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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Heh... Well, that title ought to bring in droves of confused Monty Python fans…

[Disclaimer: although there may be a few sections of this post that make some of my Catholic readers 'uncomfortable', I hope you will read through to the end and try to understand what has gotten under my skin. No offense is intended.]

Actually, today’s blather is about an article that appeared in today’s International Herald Tribune (hat tip to Expat Egghed & Cathy for pointing it out) about the Vatican’s recent statement regarding the Inquisition.

To quote the opening lines of the article:

Vatican City: The Vatican said Tuesday that fewer witches were burned at the stake and fewer heretics tortured into conversion during the dark centuries of the inquisition than generally believed, but it also sought renewed forgiveness for sins committed by Roman Catholics in the name of church doctrine.

Let’s set a side for the moment exactly what ‘fewer’ might mean. I’m more interested in the fact that the Church still thinks there are witches and heretics. Did it ever occur to anyone that the very concept of witches and heretics as 'others' was the reason for the Church-sanctioned policy of torture and murder?

It’s all fine and good that the Pope has finally acknowledged that burning people at the stake or pulling off their skin while they are still using it is a bad endeavor for organized religion to be sanctioning. But he hasn’t really said that, has he? What he said was that there were less of these than previously believed. The Vatican is also strangely silent on the root issue of what caused this behavior in the first place; namely the belief that people who are [perceived to be] outside the belief system of the church are somehow lesser humans.

When people think of the Inquisition (in a context other than Monty python or Mel Brooks, of course), many probably conjure up (sorry, bad choice of words), mental images of a short brutal period in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They’d be wrong.

The inquisition was actually a long continuum of overlapping Church Doctrines stretching (again, I’m sorry…very poor choice of words), over a very long period of time. It started in 1231 when Pope Gregory IX kicked off the Medieval Inquisition. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition… and in 1542, Paul III established the Roman Inquisition. Pope Sixtus V then breathed new life into the Inquisition in 1588 with the creation of the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the 'Holy Office'). In fact, the Inquisition didn’t officially end until 1834.

But wait…it didn’t really end there. That neat little trick where the Inquisition became the 'Holy Office' allowed the Church to call off the one while continuing the other. In 1908, the Inquisition officially became the 'Holy Office', and as recently as 1965, Pope Paul VI reorganized the 'Holy office' and renamed it 'Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith'.

I’m not really good at math…but I do have a pretty good eye for misdirection when I see it. I think a statement meant to downplay the actual number of people targeted, tortured and killed by the Inquisition is less than helpful when the causes and duration of the inquisition are nudged neatly out of the discussion.

Now granted, the methods used by the Inquisition in the last century have not been quite so draconian, but the motivation and theology has not really changed. The prevailing sentiment is still, “Those people are not like us…they don’t believe what we believe…therefore they are not deserving of the consideration, respect, and protection that we afford our coreligionists.”

They have a word for this in my part of the world: Jihad. When will people learn?

Posted by David Bogner on June 16, 2004 | Permalink

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"And ... If she weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood?" " And therefore?" " A witch!
Burn her, Burn her!!!"

(...I won't even begin to go into my personal feelings on the Pope, while he continues to be very clear how he feels about me)

Posted by: lisa | Jun 16, 2004 4:31:37 PM

I feel your pain... being as I'm a lesbian trapped in a man's body, and all. :-)

In all seriousness... I posted and took down today's entry half a dozen times before finally deciding to leave it up. My problem was not that I thought my position was flawed... but rather that I didn't want to offend any practicing Catholics (who are obviously not to blame for the past sins of their church).

Heck, look how much of the world is still holding a grudge against the Jews over that whole crucifiction thing! ;-)

Posted by: David | Jun 16, 2004 4:46:35 PM

I think your equating the Inquisition with Jihad is very poor. A better analogy for Jihad would be the Crusades, but even that is flawed.

The persecution of accused witches and heretics wasn't because they were different, but because they were DANGEROUS, to the souls and physical well-being of the Christians around them. Most of the accused witches were nothing of the sort, of course. Of course, those who were perceived to be different stood in greater danger of such an accusation, as did those who had personal enemies, had expressed unorthodox opinions, or wealth that could be confiscated by the witch hunders. Jews, being both different and generally disliked, were particularly vulnerable.

Posted by: parallel | Jun 17, 2004 1:07:48 PM

Granted, it is an imperfect comparison...but consider the following:

Leader(s) of a religion enact 'laws' and make pronouncements which allow, and even encourage, attacks by both clergy and laymen on people
who are perceived to be in violation of the religion's edicts.

Are we talking about radical Islam or the Inquisition?

If the distinction is not crystal clear, than I am comfortable with my comparison.

Also (and I should have started with this), thank you for offering a very well considered opinion. I genuinely appreciate hearing what my ideas look like from a perspective 'outside my head'. :-)

Posted by: David | Jun 17, 2004 3:21:49 PM

Good post David. Nothing worthwhile is ever said without opposition!

My kids go to Catholic school, even though I'm not a catholic. Still, I doubt any open-minded Catholic can worship in that religion without understanding that you simply *must* admit that the church is imperfect. The problem with Catholicism is that it assumes that each Pope is, in effect, channeling God himself. To admit that one was wrong is an admission that their process is flawed.

Oh well ... hail Mary, Mother of Grace, blessed art thou among women ... etc.

Posted by: Jim | Jun 18, 2004 12:59:37 AM

Well, I'm from Spain. I'm not a religious person at all.
The Inquisition, specially in the XVI and XVII centuries was kinda horrible thing...Judging people because of being different...Isn't catholicism supposed to be love and so on...?? (I know that very well, I went to a catholic school)That people used religion for their own interests. They killed, tortured etc...and that's so sad.
Religion has to be just that, religion...
I think that catholic church, even today, doesn't respect the other religions in the way they should do, and I say again, that's so sad...

Berta Piles Baltasar(Spain)

Posted by: Berta | Jun 21, 2004 4:59:47 PM

Well, I'm from Spain. I'm not a religious person at all.
The Inquisition, specially in the XVI and XVII centuries was kinda horrible thing...Judging people because of being different...Isn't catholicism supposed to be love and so on...?? (I know that very well, I went to a catholic school)That people used religion for their own interests. They killed, tortured etc...and that's so sad.
Religion has to be just that, religion...
I think that catholic church, even today, doesn't respect the other religions in the way they should do, and I say again, that's so sad...

Posted by: Berta | Jun 21, 2004 5:00:02 PM

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