Like the suppression of the Latin Mass, the suppression of the Jesuits is considered one of the worst and unjust prudential decisions of a pope in Catholic history. Pope Clement XIV cravenly caved in to pressures from the Church’s enemies and secular kings and ended up doing their bidding by eliminating their greatest foe and the Church’s greatest ally. Famed Catholic historian and founder of Christendom College, Dr. Warren Carroll, stated the following about the decision in Volume V of his History of Christendom series: The Revolution Against Christendom:
It is hard to believe that so evil an action as the suppression of the Jesuits could have been taken, involving as it did so many eminent churchmen and Catholic statesmen, but it happened. As an editor of the vehemently anti-Catholic Encyclopedia wrote in amazement to Frederick of Prussia in 1769: "It would be madness for the Pope to destroy his bodyguard to please the Catholic princes….It is strange that their Most Catholic Majesties want to annihilate these staunch defenders of the Holy See and that your most Heretical Majesty is the only one to defend them."
The seizing of Jesuit houses and their unjust expulsion throughout Europe was horribly tragic. It helped to hasten the French Revolution and the fall of Christendom in Europe from which the Jesuits had been the last line of defense. The unjustness of the suppression was eventually testified to by the Jesuits’ Superior General, the very holy Fr. Lorenzo Ricci. Initially Fr. Ricci endured the unjust suppression and chose not to speak out. However, as his death neared, justice moved him to be silent no longer. As Barbara Neave wrote in her 1879 work, “The Jesuits: their foundation and history”:
“About a year after the death of Clement XIV, Father Ricci felt that his strength was fast ebbing away. He asked for the Holy Viaticum; and on November 19th, 1775, in the sacred presence of his God, surrounded by his jailers and his fellow-prisoners, he read his last solemn protestation.
'The uncertainty of the exact time when it may please God to call me, and the conviction I feel that, owing to my advanced age, and to the multitude, length, and severity of my sufferings, this time is close at hand, induce me now to fulfill a duty which illness may prevent me from fulfilling at the hour of death. On the point of appearing before the tribunal of infallible truth and justice, which is the tribunal of God, after long and mature deliberation, and after humbly praying to my most merciful Redeemer and terrible Judge that I may not be led astray by passion in one of the last acts of my life, or be guided by bitterness of heart or sinful affection, but solely because I judge it my duty to bear witness to truth and innocence, I make the two following declarations and protestations:
1st. I declare and protest that the now extinct Society of Jesus gave no reason for its suppression. I declare this with the moral certainty of a Superior well informed of all that takes place in his Order.
2dly. I declare and protest that I have give no reason, not even the slightest, for my imprisonment. I declare this with the positive certainty which every man possesses with regard to his own actions. I only make this protestation because it is necessary to the good repute of the now extinct Society of Jesus, of which I was the General Superior. I do not pretend, however, that, in consequence of these declarations of mine, those who injured the Society of Jesus should be regarded as guilty in the eyes of God. I abstain from any such judgment. The thoughts of men are known to God alone. “He alone can penetrate the motives that prompt our actions, the spirit that inspires them, and the affections of the heart that accompany them; and as the innocence or guilt of our actions depends on all these things, I leave the judgment to Him, who will examine the works and weigh the thoughts of men.
'And, in order to fulfill my duty as a Christian, I protest that, with the help of God, I have always forgiven, and do now sincerely forgive, all who have persecuted or injured me, first, by the misfortunes which were heaped upon the Society of Jesus, and by the severe measures put in force against its religious; then by the abolition of the Society, and the circumstances that accompanied its suppression; lastly, by my own imprisonment and its hardships, and the injury thereby inflicted on my reputation; facts which are now public and known throughout the world.
'I beg the Lord, first, to forgive me through His pure goodness and mercy, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my numerous sins; and then to forgive the author and accomplices of the calamities and injuries above alluded to; and I wish to die with this feeling and this prayer in my heart.
'Lastly. I entreat all those who may see these declarations of mine to make them public throughout the world, as far as lies in their power. I ask this in the name of all the claims of justice, humanity, and charity that can induce men to grant my prayer.—Lorenzo Ricci (by my own hand).'*”
Although most Catholic churchmen and laity of the time did as the Neo-Catholics suggested and obeyed the unjust suppression out of a sense of obedience to the Pope and fear of the secular princes, there was another Catholic path they could have chosen: the path of resistance. The same one those Catholics living in the time of John XXII laid out for them. Fortunately for us, history records that one brave churchman did choose that path. As if prefiguring the great Archbishop Lefebvre, it was the old Archbishop of Paris, Cristophe de Beaumont, who saw the evil in this unjust papal decision, and courageously and publicly defied it. As Dr. Carroll explains:
“On May 2, 1774 the Archbishop of Paris, the tragically unknown Christophe de Beaumont, "an old bag of bones" with gallstones and blood in his urine and a doctor in 'constant attendance upon him, was carried into the sickroom of the dying King Louis XV of France. Archbishop Beaumont had solemnly, magnificently protested Pope Clement XIV's brief suppressing the Jesuits -- one of the most extraordinary rebukes ever given to a Pope (though almost unknown to the posterity he hoped to honor)”
Archbishop Beaumont’s letter in response to Clement XIV’s suppression of the Jesuits is below. “The Brief” refers to the suppression order of Clement XIV. “The Bull” refers to Pascendi munus of Clement XII which, just years earlier, had praised and defended the Jesuits.
“This Brief is nothing else than a personal and private judgment. Among other things that are remarked in it by our clergy is the extraordinary, odious, immoderate characterization of the Bull "Pascendi munus" of the saintly Clement XII, whose memory will be forever glorious, and who had invested the Bull in question with all the due and proper formalities of such documents: It is described by the Brief not only as being inexact but also as having been "extorted" rather than obtained; whereas it has all the authority of a general council...
It was conceived and published in a manner as general as it was solemn. . . . As for the secular princes, if there were any which did not unite with the others to give their approbation, their number was inconsiderable. Not one of them protested against it, not one opposed it, and even those who, at that very time, were laying their plans to abolish the Jesuits, allowed the Bull to be published in their dominions. . . .
The Brief which destroys the Society of Jesus is nothing else than an isolated, private, and pernicious judgment, which does no honor to the tiara and is prejudicial to the glory of the Church and the growth and conservation of the orthodox Faith. In any case, Holy Father, it is impossible for me to ask the clergy to accept the Brief, for in the first place, I would not be listened to, were I unfortunate enough to lend my ministry to its acceptance. Moreover, I would dishonor my office if I did so ...
To charge myself with the task you wish me to perform would be to inflict a serious injury on religion as well as to cast an aspersion on the learning and integrity of the prelates who laid before the King their approval of the very points that are now condemned by this Brief. For what is the peace that is incompatible with this Society? The question is startling in the reflection it evokes; for we fail to understand how such a motive had the power to induce Your Holiness to adopt a measure which is so hazardous, so dangerous, and so prejudicial. . . .
In a word, what the Brief designates as peace is not peace. . . . It is precisely that peace against which the Jesuits in the four quarters of the world have declared an active, a vigorous, and a bloody warfare; which they have carried to the limit and in which they have received the greatest success. To put an end to that peace, they have devoted their talents; they have undergone pain and suffering. By their zeal and eloquence they have striven to block every avenue of approach by which this false peace might enter and rend the bosom of the Church; they have set the souls of men free from its thralldom, and they have pursued it to its innermost lair, making light of its danger and expecting no other reward for their daring, than the hatred of the licentious and the persecution of the ungodly. . . .
In a word, Most Holy Father, the clergy of France, which is the most learned and the most illustrious of Holy Church, and which has no other aim than to promote the glory of the Church, does now judge after deep reflection that the reception of this Brief of Your Holiness will cast a shadow on the glory of the Church of France, and it does not propose to consent to a measure which, in ages to come, will tarnish its glory. By rejecting this Brief and by an active resistance to it our clergy will transmit to posterity a splendid example of integrity and of zeal for the Catholic Faith, for the prosperity of the Church and particularly for the honor of its Visible Head.
In our times, one can imagine this letter being written almost word for word as a response to Pope Francis’ request to implement Amoris Laetitia. We are lucky in our own time for God to have raised Cardinal Burke and his three compatriots who, centuries later, are carrying the banner of the late Archbishop Beaumont. By being willing to reject Amoris Laetitia in direct contradiction of the pope if it is not corrected, they show his courage and commitment to the Faith. Regardless of the outcome, they will go down in history as courageous men of the Church who carried the cross of the Faith even in the face of persecution from Christ’s own vicar.
As for Pope Francis, let us pray he will reverse course and not live his last days like the tragic Clement XIV:
In his final hours he knew what he had done, crying in despair “I have cut off my right hand.” Ghosts pursued him in his sleep; in the silence of the night he would kneel before a miniature of the Virgin detached from his prayer book, perhaps remembering that she is ever the refuge of those who have no other hope.