By Delia GallagherZenit.org).- Those who claim the Vatican tries to
hide behind a veil of secrecy should read its
newly published 783-page book on the Inquisition.
ROME, JUNE 24, 2004 (
The "Minutes of the International Symposium
'The Inquisition'" is a remarkably candid
exposť of the tortures and injustices committed
by various national Inquisitions (in England,
Portugal, Spain, France, Goa) and the Roman one,
under the guidance of several Popes and the
auspices of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The symposium was held in October 1998.
It is a tribute to the visionary leadership of
Pope John Paul II that the Church opened up its
archives on this period to Catholic and
non-Catholic historians and published their
findings. The findings do not shy away from strong
criticism of Catholic leadership of the time.
Consider these excerpts:
"In 1559, on express desire of Paul IV, in a
systematic and detailed way, all Christians who
went to confess their sins were first interrogated
about their criminal offences, or their knowledge
of crimes of heresy or reading of prohibited
books; and if something emerged, they were sent to
the tribunal of the inquisition to make a formal
denouncement ... if the violence of torture and
the gallows broke the body, the moral violence
exercised by the subordination of confession to
the inquisition broke consciences ... the profound
effects of this choice still need to be evaluated
in full" (p. 761).
"The largest spurt in executions by the Roman
Inquisition occurred shortly after the Council of
Trent, during the pontificate of an ex-Inquisitor
General. Because of the Roman Inquisition, Pius V
has more legal murders staining his record than
any other 16th century pope, including Paul IV and
Sixtus V. Nevertheless, he has become the only one
of this group to be canonized, while the other two
remain bywords for bigoted ferocity" (p.
"That the wisest and saintliest among the
Fathers and Doctors of the Church, through their
personal authority, gave credence to this
'communal doctrine' [of torture and death] to the
point of seeming to imbue it with a
quasi-Magisterial authority, necessitates that the
authentic Magisterium of the Church make honorable
amends" (p. 767).
Not a few at the Vatican were concerned that the
publication of such details would give ammunition
to those who wished to attack the Church.
Yet the Pope insisted on this research as part of
his Jubilee Year "purification of
memory," which required a scholarly
investigation into the truth of what happened
during the Inquisition -- not simply to set the
record straight, but to ask for forgiveness for
the injustices that occurred.
Now it is a tricky theological question how, and
indeed why, one can ask for forgiveness on behalf
of Popes who have been canonized, and doctors and
saints of the Church whose teachings encouraged
I spoke to the theologian of the Papal Household,
Cardinal Georges Cottier, who headed the
commission that published the work on the
"The Church does not ask forgiveness for the
Inquisition as a whole," Cardinal Cottier
clarified. "She asks forgiveness for the fact
of the violence employed during the
"The individual guilt of saints or Popes
involved in the Inquisition is not judged by the
Church; it is a secret of God," he said.
In any moral act, the cardinal explained, there
are different levels of responsibility. So, for
example, the use of drugs may mitigate the
responsibility of an individual who sins under
Likewise, given the mentality of the age of the
Inquisition, when the use of torture and burning
was widely accepted, the responsibility of those
involved must be considered in this light.
So while the conscience of say, St. Pius V, may
have been deficient, it must be considered against
the "communal conscience" of the time,
said Cardinal Cottier.
"Communal conscience evolves," the
cardinal said. "What was considered
acceptable for a certain time, may be seen later
The cardinal cited the death penalty as a modern
example of the evolution of communal conscience.
And just as there can be a progression of
conscience, so can there be a regression of
communal conscience, as is the case with abortion,
said the cardinal.