The Scheut Archive is housed in a remote Roman suburb. Intriguingly enough, it was not mentioned in Lajos Pàsztor's repertory of church archives in Italy, vol. 7 of the UNESCO series, Guide to the Sources of the History of Africa, published in 1983. One explanation for this neglect might be that the archive was not fully operational by then. These circumstances no doubt partly explain why, despite exemplary conservation and classification, this collection has up to now been insufficiently tapped by scholars. Contributing factors may have been the discredit unfortunately thrown on traditional written sources by a number of modern “Africanists,” as well as widespread ignorance among English-speaking scholars of the intricacies of Roman Catholic bureaucracies. In fact, whatever their cultural background, historians wanting to burrow their way into the massive collection of Scheut papers should brace themselves for a period of initiation in the intricacies of two overlapping multinational Church organizations.
On the one hand, the Scheut congregation, as a separate institution, was established in 1862. It had its headquarters at Scheut, on the outskirts of Brussels, with a superior general in charge. It also had representation in Rome, but its main activities were carried out in its territorial branches (“provinces”) established first in the Far East and later in the Congo, each under the authority of a provincial. This organization maintained a dense internal and external network of communication within the hierarchy itself, as well as with government administrations, other religious bodies, etc. Like any organization, it knew rules and procedures, but also conflicts among various power blocs.