Caprara, Giovanni Battista

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Cardinal, papal diplomat; b. Bologna, May 29, 1733;d. Paris, June 21, 1810. He owed his rapid rise to noble birth and competence in Canon Law. After serving as vice-legate to Bologna (175866), he went as titular archbishop of Iconium and nuncio to Germany (176775), where he had to contend with the febronianism of hontheim; combat the prince-bishops of Cologne and Mainz, who were hostile to the nuncio's religious action and to the interventions of Rome; and face resistance to the application of Clement XIV's brief, Dominus ac Redemptor (1773), suppressing the Jesuits. His period as nuncio to Lucerne (177585) was happier. He was then (178593) promoted to the nunciature of Vienna at the request of Catholic Austria. Careful to avoid a rupture between Austria, with its josephinism, and the Holy See, Caprara was patient to the point of weakness. This accounted for his passivity when the Congress of ems (1786) voted the famous Punctation challenging papal authority, and when the Diet of Frankfort (1791) imposed on the new Emperor Leopold II a capitulation contrary to the rights of the sovereign pontiff. He waited eight days after the close of the Diet to raise an ineffectual protest. Created cardinal (1792), he returned to Rome (1793) in disgrace with Pius VI because of his failure at Vienna and the Jacobin tendencies that were attributed to him as a result of his admonitions concerning the policy to be adopted toward the French Revolution.

napoleon i, aware of this, demanded Caprara as papal legate a latere to regulate the application of the concordat of 1801. The cardinal arrived in Paris (Oct. 4,1801), although the Concordat was not promulgated until April 18, 1802. The legate anticipated the use of his powers to obtain the resignation of bishops and to establish a new division of dioceses. In this delicate, complex situation he had to resolve with the French minister Portalis the many problems connected with the reorganization of the Church in France. Counseled by bernier, who acted as his adviser and duped him in the process, he wanted to be above all else a peacemaker. Rome reproached him for giving way and permitting constitutional bishops to be named to the new sees set up by the Concordat; for the retractions by bishops and priests who had supported the civil constitution; for not preventing the organic articles; and for having taken an oath to the First Consul, although the version attributed to him differed from the one he actually made.

Caprara participated in the negotiations for the Italian Concordat and Bonaparte's coronation in Paris. He received the See of Josi in 1800 and that of Milan in 1802. As archbishop of Milan he crowned Napoleon King of Italy. His policy of conciliation placed him more and more in the bad graces of Pius VII, who resolved in 1806 to resist caesaropapism. Caprara was excluded from the negotiations undertaken in 1807 and confided to Cardinal de Bayanne. Despite the papal order (December 1807) that he ask for his passport, Caprara remained in Paris. In 1809 he made one last effort to obtain concessions from the Pope, who was imprisoned at Savona. Ill, deaf, and almost blind, he died at Paris. Napoleon had him buried in the Pantheon.

Bibliography: r. mols, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géraphie ecclésiastiques (Paris 1912) 11:944957.

[j. a. m. leflon]