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|The Roman Catholic Church's
barbaric treatment of "heretics"
(i.e. its own family members)
the first of our five sections on|
"the barbarism of the R. C. Church"
There's a great deal of truth in President Truman's famous observation :
"The only thing new in the world is the history that you don't know." Roman Catholics know very little about the history of their church between the first and the twentieth centuries.
In the year 1209, When the King of France refused to lead the pope's Crusade, Pope Innocent III put his legate, Arnald-Amalric, the General of the Cistercian ( or "Trappist") monks at Citeaux, in charge of the "Christian" forces. On their way to the Holy Land, they made a stop at the French town of Béziers.
"Arnald called on the Catholics in the town, an Albigensian stronghold, to hand over the 200 or so known heretics. If they didn't they would suffer with them. The townsfolk decided to stand together against these foreigners . . .
The townsfolk took refuge inside the cathedral and the great churches of St. Jude and St. Mary Magdalene. . . The command went out from Arnald: 'Kill them all: the Lord will look after his own.'
Behind the locked doors of St. Mary Magdalene's, the clergy tolled the bells, while celebrants vested in black for a requiem. The churches, places of sanctuary from time immemorial, were crammed. In that church alone there were 7000 women, children and the elderly. To the sound of priests chanting mass was added that of axes splitting the timber of the doors. When the doors gave way, the only noise and church was the Latin of the liturgy and the babble of babies in their mothers' arms.
The invaders, singing lustily Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) spared no one, not even the babies. The last to be cut down were two priests in the sanctuary. One held on high a crucifix, the other the chalice. With a clang, the chalice hit the stone floor, and Christ's blood mingled with that of the people of Béziers. It was, said Lea, in his book The Inquisition in the Middle Ages, 'a massacre almost without parallel in human history'.
The crusaders then destroyed everything in the town, including the cathedral. 'All that was left of Béziers was a smouldering heap under which all the citizens lay dead.'
In the cool of the evening, the monk Arnald settled down to write to his superior. 'Today, your Highness, 20,000 citizens were put to the sword, regardless of age or sex.' That is unusual. After a siege, women and children were spared, and especially clergy who had immunity. Slaughtering babies was bad enough, but it was an unspeakable crime to cut priests down as they celebrated the ritual sacrifice of Calvary. Blood-lust had taken hold of the Pope's crusade and was never to relax its grip. It has been reckoned that in the last and most savage persecution under Emperor Diocletian, about 2,000 Christians perished, throughout the empire. (Yet) In the first vicious incident of Pope Innocent III's crusade, ten times that number of people were slaughtered. Not all were Albigensians, by any means. It comes as a shock to discover that, at a stroke, a pope killed far more Christians than (the pagan emperor) Diocletian.
( Those who were killed, however, may have been the lucky ones. Here is the way some of the living were treated at the Crusaders' next stop: ) After capturing the castle at Bram in 1210, ) "instead of killing the vanquished, the commander of the Pope's crusaders, de Montfort, ordered his soldiers to lop off their noses and gouge out their eyes. One man was allowed to keep one eye to guide the rest. Each of them put a hand on the shoulder of the fellow in front and, like a giant bloodied whining insect, they wended their way to Cabaret to put the fear of God into the encampment there. . . ( p. 160)
"The Pope Innocent was kept informed at every stage. He opened one letter to de Montfort with the words 'praise and thanks to God for that which He hath mercifully wrought through thee and through these others whom zeal for the orthodox faith hath kindled to this work against His most pestilential enemies.' " ( p. 161)
"As early as the year 384, a synod in Rome denounced the use of torture, and Gregory the Great in the sixth century ordered judges to ignore testimony given under duress.. In the Dark Ages, Nicholas I had condemned torture as a violation of the divine law."
"The terror began in earnest with Gregory IX, who ascended the papal throne in the year 1227. . . Two years later, at the Council of Toulouse, Gregory decreed that heretics had to be handed over to the secular harm for punishment. 'It is the duty of every Catholic', he said, 'to persecute heretics.'
The Inquisition is born
(Gregory) "published a bull establishing the Inquisition. . . all opposed to any papal pronouncement, were to be handed over to the civil authorities for burning. If they repented, they were to be imprisoned for life. No pope ever took up to torch of terror with more enthusiasm. . ." (p. 162)
"Since Gregory VII, however, fanaticism had crept into the papacy. Since the pope cannot make a mistake, he must be blindly obeyed in all things, however trivial. Between 1200 and 1500 a series of papal laws did away with every shade of difference in belief and discipline." (i.e. between God's will and man's whim). . .
"History does not support the view that the Catholic Church has always championed the rights of man. In the 13th century, it went so far as to teach what the early church condemned: "heretics have no rights". They can be tortured without scruple. Like traitors to the state, heretics have put themselves outside the mercy of the law. They must be put to death. "
"Innocent IV's contribution in his Bull Ad extirpanda was to allow the Inquisition to use torture. From then on, any disobedience even in thought was punishable. Bad thoughts threatened church unity which was built on the loyalty to the Vicar of Christ." . . . (p. 163)
The victim's ordeal began with knock on the door in the night. A family man in, say France, Italy or Germany, rose from bed to find at the door the chief of police, armed guards and the Dominican. From that moment he had no hope. Taken to the "Casa Santa" (or "Holy House", the Catholic name for a house of horrors!) , he was accused of heresy. His guilt was presumed, though it was policy never to tell him what the charges were and he was forbidden to ask. At no stage was he allowed to ask a question. He soon learned that every semblance of justice was to be denied him.
Alone and friendless, he was refused legal representation. No lawyer dared take him on in any case. Since acquittals were unknown, an unsuccessful lawyer risked being painted with heresy himself. He, too, was likely to be excommunicated and dealt with by the secular arm.
Defense witnesses were not allowed. All prosecution witnesses – their identities were kept secret from prisoner – were given equal status. Among them might be the accused's servants whom he had dismissed for theft or incompetence. They might be persons who were refused a hearing in civil courts: convicted perjurers, the excommunicated, heretics. Some testimony was nothing more than hearsay or idle gossip. Cranks, perverts, maniacs, those with a grudge or a vendetta were acceptable. Saddest of all, the witnesses were often members of the accused own family, who were told that, while the accused had no hope, complete frankness would ease the lot of the rest of family.
No appeal against sentence was permitted. What higher tribunal could there be that one acting in the pope's name?(p. 166)
Heresy was a fluid concept. Anything in the slightest degree opposed to the papal system was "against the faith". Examples: the Inquisitors arrested people for eating meat on Friday, omitting their Easter duties (to confess their sins to a priest and receive communion at least once every year), reading the Bible, saying it is a sin to persecute for conscience's sake, speaking ill of a cleric – priest or bishop, any jibe against his Holiness was an indictable offense, sacrilege, blasphemy, sorcery, sodomy, non-payment of taxes to the Pope and the clergy, saying that usury is not a sin. Any baptized person who did not light a fire on a cold Sabbath was presumed to be a covert Jew and merited death at the stake.
The ultimate injustice was being accused of thinking heresy. For the Inquisition, Orthodoxy was not only speaking and acting in orthodox (that is, papal) manner: it was also thinking as the pontiff would have a person think. If under torture a prisoner proved he had never said or done anything heretical, he could still be punished for his inmost thoughts, his doubts, his temptations." (p. 167)
"Usually, informers approached the place of the Inquisition under cover of night. On being guaranteed anonymity in the pope's name, every bigot and villain was free to lie as he wished.
The tribunal consisted of one or two Inquisitors, two or more witnesses, and members of the Inquisitors' staff. All of them were hidden under hoods. The phrase constantly on the judge's lips was 'Tell the truth'. Whenever the prisoner asked for enlightenment, the inquisitor applied coolly and calmly: 'Tell the truth'. Once it was clear that the accused was not going to confess spontaneously, he was carried to the dungeon where the executioner had his instruments ready. The sentence of heresy was read out under a crucifix, after which the executioner stripped the prisoner and tied him to a trestle. 'Tell the truth for the love of God,' the inquisitor intoned ritually, 'as the Inquisitors do not wish to see you suffer.' With every part of the body accessible, cords were tied around the thighs and arms. A belt was put under the waist with cords passing from it over the shoulders from front to back. Each time the cords were tightened, the Dominican interrupted his recitation of the rosary in honour of the Virgin to say: 'Tell the truth.' If the prisoner was stubborn, sticks were put inside the cords to make a garrotte. The effect was like a turniquet on several limbs at once. (p. 168)
"To the medieval Inquisition, everything was permitted. The Dominican Inquisitors, being the Pope's appointees, were subject to no one but God and his Holiness. They were outside the jurisdiction of bishops and of civil law. In the Papal States they were a law unto themselves, acting as prosecutors and judges. Their guiding principle was: "Better for a hundred innocent people to die than for one heretic to go free."
They operated arbitrarily and in total secrecy. Anyone present at the interrogation – victim, scribe, executioner – who broke his silence incurred a censure that only the Pope could lift. The Inquisitors, like the pope, could make no mistake and do no wrong.
By papal command, they were explicitly forbidden to have mercy on their victims. Pity was un-Christian, where heresy was concerned. They were told that his Holiness would take on himself any guilt they incurred if they overstepped the mark inadvertently. Like the Nazi S S. in the 20th century, they were able to torture and destroy with a quiet mind because their superior officer – in this case, the Pope – assured them that heretics were a dirty, diseased and contagious foe that must be purged at all costs and by all means. . . ( pp. 163–164)
Until the end of the 19th-century there was a large black book or Libro Negro, also known as the "book of the dead" on display in the Inquisitors' headquarters or the "Holy Office" as it is now called. "This manuscript in folio form was the charge of the grand Inquisitor. Here is a sample of its instructions:
"Either the accused confesses and he is proved guilty by his own confession, or he does not confess, and is equally guilty on the evidence of witnesses. If a person confesses the whole of what he is accused of, he is unquestionably guilty of the whole; but if he confesses only a part, he ought still to be regarded as guilty of the whole, since what he has confessed proves him to be capable of guilt as to the other points of the accusation. . .
Bodily torture has ever been found the most salutary and efficient means of leading to spiritual repentance. Therefore, the choice of the most to befitting mode of torture is left to the judge of the Inquisition, who determines according to the age, the sex, and the constitution of the party. . . If, notwithstanding all the means employed, the unfortunate wretch still denies his guilt, he is to be considered as a victim of the devil: and, as such, deserves no compassion from the servants of God, nor the pity and indulgence of Holy Mother Church: he is as son of perdition. Let him perish among the damned."
"It would be hard to find any document so contrary to the principles of natural justice. According to the black book, a child must betray his parents, a mother must betray or child. Not to do so it is a "stand against the Holy Office" and merits excommunication, that is, the exclusion from the sacraments and, if there is no amendment, exclusion from heaven."
. . . One ghoulish feature of the tribunal was that it even tried the dead. The Sixth General Council in the year 680 had declared that the Church can anathematise heretics, living and dead. . . Hundreds of the dead were tried in this way. Some had passed on 30 or 40 years before; one had been in his grave for 75 years. . . This practice also enabled Inquisitors to acquire the goods and chattels of the dead. When a corpse was pronounced guilty, his former assets were seized. His heirs lost their inheritance. A blameless Catholic son often found, after his father's postmortem conviction, that he was deprived not only of his property of also of all civil rights. He was lucky to be left with his life as a special act of papal clemency. (p. 165)
The inquisitors never lost a single case. There is no record of any acquittal. When, rarely, the verdict was not proven, no one was declared innocent. If the accused was not actually guilty of heresy, no matter. Inquisitors believed that only one in every thousand souls would escape damnation anyway
There is an outstanding four-volume History of the Inquisition in Spain, published by Henry Charles Lea in 1907, which obviously only covers the infamies of the Inquisition in that one Catholic country.
"Not one pope for over three centuries opposed this teaching – which should therefore by rights be a permanent part of Catholic doctrine. – By means it, the Inquisition achieved unprecedented power. The result was wholesale intimidation of the those who had no protection against the charge or even slightest suspicion of heresy.' (p. 163)
What history shows is that, for more than six centuries without a break, the papacy was the sworn enemy of elementary justice. Of eighty popes in a line from the thirteenth century on, not one of them disapproved of the theology and apparatus of Inquisition. On the contrary, one after another added his own cruel touches to the workings of this deadly machine.
The mystery is: how could popes continue in this practical heresy for generation after generation? How could they deny at every point the Gospel of Jesus, who himself received an unjust trial and, though innocent, was crucified for heresy?
The answer seems to be: once a pope like Gregory IX had initiated the Inquisition, pontiffs preferred to contradict the Gospel than an 'inerrant' predecessor, for that would bring down the papacy itself. . .
Also to the popes alone was due the reintroduction of torture into the law courts. It took papal prestige to overturn a long civilized tradition that torture was very wrong. Lea wrote in The Inquisition in the Middle Ages:
It [the Inquisition) introduced a system of jurisprudence which infected the criminal law of all the lands subjected to its influence, and rendered the administration of papal justice a cruel mockery for centuries. It furnished the Holy See with a powerful weapon in aid of political aggrandizement, it tempted secular sovereigns to imitate the example, and it prostituted the name of religion to the vilest temporal ends. . . The judgement of impartial history must be that the Inquisition was the monstrous offspring of mistaken zeal, utilized by the selfish greed and lust of power to smother the higher aspirations of humanity and stimulate the baser appetites." (pp. 175-6)
During this period, Columbus rediscovered "the New World" on behalf of the Catholic King and Queen of Spain. In 1529, Pope Clement VI gave these instructions to Charles V in his papal bull Intra arcana:
"We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations (of the New World) to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom." (Washburn 1971:11).