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Introduction of the civil constitution of clergy brought dramatic changes into the life of Catholic clergy in France. The constitution was passed on July 12, 1970 by the National Assembly. This way the government ended its subordination of the influential Roman Catholic Church. The Church was in opposition to the new French government. Tithes were abolished and all the property of the Catholic Church was nationalized. This property was used by church to get revenue. Monastic lifestyle was also to face changes because the Civil Constitution forbade vows. The new constitution left without changes only orders that had to do with nursing the sick and with children. Exact reasons for these changes are unknown, though there are some probable suppositions, such as bankruptcy of the French government or abuse of the tithes system.
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So, the Civil Constitution brought perceptible changes to the life of clergy in France. For example, the number of bishops decreased from 135 to 83. Indeed, the Pope’s authority lessened, too. The Pope appointed bishops and priests but according to the new constitution, bishops and priests were not appointed but elected by constituents. New bishops and priests were to vow fidelity to the new order and the Civil Constitution.
The king Louis XVI was deeply dissatisfied and unhappy with the Civil Constitution. He sent endless letters with complaints to Pope Pius VI, who refused to accept provisions of the new constitution. The king had to accept the document publicly and was therefore disappointed. However, the Pope did not accept any article and the king had to express his public assent without the assent of the Pope.
Not all the priests and bishops swore an oath of loyalty to the new government. Those, who did, become constitutional clergy. Those, who didn’t, become refractory priests. They were deported or died for their actions.
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