilian Father Lazar Berezovsky who carried on written correspondence with the Ukrainian diplomatic representatives. Pius XI was very annoyed by the incident, especially by the fact that Ukrainian politics seemed to be limiting the Church’s freedom of action. As a result, Cardinal Gasparri summoned Father Berezovsky, informing him that the Pope did not want to hear of “Ukrainians” but only “Ruthenians”. The rector retorted that they were indeed Ukrainians and that no one had the right to take away their name.
The upshot was that the Apostolic See had to give strong assurances to the Polish Government that Bishop Botsian (at least for the time being) would remain a bishop in name only. Enrico Benedetti received a reprimand in kind: his name was also removed from one section of the Annuario, the list of papal chamberlains. This honour, once conferred, remained in force only during the lifetime of the reigning Pope but had to be reconfirmed by his successor. Father Cyrille Korolevskij recounted the affair to Metropolitan Sheptytsky three months later, ended his letter by stating that “Today, the incident has calmed down but Benedetti was not confirmed in his title of “Monsignor” by the new Pope, who said: “We’ll see about it later.”
Even though he was soon restored to his monsignorial title, the Lutsk-Annuario incident had marked Benedetti’s curial career at the very inception of the new pontificate. In Korolevskij’s words: “Benedetti [...] is not in the [new] Pope’s good graces.” The Polish legation was especially on guard against any initiatives of Bendetti and his department, whose attempts to protect Eastern Catholics were regarded as inimical to Poland. Ambassador Skrzyński complained to Genocchi that "as long as Msgr. Benedetti is there, nothing good will be done" by the Oriental Congregation. Leading Polish curialist Monsignor Kazimierz Skirmunt suggested that Botsian’s title be changed without the knowledge of the Congregation so that it "and with it the whole Oriental universe" would not be given the opportunity to protest. Benedetti earned further papal displeasure in 1924, due to his participation in that year's Velehrad Congress. Pius XI complained that he did not want members of the Congregation to participate at such events in an official capacity.
The Oriental Congregation’s wings had been clipped in March 1922. Shortly after the Annuario incedent, its head, Cardinal Marini became ill and was replaced by Cardinal Tacci. Marini had not demonstrated any remarkable capacity and Tacci turned out to be even worse, particularly due to an undiscovered brain tumour. During the latter’s term, many affairs were left unresolved and a number of important documents were mislaid, only to be found among the cardinals papers after his death. By 1924, in the words of Korolevskij, Benedetti had become “disgusted”. He left the Congregation on 31 December 1924 and passed to the Vatican Library the following year.
Although he ceased active service, Enrico Benedetti was well respected in the Roman Curia for his erudition and for many years of service he had given in no less than three Vatican departments. As a result, following his curial retirement, Don Enrico was called upon to serve as consulter to the Consitorial and Oriental Congregations; charges which he fulfilled until his death.
The Ruthenian bishops would have been devastated to see one of their few overt sympathizers retire from the Roman Curia. The relationship of trust that they had formed with Benedetti induced Metropolitan Sheptytsky to propose him for yet one more service. At their Episcopal Conference of 1928, the Ruthenian hierarchs of Poland (Ukrainians) and Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (Carpatho-Ruthenians) and Bulgaria agreed to Sheptytsky’s proposal to appoint Benedetti as their man in Rome. On 8 July 1928, Sheptytsky wrote to Monsignor Giuseppe Pizzardo, head of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, asking him if the Curia had any objection to the bishops’ recommendation: The Bishops “considered Msgr. Enrico Benedetti, whom all have known for a long time, and who has always shown great devotion to the interests of their Churches and possesses all the necessary experience.”
Pizzardo asked the opinion of Monsignor Eugène Tisserant, a co-worker of both Benedetti and Korolevskij at the Vatican Library. Tisserant replied that he could not see any difficulty with the appointment. The matter was then forwarded to the Oriental Congregation, which also found no objection. Cardinal Sincero wrote to Sheptytsky on 19 July 1928 that “This Sacred Congregation is very happy to inform Your Lordship that it has nothing against your wish [...] as it has nothing against the person chosen for this office.” Once he had received Benedetti’s consent, Sheptytsky formally presented him to the Apostolic See on 27 November 1928 as procurator of the Ruthenian Episcopate in Rome for the affairs of the Ruthenian Churches.
Being familiar with both worlds, Benedetti was perfectly suited to act as a liaison between the Roman Curial offices and the Ruthenian hierarchy. Among notable affairs handled, in 1929 he made important oral clarifications regarding the candidates for auxiliary bishop to Metropolitan Sheptytsky. Two years later, in 1931, he rendered an important service when, together with Korolevskij, he was consulted by the Congregation on the history and status of Sheptytsky’s title Metropolitan of Halych, as distinct from to that of Archbishop of Lviv and Bishop of Kamiamets-Podilsk.
In his final years, Benedetti endured a long illness. Shortly before his death, which occured on Monday, 10 March 1941, he received a special blessing from Pope Pius XII. Monsignor Professor Enrico Benedetti’s funeral took place three days later, on Thursday, 13 March 1941, at the Roman parish church of the Sacred Heart on the Lungotevere Prati. The funeral rites were attended by numerous officials of the Oriental Congregation, among whom many counted themselves as admirers of their former colleague. Eugène Tisserant, now the cardinal-secretary of that department, subequently paid high tribute to Benedetti’s example of generous and loyal service to the Church.
Benedetti's memory continued to endure in the tiny community of Ukrainian priests and religious in the Eternal City, especially among those whom he had known and helped. As late as 1998, Ukrainian historian Liliana Hentosh identified his photograph, still displayed in the corridors of Piazza Madonna dei Monti, the seat of the Ukrainian procurature. The photo had been displayed at the orders of Cardinal Slipyj, whose first Roman sojourn had been arranged by Benedetti. Sadly, with recent renovations to the Madonna residence, even this last vestige of his memory has vanished.