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Pope Pius VI

Pope Pius VI 250th Roman Catholic Pontiff from 1775 to 1799

250th Pontiff (1775-1799)

"As handsome as he is holy" was the description Romans of the day gave to Pope Pius VI.  Pope Pius VI was a Renaissance pope who founded the Vatican's clother, Gammarelli, in 1797.

Giovanni Angelo Braschi was born December 27, 1717, of noble parents at Cesena in Italy.  His education was launched with the Jesuits and advanced at Ferrara where Angelo, a bright young man, obtained a law degree at the age of 17.

When Pope Benedict X1V took notice of Giovanni Angelo Braschi's brilliance, he offered him a position at the Vatican, but the handsome lawyer was engaged to be married.

Later, at the age of either 38 or 41, Giovanni Angelo Braschi was ordained a priest (his fiancťe entered the convent), and his initiation at the Vatican began with his appointment as Papal Treasurer followed in 1773 by his becoming a cardinal.

On February 22, 1775, Cardinal Braschi was consecrated bishop and pope at the same time and chose the name Pope Pius VI

The young pope, not yet 60, would call upon all his reserves of holiness and strength to face the political challenges throughout his reign.

Pope Clement XIV's 1773 papal decree suppressing the Jesuits was still haunting the Vatican. Pope Pius VI released some of the Jesuits who were imprisoned by Pope Clement XIV in Catherine the Great's Russia, but he dared not do more because there was widespread disagreement with the Jesuits. In 1780, Pope Pius VI verbally and quietly approved of the Jesuits' existence.  

There were further quandaries to face. With misguided zeal, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria wanted to reform the Church by changing Church regulations, limiting papal power, and suppressing monasteries that claimed the right to appoint clergy.

Austria's Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II's eccentric actions were more than an annoyance to Pope Pius VI, so the pope made the long journey to Vienna to convince Joseph II to cease his imperial meddling. Pope Pius VI had limited success.

Simultaneously, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II's brother, Peter Leopold II Grand Duke of Tuscany, instructed his bishop, Bishop Ricci of Pistoia, to pass a number of antipapal resolutions at the 1786 Pistoia synod. In 1794 Pope Pius VI condemned these changes.

Pope Pius VI restored nepotism and vexed the populace by taxing them for restoration projects such as the Piazza Navona and the Ancient Appian Way.

The Febronianists were a group which claimed the pope was not superior to the prince-bishops, and that Catholic kings should reduce papal power. To support this groupís belief, the ecclesiastical electors, the prince-bishops of Mayence, Treves, and Cologne, issued the Punctuation of Ems.

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph IIís attempts to make the state supreme in matters of conscience matched the French Revolutionaries' drive to set up a state church by means of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790).

In April 1791 Pope Pius VI condemned the new Gallican church and forbade the clergy to take oaths.  France then annexed papal property at Avignon and Venaissin.

Pope Pius VI protested King Louis XVI of France's January 21, 1793, execution siding with the anti-French Revolution coalition. Napoleon Bonaparte then attacked the Papal States.

In 1797, a treaty at Tolentino surrendered Avignon, Venaissin, Ferrara, Bologna, and the Romagna to France with a huge bonus of guarantees and many papal treasures.

Rome was now under the French Directoire a rule of law crueler than Napoleon's.  Pope Pius VI was deposed, made a prisoner in exile, and taken to Siena, then to Florence.  Despite Pope Pius VI's illness and frailty, the French pressed on to Turin, Grenoble, and finally Valence where Pope Pius VI died on August 29, 1799.

Pope Pius VI was initially buried in Valences, France, but on February 17, 1802, his remains were transferred to Saint Peterís Basilica where a statue by Canova of Pope Pius VI in a kneeling position was placed in 1822.

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