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Vatican Alleges Inquisition Was Not All That Bad

By Malcom Lagauce (Jeff Archer)
June 16-16, 2004

In 1996, I was asked to speak to the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego about foreign affairs. A major part of my presentation consisted of the number of nuclear weapons still in place and ready to go despite the U.S. governmentís alleged decrease in the weapons. After all, the Cold War was over.

At one point, I mentioned the 80,000 nuclear weapons that the U.S. still possessed. Then, I went into detail about the several hundred nukes that Israel had in storage.

The people loved my talk, but I could see that one spectator in particular may be wanting to challenge my assessment. He was wearing a T-shirt with a Star of David on the front, with the word "Israel" in large letters under the religious depiction.

Sure enough, when the questions came forth, his hand was the first to raise itself. He stated, "You are in error about the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. has. They donít have 80,000." I knew the number was approximate, but the questioner seemed to have information that would devastate my account. "How many do they have?" I asked, partly out of curiosity. He stated, in all seriousness, "Only 60,000."

The Vatican recently came out with information about the Inquisition that makes the answer of the Israeli T-shirt-clad person seem legitimate. On June 15, 2004, the Vatican revealed that torture, burning and various other punishments given during the Inquisition were not as widespread as previously believed.

Pope John Paul II praised the research behind the public denial of the severity of the Inquisition. In a letter about the research, he wrote, "In the opinion of the public, the image of the Inquisition represents almost the symbol Ö of scandal. To what degree is this image to reality?"

The Church has presented a 783-page book on the findings. Officials praised the people involved in the project. According to Agostino Borromeo, a professor at Romeís Sapienza University, "The recourse to torture and the death sentence werenít so frequent as it long has been believed."

Another denier is Cardinal Georges Cotter, a Vatican theologian. He maintains that more facts must come forward before making judgements about history. Although the Church has made a few half-hearted apologies about the Inquistion, Cotter does not accept the need for such statements of regret. He said, "You canít ask for pardon for deeds which arenít there."

If we look at history, the Inquisition began shortly after the Crusades were coming to an end. The Vatican needed to keep its grip on power and decided to carry on Crusade-like activities closer to home.

It wasnít until the 1830s that the Spanish Inquisition was officially ended. More than half a millennium was spent by the Roman Catholic Church on torturing and killing those who did not agree, as well as devout followers who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, in the 21st century, Vatican officials are downplaying the longest reign of terror in history.

And, donít forget about previous Vatican "scholars," the predecessors of those who are denying history today in the recent reports. They were the ones who said the Earth was flat. They were the ones who said the Earth was about 6,000 years old. They were the ones who jailed scientists for having the audacity to state that the Earth was not at the center of the universe. Today, the same denial of reality is implemented by modern Vatican scholars. Nothing has changed.

I assume that no one alive today can give an accurate assessment of the Inquisition because no one alive today was there. However, one can look to history and documents and get a fair view of reality in those days. I went online and inserted the words "The Inquisition" into the Google search engine. Over 130,000 websites are online concerning the Inquisition. I only looked at the first couple of pages of results, but I saw most were from historical websites that had conducted astute research on the subject, many from university think-tanks. All gave lists and documented lists of atrocities over hundreds of years. This was no small item as the Church is now assessing. Its depth and length were enormous.

The following description of torture and execution techniques came from the website rotten dot com > Library > History > The Inquisition. This is just a minute sampling of the effects of the Inquisition that appear online.

  • The Judas Chair: This was a large pyramid-shaped "seat." Accused heretics were placed on top of it, with the point inserted into their anuses or genitalia, then very, very slowly lowered onto the point with ropes. The effect was to gradually stretch out the opening of choice in an extremely painful manner.
  • The Head Vice: Pretty straightforward concept. They put your head into a specially fitted vice, and tighten it until your teeth are crushed, your bones crack and eventually your eyes pop out of their sockets.
  • The Pear: A large bulbous gadget is inserted in the orifice of choice, whether mouth, anus or vagina. A lever on the device then causes it to slowly expand whilst inserted. Eventually points emerge from the tips. (Apparently, internal bleeding doesn't count as "breaking the skin.")
  • The Wheel: Heretics are strapped to a big ol' wheel, and their bones are clubbed into shards. Not very creative, but quite effective.

Methods of execution weren't much better. Since death was the eventual outcome, the skin-breaking point was rendered largely moot. While burning at the stake was the most widely used method, being cost-effective and providing a fun spectacle for the whole family, there were other approaches used in special cases:

  • Sawing: Heretics were hung upside-down and sawed apart down the middle, starting at the crotch.
  • Disembowelment: Not the nice kind of disembowelment, where a samurai slits you wide open like a fish and you die in moments. No, that's not good enough for the Inquisition. A small hole is cut in the gut, then the intestines are drawn out slowly and carefully, keeping the victim alive for as much of the process as possible.

The Stake: Depending on how unrepentant a heretic might be, the process of burning at the stake could vary wildly. For instance, a fairly repentant heretic might be strangled, then burned. An entirely unrepentant heretic could be burned over the course of hours, using green wood or simply by placing them on top of hot coals and leaving them there until well done.

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