History of a tormented cause

The postulator for the cause of beatification goes over the stages that have brought Rosmini to the altar

by Claudio Massimiliano Papa
of the Institute of Charity


View of the Benedectine Abbey Sacred of Saint Michael, in Val di Susa, that was entrusted to the Rosminians in 1836
      The reputation of man of God that surrounded Antonio Rosmini from the years of his youth was strengthened after his death by certain graces obtained through his intercession. Father Francesco Paoli, his first biographer, saw in them and in the increasing devotion toward him the chance of introducing the cause for beatification from immediately after his death. He consulted various people but immediately found some who put a brake on the initiative. In favor of a launching of the cause of beatification, instead, were Cardinals Hohenlohe and Bartolini, as also the Piedmontese Bishops of Casale and Turin.
      In particular the Archbishop of Turin, Lorenzo Gastaldi, not only approved the initiative, but offered advice and support. Writing to the Father General Luigi Lanzoni, he urged: «You should sine mora present your request to the curia of Novara so that a start be given to the process…».
      And the same prelate got on to the Rosminian Fathers, sending a letter to the Bishop of Novara in which he said he was certain that he will welcome «the very just request of these excellent Fathers, to whose plea I add my own» and, having stated his willingness to give the cause all possible help, he concludes: «It being a matter of cooperating towards the glory of one of the figures who have most enlightened the Church and the clergy in this century».
      On 22 April 1882 Father Paoli asksed the Bishop of Trent for permission to gather extrajudicial testimonies in his diocese on the virtues of the servant of God, in the intention of opening the evidence gathering process. The gathering was begun, but the process was not opened: it did not seem wise to Father Lanzoni to begin «the great cause for beatification» at that moment, having learned that the Holy Office was examining the works of Rosmini.
      On the basis of that information, as early as the beginning of 1882, Father Lanzoni had addressed to Pope Leo XIII the following request: «… As a personal grace could I be informed (if ever private information is true) by whatever means Your Holiness finds most convenient, of the clauses in the said works that could be incriminated, in order to clarify the obscurities, or resolve the objections that seem maybe to offend against the wholesome doctrine of the Church and of the Apostolic See». In the two following years Paoli continued his indefatigable work, writing the second part Of the life of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati, with the title Of his virtues.
      In it, as well as demonstrating on the basis of fact the heroic virtues practiced by him, he added around three hundred testimonies on his virtues and holiness, given by persons in the ecclesiastical and secular spheres who had known him. Albeit the material evidencing the holiness of his life had become notable, the superiors of the religious Institute thought it better to postpone the request for beginning the process of beatification not least because of the 1887 Post obitum that set out possible doctrinal errors in forty clauses taken from Rosmini’s works. The request for the opening of the process of beatification was thus temporarily set aside and for forty years there was no mention of it.
      It was in 1928 that Father General Balsari decided it was the right moment to try to set the cause of beatification of Antonio Rosmini going. Apart from the miraculous recoveries that had occurred that year, that are the principal reason, believed supernatural proofs of holiness of life, that year was also the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Institute of Charity and working for Rosmini meant bringing fresh air to the toilsome life of an “Institute” until then humiliated because founded by a man still not yet understood. There was then the need not to miss the few eyewitness testimonies still existing and to record the hearsay ones.
      He was encouraged to the step not only by the words of the Pope, but also the opinion of Cardinal Gamba, Archbishop of Turin, and of Monsignor Mariani, secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The request to the bishops of Novara and Trent was successful. On 13 January he obtained without difficulty from the Sacred Congregation of Rites the order of proxy for Father Giuseppe Sannicolò and for two vice-postulators, with the nihil obstat issued by the chancellery of the same Congregation and signed by the substitute Monsignor Di Fava. In basis of canons 2038 and 2939, then in force, the bishops could, iure proprio, begin the process of gathering information on the reputation for holiness and the de non cultu process. While the Bishop of Trent took heed, set up the Court and celebrated the first session, the Bishop of Novara wrote a letter on 6 January 1928 to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri, to ask for information. Since it was not his jurisdiction, Monsignor Gasparri handed the letter to the Procurator General of the faith, Monsignor Salotti. Having considered the Rosmini case, he replied to the Bishop of Novara, dissuading him from introducing the cause of beatification so as not «to stir up ancient quarrels, kindle discussions altogether inopportune and useless, and awaken in the clergy and laity those divisions that charity and prudence counsel one to avoid».
      On 5 February following Father Balsari wrote the Pope a long letter, in part to inform and in part to beg for the opening of the process in the diocese of Novara and the continuation in that of Trent, where it had already begun. But nothing came of it and everything stopped.
      Various other attempts were later made to introduce the cause. In the history of the Institute of Charity, with the exception of Lanzoni, who was the Father General of humble and silent obedience to the Post obitum, all the others never ceased from making attempts to introduce the cause of beatification of their founder.
A period photo of the Rosmini Hill with the Sanctuary where the Abbot of Rovereto is buried and with the college dedicated to him
      After Father Balsari, the petition sent by the Father General Giuseppe Bozzetti, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, came to the same end as that of 1928. Again this time everything was ready for the opening of the information gathering process in the diocese of Novara, and Father John Hichey already appointed as postulator. But on 4 July 1947 the Father Provincial received a letter from Novara: it was from Monsignor Giovanni Cavigioli, who «with deeply dismayed mind» communicated the negative response of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The spokesman was the same Cardinal Salotti, who as Prefect of the Congregation reiterated the “no” with the same reasons given as motivations in 1928.
      At the time of Pope John XXIII, the then Father General Giovanni Gaddo began in 1962 to gather information to check whether it was the right moment for a new attempt. Contact with Cardinal Larraona, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, with Monsignor Antonelli, Promoter of the Faith, with Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Holy Office, were all positive. Cardinal Larraona, to whose hands the cause was entrusted (the Institute not having, by the explicit wish of its founder, a cardinal guardian) seemed particularly benevolent.
      The Pope also, in his prudence and concern, took an interest in the cause of Rosmini with the declared intention of wanting to deal with it as soon as the Council ended and wanted Rosmini’s to be a historical and not doctrinal cause. The new climate was encouraging stir and on 17 September 1962 the request for a nulla osta from the Sacred Congregation for the Rites was sent, but the fresh hope of being close to the goal was again crushed by the death of the Pope in June of 1963.
      In the meantime the Council Fathers were discussing the problems connected with the liturgy, and the Procurator General thought it a good idea to send Cardinal Larraona a gift copy of The Five Wounds, that discussed those issues. Along with the gift he described the historico-political reasons why it had been put on the Index, and expressed the hope that «at the right time the ban may be lifted».
      In March 1965 contacts for furthering the cause of Rosmini were renewed. At a meeting with Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, the Father General was told: «Let them begin immediately. Prepare all the objections and already unite the responses, so that when the process comes to us, everything is prepared for a good solution. You need to look for very able people».
      In mid December 1965 the Entreaty was delivered, through Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua, to get the consent of the Pope for the opening of the process. Around November 1966 the Rosminian Father Bolla, Procurator of the Institute of Charity, reminded Cardinal Larraona that there was still no response, while the Father General, at a meeting with Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua, bearer of the petition, asked him about the delay and obtained the answer: «These are things that need a lot of thinking about», and the suggestion to ask an audience of the Holy Father. Shortly after, however, he made him understand that it was better to renounce. The new hopes, fed by voices in favor, perished like the old, and the reasons for this silence remained vague.
      In the Rosminian archives there are documents from around the early months of 1971 showing the intention to put the cause of beatification of Rosmini back on track again. There is a Report dated 19 May, in fact on the problem of the “forty propositions”, presented to Monsignor Giuseppe Del Ton, Secretary of Latin Letters (Secretariat of State), and a letter of the day after from Monsignor Del Ton with enclosed the Promemoria, sent to Cardinal Franjo Seper, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which the nihil obstat is asked for. Again dated 20 May is a Petition to the Pope from the Father General. The reply from Cardinal Seper to Monsignor Del Ton is dated 9 June, to inform him that «this Ministry does not give out nihil obstat of the kind in a preventive phase; this Sacred Congregation reserves the right to deal with the question of the eventual beatification in question with the maximum impartiality as soon as it receives an official request from the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints».
      At the end of Summer 1971 the informal contacts for a new attempt began again. Monsignor Del Ton and the Cardinal Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano tell the Rosminian Father Clemente Riva that the Vatican milieu, including the Pope, is favorable. Riva also received precise indications on the path to follow from Monsignor Frutaz, Undersecretary to the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. What were needed were: the Entreaty to the Pope by the Father General on behalf of the Institute, of friends and scholars of Rosmini, highlighting his person and the current utility of Rosmini’s holy life and of his thinking, the Outline of his life and virtues, explicit mention of the “forty propositions”, the nihil obstat and a proposer (a cardinal or the superior general) to present the petition with all the material to the Pope.
      On 24 May 1972 an Entreaty was delivered to the Holy Father, through Monsignor Pasquale Macchi. The signatories were Father Francesco Berra, Procurator of the Institute, and Father Clemente Riva, Vicar of the Father General. At the end of May Monsignor Macchi made known that the Entreaty with attached documentation had been delivered. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked the Stigmatist Father Cornelio Fabro (on 18 November 1972) and the Rosminian Clemente Riva (7 December 1973), for their view on the Rosminian question.
The Bishop of Novara Renato Corti (second from the left) and Father Claudio Massimiliano Papa, (second from the right), Postulator of the Cause of Beatification, during the press conference of presentation of the ceremony of beatification of Rosmini
      Given the complexity of the matter, in April 1974, a commission was set up at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the task of studying the Rosminian question and presenting its conclusions to the members of the Department. Both Fabro and Riva were members of the commission. The work lasted up to mid 1976 and was presented to the plenary meeting of the Depatment; many seemed favorable to the abolition of the Post obitum, others against.The Rosminian Father Clemente Riva left the commission on being appointed auxiliary bishop of Rome a few months before the conclusion of the works.
      Having examined the matter the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not give out a negative judgment but, as Monsignor Hamer, Secretary of the Congregation, reported to Monsignor Riva, it decided on a non expedit nunc because of the disparity of judgment of the consultants. It then invited scholars to go deeper into Rosmini, so as to find an interpretation such as would enable the removal of the ban.
      There is in this answer a serious problem: can a writer be and remain condemned when the “supreme authority” itself doubts whether the writer may be right? And that there may be an interpretation favorable to him? These doubts were to bother the scholars and readers of Rosmini.
      On 5 June 1990, on the basis of fresh research, the Father General Giovanni Zantedeschi sent the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the documentation relating to «new elements of evaluation serving to make clear the exact position of Antonio Rosmini concerning the “forty propositions” condemned in the Post obitum decree».
      In the following month of August Father Remo Bessero Belti was appointed expert of the Institute, in view of the setting up of a study group, with the task of reviewing the Rosminian question.
      The procedure followed by the Sacred Congregation was as follows: first the Rosminian expert was informed of the difficulties and reservations about Rosmini’s thinking brought up at the previous review done in 1976; then came his written response to such difficulties and doubts; finally the study group, of which Father Bessero Belti was a member, was convoked for the purpose of discussing and expressing an opinion on the matter.
      The outcome of the review was positive and allowed the drafting of the Declaratio of 19 February 1994 with the non obstare that «the cause of beatification of the servant of God Antonio Rosmini, priest founder of the Institute of Charity and of the Sisters of Providence may begin». The document stressed the «Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must be appealed to again about the definitive doctrinal judgment on the subject».
      The following 28 February the Superior General informed Monsignor Renato Corti, Bishop of Novara, in whose diocese the information gathering process was to begin. The bishop proceeded to nominate the three theologians and the Historical Commission for the diocese of Novara, where Rosmini had lived and died, and suggests an identical commission also for the diocese of Trent, where Rosmini was born and reared. On 10 March 1994 all bishops of the Piedmontese Bishops’ Conference were informed of the non obstare decree.
      On 1 July 1997 the diocesan Court for the information gathering process on the reputation for holiness of the servant of God Antonio Rosmini was constituted and I, a Rosminian also, was appointed new Postulator General of the Institute of Charity and of the Sisters of Providence. Vice-postulator was Sister Carla Cattoretti, of the Sisters of Providence, who was to leave the post in 2001 when she was appointed Superior General. On 20 February 1998 the diocesan process concluded and the Transunto was delivered to the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. In March 1999 Father Ambrogio Eszer OP was appointed relator, who immediately summoned me, giving me precise indications on how to conduct the research for composing the Positio.
      It said in the Instruction given by Father Eszer that the chapter of the documentary bibliography must contain as documenation the “forty propositions” condemned by the Holy Office in 1887, with an introduction proving that the doctrines condemned were not those of the servant of God. This chapter was to be presented separately to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in accord with what was established by Archbishop Alberto Bovone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the letter of 19 January 1994 sent to the Right Reverend Monsignor Giovanni Battista Re, Substitute of the Secretariat of State.
      So on 2 December 1999 I delivered to the relator the chapter of the Positio examining the historical events and the theological conclusions that led to the Post obitum. The work, wholly edited by me, is shaped to demonstrate that «the meaning of the condemned “propositions” does not in reality belong to the authentic position of the author».

On 1 July 2001, L’Osservatore Romano published the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the «value of the doctrinal decrees concerning the thought and works of the Reverend priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati». The Note bears the signature of the then Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

      On 1 July 2001, on the hundred and forty-sixth anniversary of the death of the servant of God Antonio Rosmini, L’Osservatore Romano published the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the «value of the doctrinal decrees concerning the thought and works of the Reverend priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati». In the Note, after a historical investigation and careful contestualization, it said: «the reasons for concern and for doctrinal and prudential difficulty, that determined the promulgation of the Post obitum decree of condemnation of the “forty propositions” drawn from the works of Antonio Rosmini may currently be considered overcome. And that because of the fact that the meaning of the clauses, as understood and condemned by the same decree, does not belong in reality to the authentic position of Rosmini, but to possible conclusions of the reading of his work». The document bears the signature of the then Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Later the Holy Father Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, led by its Prefect, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, to promulgate on 26 June 2006 the decree of the heroic virtues exercised by Antonio Rosmini, and a year later, on 1 June 2007, the decree on the miracle that occurred through the intercession of the venerable Antonio Rosmini.
      Today finally, as a result of all the work done, first by the diocese of Novara, for which I thank the Bishop Monsignor Renato Corti and his diocesan curia, and then by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, to which I am always grateful, beginning with the already mentioned Prefect along with the current Secretary Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, and to all those who have worked to bring this difficult cause to its conclusion, we can offer the Holy Father Benedict XVI the documentation necessary for promulgating the decree of beatification, which will be read next 18 November in the diocese of Novara, as required by the new procedures for the ceremonies of beatification.