See E. E. Y. Hales, The Emperor and the Pope (1961).
From the time French forces invaded Italy in 1797, the cardinal cautioned temperance and submission to the Cisalpine Republic. In his Christmas homily that year in 1797 he asserted that there was no opposition between a democratic form of government and being a good Catholic: "Be good catholics and you will be good democrats", said the bishop.
One of Pius VII's first acts was to appoint Ercole Consalvi, who had acted as secretary to the recent conclave, to the college of cardinals and to the office of secretary of state.
Napoleon realized the importance of religion as a means to increase obedience and his control over the French people. It was not until the conclave of Cardinals had gathered to elect a new Pope that Napoleon decided to bury Pope Pius VI who had died several weeks earlier, with a gaudy ceremony in an effort to gain the attention of the Catholic church. This eventually led to the Concordat of 1801 negotiated by Ercole Consalvi, the Pope's secretary of state, which re-systemised the linkage between the French church and Rome. However the Concordat also contained the "Organic Articles" which Consalvi had fiercely denied Napoleon, but which the latter had installed regardless.
Against the wish of most of the Curia, Pius VII travelled to Paris for Napoleon's coronation in 1804. Although the Pope and the papacy were promised several luxurious gifts and monetary donations, the Pope had initially refused most of these offers. In the event, Napoleon concurred but did produce a Papal Tiara, which presented as its main jewel one that had previously been confiscated by Napoleon from Pope Pius VI.
The papacy had suffered a major loss of church lands through secularizations in the Holy Roman Empire following the Peace of Lunéville (1801), when a number of German princes had been compensated for their losses by the seizure of ecclesiastical property. Whatever hopes Pius VII may have had with Napoleon, the Papal States were eventually taken by the French around 1808, and when Napoleon subsequently was excommunicated, one of his officers saw an opportunity to gain praise. Although Napoleon had captured Castel Sant'Angelo and intimidated the Pope by pointing cannons at his papal bedroom, he did not instruct one of his most ambitious lieutenants, Lieutenant Radet, to kidnap the Pope. Yet once Pius VII was a prisoner, Napoleon did not offer his release; the Pope would be moved throughout Napoleon's territories, in great sickness at times, though most of his confinement would take place at Savona. Napoleon would send several delegations of his supporters to pressure the Pope into various issues, from giving up his power, to signing a new concordat with France.
The Pope would remain in confinement for over six years, and not return to Rome until May 24, 1814, when Allied forces freed the Pope on a pursuing chase of Napoleonic forces. The Pope in a final remark on the situation, had his secretary compose a letter to the British government asking for better treatment of the exiled emperor at Saint Helena. One of the final lines of the note stated, “He can no longer be a danger to anybody. We would not wish him to become a cause for remorse.”
At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) the Papal States were largely restored. The pope rejoiced. The Jesuits were restored; the Index and the Inquisition were revived. The Roman Jews had to return to the ghetto. Yet he gladly offered a refuge in his capital to the members of the Bonaparte family. Princess Letitia, the deposed emperor's mother, lived there; likewise did his brothers Lucien and Louis and his uncle, Cardinal Fesch.
On the United States' suppression of the Muslim Barbary Pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, who kidnapped Christians for ransom and slavery, Pope Pius VII said that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”
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