Pope Leo XII
English name = Leo XII
birth_name = Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola della Genga
September 28, 1823
February 10, 1829
predecessor = Pius VII
successor = Pius VIII
birth_date = birth date|1760|8|22|mf=y
birthplace = Genga or
dead = dead|death_date = death date and age|1829|2|10|1760|8|22|mf=y
Rome, Italyinfobox popestyles
papal name = Pope Leo XII
offstyle = Your Holiness
relstyle = Holy Father
deathstyle = none
other = Leo
Pope Leo XII (
August 22, 1760– February 10, 1829), born Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola della Genga, was Popefrom 1823 to 1829.
Della Genga was born of a noble [His father's family had been ennobled by
Leo XIin 1605. ("Catholic Encyclopedia").] family from La Genga, [The town is now simply Genga, in.] a small town in what is now the province of Ancona, then part of the Papal States. The place of his birth is uncertain, the usual candidates being Genga, Ancona, and Spoleto. He was educated at the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiasticiat Rome, where he was ordained priest in 1783. In 1790 the attractive and articulate ["He was of handsome person and engaging manners" ("Catholic Encyclopedfia").] della Genga attracted favourable attention by a tactful oration commemorative of the late Emperor Joseph II.
Private secretary to Pope Pius VI
Pope Pius VImade him his private secretary, in 1793 creating him titular archbishop of Tyreand despatching him to Lucerneas nuncio. In 1794 he was transferred to the nunciature at Cologne, but owing to the war had to make his residence in Augsburg. During the dozen or more years he spent in Germanyhe was entrusted with several honourable and difficult missions, which brought him into contact with the courts of Dresden, Vienna, Munichand Württemberg, as well as with Napoleon I of France. It is, however, charged at one time during this period that his finances were disordered, and his private life was not above suspicion. After the Napoleonic abolition of the States of the Church (1798), he was treated by the French as a state prisoner, and lived for some years at the abbey of Monticelli, solacing himself with music and with bird-shooting, pastimes which he continued even after his election as Pope.
In 1814 della Genga was chosen to carry the Pope's congratulations to
Louis XVIII of France, upon his restoration; in 1816 he was created cardinal priestwith the " titulus" of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and appointed to the episcopal see of Sinigaglia, which he resigned in 1818. In 1820 Pope Pius VIIgave him the distinguished post of cardinal vicar.
Election as pope
In the conclave of 1823, he was the candidate of the "
zelanti" and in spite of the active opposition of France, he was elected Pope by the Cardinals on the 28th of September, taking the name of Leo XII. His election had been facilitated because he was thought to be at death's door; but he unexpectedly rallied.
Pius' Secretary of State,
Ercole Consalvi, who had been Della Genga's rival in the consistory, was immediately dismissed, and the policies of Pius VII rejected. [Francis A. Burkle-Young, "Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922", 2000:22ff.] Leo XII's foreign policy, entrusted at first to the octogenarian Giulio Maria della Somagliaand then to the more able Tommaso Bernetti, negotiated certain concordats very advantageous to the papacy. Personally most frugal, Leo XII reduced taxes, made justice less costly, and was able to find money for certain public improvements; yet he left the Church's finances more confused than he had found them, and even the elaborate jubilee of 1825 did not really mend financial matters.
Leo XII's domestic policy was one of extreme conservatism: "He was determined to change the condition of society, bringing it back to the utmost of his power to the old usages and ordinances, which he deemed to be admirable; and he pursued that object with never flagging zeal." [
Luigi Carlo Farini, "Lo stato Romano, dell'anno 1815 a 1850", (Turin, 1850) vol. I, p. 17, quoted by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, "The Story of the Life of Pius the Ninth" vol. I (1877:39f)] He condemned the Bible societies, and under Jesuit influence reorganized the educational system, placing it entirely under priestly control through his bull " Quod divina sapientia" and requiring that all secondary instruction be carried out in Latin, as he required of all court proceedings, also now entirely in ecclesiastical hands. All charitable institutions in the Papal States were put under direct supervision.
Laws such as that forbidding Jews to own property and allowing them only the shortest possible time in which to sell what they owned, and that requiring all Roman residents to listen to Catholic catechism commentary, led many of Rome's
Jews to emigrate, to Trieste, Lombardyand Tuscany. [Farini, 'eo. loc."] [ [http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/triple-crown-leo-xii.htm Valérie Pirie, "The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves"] ]
"The results of his method of governing his states soon showed themselves in insurrections, conspiracies, assassinations and rebellion, especially in Umbria, the Marches and Romagna; the violent repression of which, by a system of espionage, secret denunciation, and wholesale application of the gibbet and the galleys, left behind it to those who were to come afterwards a very terrible, rankling and long-enduring debt of party hatreds, of political and social demoralisation, and— worst of all— a contempt for and enmity to the law, as such." [Trollope, p. 41.] In a regime that saw the division of the population into
Carbonariand Sanfedisti, he hunted down the Carbonari and the Freemasons with their liberal sympathisers.
"Leo XII made himself intensely unpopular with his subjects by constraining them to observe endless rules and regulations concerning private as well as public matters. For instance, he decreed that any dressmaker who sold low or transparent dresses would be ipso facto
excommunicated. To ensure against any possible disregard of this spiritual chastisement, the penalties for wearing the offending garments were made tangible and immediate, so it is unlikely that the seamstresses' pious allegiance was often put to the test.
Leo is also said to have prohibited
vaccination, but the validity of this view was challenged by Donald J. Keefe in his paper "Tracking the footnote" [ [http://catholicscholars.org/publications/quarterly/v9n4sep1986.pdf] .]
G. S. Godkin on Leo XII
:"He was a ferocious fanatic, whose object was to destroy all the improvements of modern times, and force society back to the government, customs, and ideas of
mediaevaldays. In his insensate rage against progress he stopped vaccination; consequently, small-poxdevastated the Roman provinces during his reign, along with many other curses which his brutal ignorance brought upon the inhabitants of those beautiful and fertile regions. He curtailed the old privileges of the municipalities, granted new privileges to the religious communities, and enlarged the power of the clergy to the extent that bishops and cardinals had the power of life and death in their hands. He set the Inquisitionto work with new vigour; and though torturehad been nominally abolished in 1815, new kinds of torment were invented, quite as effectual as the cord, the thumbscrew, and the rack of old times. He renewed the persecution of the Jews; drove them back into the Ghettofrom whence they had begun to emerge, rebuilt its walls, and had them locked in at night; and issued an edict ordering all Israelites to sell their goods within a given time on pain of confiscation." [G. S. Godkin, "Life of Victor Emmanuel II," Macmillan, (1880), pp. xiii-xiv.]
His tomb, by
Giuseppe de Fabris, is in St Peter's Basilica. In 1836 Pope Gregory XVIelevated to cardinal Leo's nephew, Gabriel Della Genga Sermattei (1801-1861). [ [http://www.fiu.edu/~mirandas/bios1836.htm Salvador Miranda, "Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church"] ]
List of encyclicals of Pope Leo XII
* [http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bdelgen.html Catholic-Hierarchy entry]
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