Monday, June 4, 2012
Papal Profile: Pope Pius VIII
If he could not personally destroy these threats to the Catholic Church, Pius VIII would at least do his very best to fend them off and minimize their effect. He was the Pontiff who (symbolically) stood on the battlements, flooded the moat and pulled up the drawbridge. He instituted reforms in the Papal States to try to keep revolutionaries out of his own patrimony and tried to protect Catholic youth from Protestantism by making it clear that the Church opposed “mixed marriages” and would reluctantly consent to them only if the children would be raised Catholic. Most controversially to modern ears he adamantly condemned the idea of freedom of religion. Today this sounds positively monstrous but, of course, we live in an age when most regard “truth” as something subjective and Pope Pius VIII regarded religious freedom as simply the broad and easy path to religious indifferentism. He also condemned the spreading influence of the secret societies which sought to undermine the Catholic Church and legitimate authority (monarchy).
On November 30, 1830 the frail and suffering Pope Pius VIII passed away. Some suspected him of being poisoned but such a conspiracy seems difficult to believe given how long and severely ill the Pontiff had been long before his demise. There were not many great accomplishments during his reign, but for such a suffering Successor of St Peter it is remarkable enough that he was able to make such a determined defense of the Catholic Church. As one XIX Century papal biographer wrote, “Pius VIII died approved by all … because if he had done no good he had, at least, done no harm to anyone”. However, he had done good as much as he was able in standing firm on his principles and shielding his people from the dangers that surrounded on all sides.