“Secret Files of the Inquisition”

I couldn’t watch the PBS series, Secret Files of the Inquisition, when it aired, but my mother taped it for me and sent me the tape; I watched the first two episodes tonight.

Bill Donohue condemned it sight unseen, brandishing statements about the Inquisition that are irrelevant to the program.

What are the facts of the case? It isn’t a series of sensationalized dramatizations as some other bloggers have suggested. Four specific local case studies are presented in the course of the series. Scenes from the detailed files released by the Vatican in 1998 are dramatized while narrators read from the record.

The first episode deals with one town in France, Montaillou, that was infected by Catharism–largely because of a priest who both pandered to the Cathars and who preyed upon the women of the village. Some bloggers complained that one of the “experts” in this episode was a novelist, Charmaine Craig. Why was she included? Because she had used the records of this village (which she learned about while studying at Harvard) as the basis of an historical novel, The Good Men. (Craig, formerly an actress, was also the model for Disney’s “Pocahontas”).

The second episode looked at the beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition, which targeted conversos (Jews who were either forced to convert on threat of death or chose to convert to better their status, and yet continued to observe Jewish practices in secret). The program made clear that the Spanish Inquisition targeted the baptized, not Jews who had never been baptized.

Let it be emphasized that the program makes no effort to portray the full history of the Cathars or of the Spanish Inquisition. It looks at specific towns, like Montaillou and Zaragoza, telling the story of particular individuals as they appear in the record. One wonders why that’s such a threat to some folks.

4 thoughts on ““Secret Files of the Inquisition”

  1. I bought the book “The Good Men” used and in excellent condition thru Amazon for $4.00. The author has a very unique family history which you can read about by clicking on her name in the above paragraph.

  2. The Inquisition is one of those sticks that are used to beat the Church. Any time a Catholic engages in a debate with a non-Catholic if someone says “what about the Inquisition,” the debate is over…..

    Pope John Paul II, unless I am mistaken, apologized for what went on. For most Catholics the Inquisitions are embarrassing and we would prefer if they were put to rest. Docudramas are becoming more common and take history and make it entertaining, in a very gothic manner, they wont let the Inquisition rest.

    …[T]he inquisition happened, but we have to get to a stage whereby it is not whipped out periodically as a stick to beat the Church.

  3. “The program made clear that the Spanish Inquisition targeted the baptized, not Jews who had never been baptized.”

    I’ve seen this brought up on some Catholic blogs as a defense of the Spanish Inquisition or a downplaying of its activities. But the people making this point never note that Spain had such a large population of conversos because Jews had formally been expelled from Spain in 1492.

  4. Bill L. — this program dealt with activities of the Inquisition in Spain prior to the 1492 expulsion.

    Liam–I edited your comment to focus on these two points.

    First, John Paul II did make a statement in 2004 in connection with a symposium on the Inquisition, and following up on a 2000 statement.

    But I don’t think he gets at the heart of the issue. The Inquisition wasn’t just any medieval institution–it was, in its various forms, an official response of the Church to issues of heresy. It used torture to extract confessions. It handed over thousands to execution (by horrible means). These techniques were ordered, justified, and defended by repeated popes and by councils, and those who questioned them were condemned by popes and councils.

    The claim to infallibility by the Catholic Church does not date to 1870, but goes back much further. Gregory VII, for instance, said in Dictatus Papae, 1090, “That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.”

    That’s always been the Roman Catholic claim–that it has a unique authority; that it alone is protected from error; that it alone speaks with the authority of Christ.

    The various apologies around the year 2000 all made a distinction between the Church and its members. Individuals could be wrong, not the Church–see, for example, the 1999 statement of the International Theological Commission, Memory and Reconciliation.

    That ITC statement echoed a common defense: “Isn’t it a bit too easy to judge people of the past by the conscience of today”?

    But those people claimed to speak with the authority of Christ. They claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. They killed and tortured those who would dare dispute this. We can judge them, we must judge them, and we must do so on the basis of the words of the Jesus in whose name they claimed to act. And when we do, we see that these actions are quite contrary to the spirit of Christ.

    The Inquisition does not stand alone. It was an historical acting out of the Catholic claim to divine authority and infallibility. Catholics may be embarrassed, but if they are intellectually honest, and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, they must see the discrepancy.

    It doesn’t matter if the death toll was 10,000 or 2,000,000. People were tortured and murdered in the name of Christ by a Church which claimed divine authority then and which claims divine authority today. This wasn’t something done at one point in history by people hiding facts from their superiors–it was carried on for hundreds of years, with the knowledge and approval of popes and councils, by methodical people who left careful records.

    The Catholic Church claims to speak for Jesus–we must test this claim by the Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

    How many errors must be pointed out to show that a claim to infallibility is false? Only one.

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