May 27, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Imperiled Church: The suppression of the Jesuits in 1773

John F. Fink(Seventh in a series of columns)

In August of 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. For 41 years, the Jesuits were put out of business.

Why would a pope do such a thing? The Jesuits had been the strongest champions of the papacy since their founding in 1534. They were the most successful of the missionaries, outspoken defenders of theological orthodoxy, and famous for their educational excellence. Why would a pope suppress his greatest ally?

It was all politics. The pope’s worst political enemies were the Catholic rulers of Europe—the Bourbon family. It was precisely because the Jesuits were such staunch supporters of the pope that the Bourbons wanted to get rid of them.

Last week, I laid the background for the Jesuits’ expulsion, telling about the situations in France, Spain and Portugal.

The expulsion began in Portugal, ruled by King Joseph. In 1759, his minister, the Marquess de Pombal expelled the Jesuits from the court, then from Portugal’s colonies, and then from Portugal itself. When Pope Clement III refused to accept this anti-Jesuit program, Portugal cut off diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

France followed in 1764. There, the Jesuits had become an enemy of King Louis XV when they criticized the behavior of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. They were also victims of a bankruptcy in Martinique that involved French investors. Louis XV dissolved the society in all countries under his jurisdiction.

In Spain in 1767, some 6,000 Spanish Jesuits were gathered up and shipped to the Papal States on orders of King Charles III.

In Naples in 1768, the Bourbon ruler banished all Jesuits.

In 1769, the Bourbon rulers in these four countries sent letters to the Holy See demanding the suppression of the entire society. Pope Clement XIII summoned a consistory of cardinals to consider the demand, but he died before it convened.

After Pope Clement XIV was elected, he tried to smooth out difficulties with the Bourbon countries, even making Pombal’s brother a cardinal. The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, among others, supported him. Eventually, though, he succumbed to pressure and signed the brief Dominus ac Redemptor that suppressed the Jesuits throughout the world. He said the step was necessary for the peace of the Church.

This, of course, affected Jesuits everywhere. In the United States, for example, all 24 priests in Maryland and Pennsylvania were Jesuits. In Baja California, the Jesuit missions were taken over by the Franciscans under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra, who later established his missions in present-day California, then known as Alta California.

Countries with non-Catholic rulers now supported the Jesuits. Frederick the Great in Prussia allowed the Jesuit schools to continue, and Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great refused to allow the publication of the brief of suppression. She ordered the Jesuits to continue in existence. They maintained their corporate existence in Byelorussia, now Belarus, until the society was restored.

In 1801, Pope Pius VII granted permission for one-time Jesuits to be affiliated with their associates in Russia. Finally, on Aug. 7, 1814, he issued the bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum by which the Jesuits were fully restored. †

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