Pope Clement XIV (1769-74)

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Who was Pope Clement XIV?

Pope Clement XIV was born at Sant’ Arcangelo, near Rimini, 31 October, 1705; died at Rome, 22 September, 1774.

At the death of Clement XIII the Church was in dire distress. Gallicanism and Jansenism, Febronianism and Rationalism were up in rebellion against the authority of the Roman pontiff; the rulers of France, Spain, Naples, Portugal, Parma were on the side of the sectarians who flattered their dynastic prejudices and, at least in appearance, worked for the strengthening of the temporal power against the spiritual.

The new pope would have to face a coalition of moral and political forces which Clement XIII had indeed manfully resisted, but failed to put down, or even materially to check. The great question between Rome and the Bourbon princes was the suppression of the Society of Jesus. In France, Spain, and Portugal the suppression had taken place de facto; the accession of a new pope was made the occasion for insisting on the abolition of the order root and branch, de facto and de jure, in Europe and all over the world.

The conclave assembled 15 February, 1769. Rarely, if ever, has a conclave been the victim of such overweening interference, base intrigues, and unwarranted pressure. The ambassadors of France (d’Aubeterre) and Spain (Azpuru) and the Cardinals de Bernis (France) and Orsini (Naples) led the campaign. The Sacred college, consisting of forty-seven cardinals, was divided into Court cardinals and Zelanti. The latter, favourable to the Jesuits and opposed to the encroaching secular, were in a majority. "It is easy to foresee the difficulties of our negotiations on a stage where more than three-fourths of the actors are against us."

Thus wrote Bernis to Choiseul, the minister of Louis XV. The immediate object of the intriguers was to gain over a sufficient number of Zelanti. D’Aubeterre, inspired by Azpuru, urged Bernis to insist that the election of the future pope be made to depend on his written engagement to suppress the Jesuits. The cardinal, however, refused. In a memorandum to Choiseul, dated 12 April, 1769, he says: "To require from the future pope a promise made in writing or before witnesses, to destroy the Jesuits, would be a flagrant violation of the canon law and therefore a blot on the honour of the crowns." The King of Spain (Charles III) was willing to bear the responsibility. D’Aubeterre opined that simony and canon law had no standing against reason, which claimed the abolition of the Society for the peace of the world.

Threats were now resorted to; Bernis hinted at a blockade of Rome and popular insurrections to overcome the resistance of the Zelanti. France and Spain, in virtue of their right of veto, excluded twenty-three of the forty-seven cardinals; nine or ten more, on account of their age or for some other reason, were not papabili; only four or five remained eligible. Well might the Sacred College, as Bernis feared it would, protest against violence and separate on the plea of not being free to elect a suitable candidate. But d’Aubeterre was relentless. He wished to intimidate the cardinals. "A pope elected against the wishes of the Courts", he wrote, "will not be acknowledged"; and again, "I think that a pope of that [philosophical] temper, that is without scruples, holding fast to no opinion and consulting only his own interests, might be acceptable to the Courts".

The ambassadors threatened to leave Rome unless the conclave surrendered to their dictation. The arrival of the two Spanish cardinals, Solis and La Cerda, added new strength to the Court party. Solis insisted on a written promise to suppress the Jesuits being given by the future pope, but Bernis was not to be gained over to such a breach of the law. Solis, therefore, supported in the conclave by Cardinal Malvazzi and outside by the ambassadors of France and Spain, took the matter into his own hands. He began by sounding Cardinal Ganganelli as to his willingness to give the promise required by the Bourbon princes as an indispensable condition for election. — Why Ganganelli? This cardinal was the only friar in the Sacred College.

Of humble birth (his father had been a surgeon at Sant' Arcangelo), he had received his education from the Jesuits of Rimini and the Piarists of Urbino, and, in 1724, at the age of nineteen, had entered the Order of Friars Minor of St. Francis and changed his baptismal name (Giovanni Vincenzo Antonio) for that of Lorenzo. His talents and his virtues had raised him to the dignity of definitor generalis of his order (1741); Benedict XIV made him Consultor of the Holy Office, and Clement XIII gave him the cardinal's hat (1759), at the instance, it is said, of Father Ricci, the General of the Jesuits. During the conclave he endeavoured to please both the Zelanti and the Court party without committing himself to either. At any rate he signed a paper which satisfied Solis. Crétineau-Joly, the historian of the Jesuits, gives its text; the future pope declared "that he recognized in the sovereign pontiff the right to extinguish, with good conscience, the Company of Jesus, provided he observed the canon law; and that it was desirable that the pope should do everything in his power to satisfy the wishes of the Crowns".

The original paper is, however, nowhere to be found, but its existence seems established by subsequent events, and also by the testimony of Bernis in letters to Choiseul (28 July, and 20 November, 1769). Ganganelli had thus secured the votes of the Court cardinals; the Zelanti looked upon him as indifferent or even favourable to the Jesuits; d’Aubeterre had always been in his favour as being "a wise and moderate theologian"; and Choiseul had marked him as "very good" on the list of papabili. Bernis, anxious to have his share in the victory of the sovereigns, urged the election. On 18 May, 1769, Ganganelli was elected by forty-six votes out of forty-seven, the forty-seventh being his own which he had given to Cardinal Rezzonico, a nephew of Clement XIII. He took the name of Clement XIV.

The new pope's first Encyclical clearly defined his policy: to keep the peace with Catholic princes in order to secure their support in the war against irreligion. His predecessor had left him a legacy of broils with nearly every Catholic power in Europe. Clement hastened to settle as many as he could by concessions and conciliatory measures. Without revoking the constitution of Clement XIII against he young Duke of Parma's inroads on the rights of the Church, he refrained from urging its execution, and graciously granted him a dispensation to marry his cousin, the Archduchess Amelia, daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria. The King of Spain, soothed by these concessions, withdrew the uncanonical edict which, a year before, he had issued as a counterblast to the pope's proceedings against the infant Duke of Parma, the king's nephew; he also re-established the nuncio's tribunal and condemned some writings against Rome.

Portugal had been severed from Rome since 1760; Clement XIV began his attempt at reconciliation by elevating to the Sacred College Paulo de Carvalho, brother of the famous minister Pombal; active negotiations terminated in the revocation, by King Joseph I, of the ordinances of 1760, the origin and cause of the rupture between Portugal and the Holy See. A grievance common to Catholic princes was the yearly publication, on Holy Thursday, of the censures reserved to the pope; Clement abolished this custom in the first Lent of his pontificate. But there remained the ominous question of the Jesuits. The Bourbon princes, though thankful for smaller concessions, would not rest till they had obtained the great object of their machinations, the total suppression of the Society.

Although persecuted in France, Spain, Sicily, and Portugal, the Jesuits had still many powerful protectors: the rulers, as well as the public conscience, protected them and their numerous establishments in the ecclesiastical electorates of Germany, in the Palatinate, Bavaria, Silesia, Poland, Switzerland, and the many countries subject to the sceptre of Maria Theresa, not to mention the States of the Church and the foreign missions. The Bourbon princes were moved in their persecution by the spirit of the times, represented in Latin countries by French irreligious philosophism, by Jansenism, Gallicanism, and Erastianism; probably also by the natural desire to receive the papal sanction for their unjust proceedings against the order, for which they stood accused at the bar of the Catholic conscience. The victim of a man's injustice often becomes the object of his hatred; thus only the conduct of Charles III, of Pombal, Tanucci, Aranda, Moniño can be accounted for.

An ever-recurring and almost solitary grievance against the Society was that the Fathers disturbed the peace wherever they were firmly established. The accusation is not unfounded: the Jesuits did indeed disturb the peace of the enemies of the Church, for, in the words of d’Alembert to Frederick II, they were "the grenadiers of the pope's guard". Cardinal de Bernis, now French ambassador in Rome, was instructed by Choiseul to follow the lead of Spain in the renewed campaign against the Jesuits. On the 22nd of July, 1769, he presented to the pope a memorandum in the name of the three ministers of the Bourbon kings, "The three monarchs", it ran, "still believe the destruction of the Jesuits to be useful and necessary; they have already made their request to Your Holiness, and they renew it this day."

Clement answered that "he had his conscience and honour to consult"; he asked for a delay. On 30 September he made some vague promises to Louis XV, who was less eager in the fray than Charles III. This latter, bent on the immediate suppression of the order, obtained from Clement XIV, under the strong pressure of Azpuru, the written promise "to submit to His Majesty a scheme for the absolute extinction of the Society" (30 November, 1769). To prove his sincerity the pope now commenced open hostilities against the Jesuits. He refused to see their general, Father Ricci, and gradually removed from his entourage their best friends; his only confidants were two friars of his own order, Buontempo and Francesco; no princes or cardinals surrounded his throne.

The Roman people, dissatisfied with this state of things and reduced to starvation by maladministration, openly showed their discontent, but Clement, bound by his promises and caught in the meshes of Bourbon diplomacy, was unable to retrace his steps. The college and seminary of Frascati were taken from the Jesuits and handed over to the bishop of the town, the Cardinal of York. Their Lenten catechisms were prohibited for 1770. A congregation of cardinals hostile to the order visited the Roman College and had the Fathers expelled; the novitiate and the German College were also attacked. The German College won its cause, but the sentence was never executed.

The novices and students were sent back to their families. A similar system of persecution was extended to Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena, Macerata. Nowhere did the Jesuits offer any resistance; they knew that their efforts were futile. Father Garnier wrote: "You ask me why the Jesuits offer no defence: they can do nothing here. All approaches, direct and indirect, are completely closed, walled up with double walls. Not the most insignificant memorandum can find its way in. There is no one who would undertake to hand it in" (19th Jan., 1773).


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia