Pope Pius VI

Basile Moreau was born in 1799 in in the village Laigné-en-Belin, France. This was during the period of the French Revolution (1789-1815). So, to understand his life we must see how the French Revolution affected the Church in France which was at that time 95% Catholic.

The immediate cause of the Revolution was the high price of bread due partly to a series of poor harvests since 1780 but also by King Louis XVI who lived beyond his means and the endless round of wars. To raise money, the government confiscated all Church property which at that time consisted of about 15% of the land. During the revolution mob action destroyed many churches and legislation was enacted to disband monasteries. Many priests were killed or imprisoned. The attempt was made to create a state church which was expressed in the "The Civil Constitution of the Clergy" of July 12, 1790. The clergy were required to swear primary allegiance to the state instead of the Pope. If they did not, they were forcibly removed from office. In order to prevent a Schism, Pope Pius VI published the encyclical CARITAS (On the Civil Oath in France) on April 13, 1791 part of which said,

"We proclaim that each and every cardinal, archbishop, bishop, abbot, vicar, canon, parish priest, curate and member of the clergy, whether secular or regular,
who has purely and simply taken the Civil Oath as ordered by the National Assembly
is suspended from the exercise of his office and will act irregularly if he exercises his office
unless he abjures his oath within forty days from this date.
For the oath is the poisoned source and origin of all errors and the chief cause of the sorrow of the French Catholic church."

In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took control of the French Government and began to enact legislature in favor of the Church as follows:

"On November 29, 1799, Napoleon signed a decree putting an end to the deportation of priests. On December 28, 1799, another decree was issued, authorizing churches to be opened on Sundays. On December 30, funeral services were held in every cathedral and church to commemorate the death of Pope Pius VI. On June 25, 1800, Bonaparte attended a Te Deum in the Milan Cathedral, then met with Cardinal Martiana. He informed him of his plan to conclude a Concordat between the French State and the Holy See." (www.napoleonicsociety.com/english/Life_Nap_Chap19.htm)

Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII signed an agreement in 1801 for the good of the Church and peace in France. In essence it stipulated that the government could nominate bishops but only the Pope could confer the office. Likewise, Bishops appointed priests but subject to the approval of the government. Because the Church had lost all its property and could not get it back, the French government would now support the clergy financially. Finally, the Holy See and the French government would determine the number of dioceses in France. They were reduced from 130 to 60.

Unfortunately a short time after this agreement Napoleon enacted legislation enforcing the "Gallican Liberties" which in effect demanded that seminarians be taught that Ecumenical Councils were above the Pope.

2. Young Moreau in Revolutionary France