Clement XIV. (Lorenzo Ganganelli), pope from 1769 to 1774, son of a physician of St Arcangelo, near Rimini, was born on the 31st of October 1705, entered the Franciscan order at the age of seventeen, and became a teacher of theology and philosophy. As regent of the college of S. Bonaventura, Rome, he came under the notice of Benedict XIV., who conceived a high opinion of his talents and made him consulter of the Inquisition. Upon the recommendation of Ricci, general of the Jesuits, Clement XIII. made him a cardinal; but, owing to his disapproval of the pope’s policy, he found himself out of favour and without influence. The conclave following the death of Clement XIII. was the most momentous of at least two centuries. The fate of the Jesuits hung in the balance; and the Bourbon princes were determined to have a pope subservient to their hostile designs. The struggle was prolonged three months. At length, on the 19th of May 1769, Ganganelli was chosen, not as a declared enemy of the Jesuits, but as being least objectionable to each of the contending factions. The charge of simony was inspired by Jesuit hatred; there is absolutely no evidence that Ganganelli pledged himself to suppress the order.
The outlook for the papacy was dark; Portugal was talking of a patriarchate; France held Avignon; Naples held Ponte Corvo and Benevento; Spain was ill-affected; Parma, defiant; Venice, aggressive; Poland meditating a restriction of the rights of the nuncio. Clement realized the imperative necessity of conciliating the powers. He suspended the public reading of the bull In Coena Domini, so obnoxious to civil authority; resumed relations with Portugal; revoked the monitorium of his predecessor against Parma. But the powers were bent upon the destruction of the Jesuits, and they had the pope at their mercy. Clement looked abroad for help, but found none. Even Maria Theresa, his last hope, suppressed the order in Austria. Temporizing and partial concessions were of no avail. At last, convinced that the peace of the Church demanded the sacrifice, Clement signed the brief Dominus ac Redemptor, dissolving the order, on the 21st of July 1773. The powers at once gave substantial proof of their satisfaction; Benevento, Ponte Corvo, Avignon and the Venaissin were restored to the Holy See. But it would be unfair to accept this as evidence of a bargain. Clement had formerly indignantly rejected the suggestion of such an exchange of favours.
There is no question of the legality of the pope’s act; whether he was morally culpable, however, continues to be a matter of bitter controversy. On the one hand, the suppression is denounced as a base surrender to the forces of tyranny and irreligion, an act of treason to conscience, which reaped its just punishment of remorse; on the other hand, it is as ardently maintained that Clement acted in full accord with his conscience, and that the order merited its fate by its own mischievous activities which made it an offence to religion and authority alike. But whatever the guilt or innocence of the Jesuits, and whether their suppression were ill-advised or not, there appears to be no ground for impeaching the motives of Clement, or of doubting that he had the approval of his conscience. The stories of his having swooned after signing the brief, and of having lost hope and even reason, are too absurd to be entertained. The decline in health, which set in shortly after the suppression, and his death (on the 22nd of September 1774) proceeded from wholly natural causes. The testimony of his physician and of his confessor ought to be sufficient to discredit the oft-repeated story of slow poisoning (see Duhr, Jesuiten Fabeln, 4th ed., 1904, pp. 69 seq.).
The suppression of the Jesuits bulks so large in the pontificate of Clement that he has scarcely been given due credit for his praiseworthy attempt to reduce the burdens of taxation and to reform the financial administration, nor for his liberal encouragement of art and learning, of which the museum Pio-Clementino is a lasting monument.
No pope has been the subject of more diverse judgments than Clement XIV. Zealous defenders credit him with all virtues, and bless him as the instrument divinely ordained to restore the peace of the Church; virulent detractors charge him with ingratitude, cowardice and double-dealing. The truth is at neither extreme. Clement’s was a deeply religious and poetical nature, animated by a lofty and refined spirit. Gentleness, equanimity and benevolence were native to him. He cherished high purposes and obeyed a lively conscience. But he instinctively shrank from conflict; he lacked the resoluteness and the sterner sort of courage that grapples with a crisis.