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Constitutional Church

This was established in France at the Revolution by the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy” (1790). It was organized in 1791 under the protection of the National Assembly, which had passed a law requiring all bishops, pastors, and functionary priests to take an oath of fidelity to the Civil Constitution under pain of deposition. About one-third of the clergy obeyed. Those refusing to take the Constitutional Oath became the “Refractory Church” siding with the papacy, to which most loyal Roman Catholics adhered, especially when the old discipline was abandoned, priests and bishops married, and divorce was permitted. The church established itself for three years, but after the royalist and Catholic uprising in La Vendée (1793) and the triumph of Jacobinism, it was itself persecuted and many of its priests apostatized, though Constitutional bishops like Henri Baptiste Grégoire showed dauntless courage and integrity. After Robespierre's fall (1794), a measure of toleration was granted, but the Thermidorian Convention adopted a regime (1795) separating the state from the churches, thereby abandoning the Civil Constitution and refusing to pay Constitutional priests. When Napoleon concluded the Concordat of 1801,* Pope Pius VII had little difficulty in obtaining the church's abolition.