By means of the papal bull Faciens Misericordiam issued August 8, 1308, Pope Clement V voided all of the French Inquisition’s previous investigations of the Order of Knights Templar. His apostolic commissioners were to start judicial proceedings against the Order in all Christian realms; individual Templars would be subject to diocesan inquiries presided by the local bishops. The upcoming Council of Vienne (1311-12) would weigh the results of the commissioners’ investigations and decide the fate of the Order as a whole, while provincial councils presided over by bishops would consider cases of individual Templars. The pope reserved to himself the authority to judge over the Grand Master and the four other dignitaries of the Temple.
Clement’s tactic was not a new one. Ever since the day the Templars in France were arrested, he had tried a thousand ways to frustrate Philip’ aims by ordering the Knights arrested without trial, wherever they were, thereby removing them from the king’s jurisdiction (November 22, 1307), by voiding all the proceedings initiated by the king’s men, who had barbariously tortured the Templars in their grip and extorted confessions of their alleged crimes (or, rather, acceptance of the charges against them), and finally by acquitting 72 knights, the Grand Master, and the other 4 dignitaries.
But, at this point, would Clement be able to ascertain the facts and ensure that the trial would go ahead without interference? In other words, would the pope, though acting according to justice, be able to prevent a verdict against the Order: a guilty verdict that the king of France wanted at all costs to secure? Philip stood to obtain only benefits from suppression of the Templars. The huge debts he had contracted with them, as the crown’s bankers, would be struck off the books; then, after exposing their misdeeds, he would be able to appropriate the wealth of that rich and powerful organization, which had become “corrupt and heretical”. But was Philip – heir to a tradition nearly a thousand years old, and himself “anointed by God – not king by divine right? He championed himself as the new champion of religious orthodoxy, obligated to defend and guarantee the liberties of the Gallican Church (relating to the ancient Church of Gaul or France) even against the church of Rome, even against the Templars, whom he considered merely the financial arm of the Church: it exercised a power that he would not and could not allow to anyone but himself.
From a formal standpoint, the trial against the Order of the Knights Templar in France began November 22, 1309, but the papal commissioners began to work steadily only in March of 1310. Among other things, they had to give final form to the 127 charges. In Paris, around 600 Templars were ready to testify. After their arrest, they were held in prisons, abbeys, and even private homes! But all of them wanted to defend the Order – all of them except Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, who declared he wished to testify ONLY in the presence of the pope, though it was the Order as a whole that was on trial and he was merely a witness.
The Grand Master was frightened: he had been warned by the king’s men not to contradict himself. Around two years earlier, at Chinon, he had admitted his guilt and abjured his errors, and in consequence had been acquitted and allowed back in the Christian communion. If he recanted now, he would be deemed a relapse, one who has fallen back into heresy. No one, not even the pope, would be able to save him from death at the stake.
Despite the Grand Master’s defection, the Templar’s defense grew stronger and stronger. All the witness spoke in favor of the Order. At that point, the king stepped in, skillfully circumventing the trial. On May 11, 1310, archbishop Philippe de Marigny (brother of the able lawyer Enghuerrand, a loyal supporter of the king and a member of his council) drawing in bad faith the information garnered in two different investigations, the diocesan one in Sens and the general one against the Order as a whole, called a meeting of the provincial council of his
diocese in Paris and had it rule against the 54 Templars who were subject to his jurisdiction. They were found guilty of relapsing into error: in the diocesan investigation they had confirmed that confessions they had made after being arrested in 1307, but before the papal commissioners, they had retracted them. All 54 men were burned at the stake.
The other Templars, aghast and terrified, gave up. Between November of 1310 and June of 1311, more than a third of the 600 appeared in court voluntarily, to reconfirm what they had declared in their previous depositions. To retract was to die. Their 231 heart-wrenching depositions, in which they tried to reconcile their fear of contradicting themselves and their frustrated desire to defend the Order, are transcribed in the 197 foot long parchment scroll containing the record of the proceedings of the trial – the Chinon Parchment.
Some of the institutions that did the torture, such as the french inquisition, were indeed of an ecclesial nature, but they were still under direct authority of the sovereign of the territory in which they resided. Some of the tortures used the papal bulls Pastoralis Praemintiae of November 1307 and Faciens misericordiam of August 1308 as legal justification, such as in Cyprus or Aragon, but such a use of the documents was only a pretense as the aim of the bulls was actually to stop the tortures in France and put the brothers under papal protection. The bulls being used by sovereigns to further local politics cannot be claimed to be the papacy’s fault. In fact, pope Clement V was the primary defender of the order, viewing Philippe IV of France’s attempt to disband the order as not only a way for the french crown to level its finances (which was the primary aim), but also a continuation of Philippe IV’s conflict with the papacy, started back when Innocent VIII proclaimed the papal bull Unam Sanctam in 1302. Indeed, what had began like any another dispossession of a wealthy minority by Philippe IV (like he did to the Lombards or the Jews), ended in a wrestling match between the king of France and the Papacy, the latter being the main defendant of the Templar Order.
Finally, at the council of Vienne, Clement V indeed does give the order to torture some of the last remaining templars in Portugal, Cyprus or Greece, but in addition to the order being coerced by the king of France, I am not aware of any proof it has actually been followed up anywhere as no minute of any such interrogation has been found. At that time, the order was already in shambles, this was more a gesture to the king of France than anything else.
While it is true that the pope could perhaps have salvaged the order if he had made it his sole and only goal, accusing the papacy of being in cahoots with the king of France is not a sustainable position. The Parchment is dated August 17–20, 1308, at Chinon, France, and was written by Bérenger Fredoli, Etienne de Suisy and Landolfo Brancacci, Cardinals who were of Saints Nereus and Achileus, St. Cyriac in Thermis and Sant'Angelo in Pescheria respectively. The
Vatican keeps an authentic copy with reference number Archivum Arcis Armarium D 218, the original having the number D 217.