The M+G+R Foundation

Myths About the Papacy

Part 3 - The teachings of the Magisterium and a history of its Fallibility

A Guest Document

by Lee Penn

Introduction Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4


Support for Crusades and religious warfare ||  Support for absolute government ||  Tacit Endorsement of Slavery ||  Requiring membership in the Roman Catholic Church for salvation ||  Use of torture and capital punishment to combat heresy ||  Violation of free will - Censorship ||  Witch-hunting - Institutionalized Murder ||  Institutionalized Anti-semitism and ethnic cleansing ||  Violation of free will - Opposition to religious freedom ||  In summary

A reminder by The M+G+R Foundation: It is not our objective to harm the Catholic Faith in any way. On the contrary, our objective is to protect the little Faith that remains and for this it is necessary, as a first step, that the faithful be able to distinguish between the treasure of the Faith and the corrupt Church Hierarchy that has failed to administer that treasure. When an institution, and not God, becomes the object of faith, it means that satan has stepped in and commandeered the institution. This applies to all religious institutions, not only to the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholic apologists say:

“When it comes to faith and morals, the Magisterium is our divine guarantee of freedom from error. There is no other.” (1)


“Through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has for two thousand years clearly heard the voice of the Great Shepherd.” (2)

That’s true in part: Scripture and Sacraments have indeed been handed down to us, despite the worst efforts of many hierarchs, scribes, and teachers. But the actual Magisterium of the Catholic Church, as it has been in history, has included the following teachings, which at the time had every appearance of being official, authoritative, permanent teaching:

Support for Crusades and religious warfare

In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims, saying “I, or rather the Lord, beseech you to publish this everywhere … Christ commands it. All who die by the way, whether by land or sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them by the power of God with which I am invested.” (3) A present-day Catholic apologist says, “despite their dark moments, the Crusades were understandable and even necessary.” (4) These “dark moments” included the massacre of Jews and Muslims when the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099, and the rape and massacre of Christians of the Eastern Empire as well as the pillage of Constantinople in 1204 by a wayward Crusading army – an act of aggression that made permanent the schism between the Eastern and Western churches, and fatally weakened the Byzantine Empire.

By 1291, the last Crusader kingdom in the Levant fell. Popes also called, and gave indulgences for, Crusades against Albigensians in southern France (1209-1229, called by Innocent III) and Hussites in Bohemia (1420-1431, called by Martin V), and continued to call for Crusades against the Turks until the late 1500s. Religious war, when blessed by the Pope, was part of the “ordinary Magisterium” for at least 500 years.

Ordinary Papal statecraft, outside of declared Crusades, could have similarly gruesome results. “Successive popes poured money into supporting the Catholic side in the French Wars of Religion. … In 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France, during which between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants had been butchered, Gregory XIII ordered the celebration of a solemn ‘Te Deum’ of thanksgiving.” (5) Gregory also had a medal struck to commemorate the event, and commissioned a fresco, The Night of St. Bartholomew, for the Vatican’s Royal Hall. (6) In the early years of the Thirty Years’ War in Central Europe (a war in which Germany lost one-third of its population (7)), “Paul V and Gregory XV between them would pour more than 2,000,000 florins in subsidies to Catholic armies.” (8)

Such was the ordinary Magisterium, in theory and in practice, for centuriesand this teaching was binding upon the faithful.

The Catholic Church is no longer in the business of war in the name of religion. With the decree Dignitatis Humanae, issued in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, the Church disavowed religious coercion. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II said, “I myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic war in the Persian Gulf, repeated the cry: ‘Never again war!’. No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war.” (9) The Pope likewise opposed the Persian Gulf war that the US started in 2003. Those who promote a crusade against Islam today are rarely Catholic; they are more likely to be Evangelical Protestant dispensationalists or extremist Israelis.

The Catholic Magisterium (in this case, on war for the faith), has changed – for the better.

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Support for absolute government

In the West’s ongoing, centuries-long struggle for representative government and human liberty, the Church often stood for absolute government.

Innocent III (1198-1216) had excommunicated King John of England in 1209 for refusing to accept the Pope’s choice as Archbishop of Canterbury. After the King submitted to the Pope, giving his realm to the Pope as a fief, the Pope supported John’s full royal power. Innocent III declared the Magna Carta void because the barons had forced the king to accept limitation of his powers, without the consent of the Pope (who was now King John’s feudal lord). The Pope opposed a charter that said that no one – not even the King – was above the law. For centuries, Popes acted in the same spirit.

For almost 100 years after the French Revolution of 1789, Popes stood firmly for a restoration of the Old Regime, the alliance of Throne and Altar. Leo XII (1823-1829) “reinstated the feudal aristocracy, with privileged positions, in the Papal States;” “Jews were once again confined to ghettos and their property confiscated;” he enforced “a harsh police state,” with press censorship, capital punishment, and secret police. (10) Gregory XVI (1831-1846) held onto the Papal states with the aid of French and Austrian bayonets, and condemned liberalism in the encyclical Mirari Vos. In 1832, the Pope issued the statement Superori Anno, denouncing the 1830 Polish revolution against the Tsar (who was then actively persecuting Catholics). Gregory rejected “those who under cover of religion have set themselves against the legitimate power of princes,” and warned bishops to resist “impostors and propagators of new ideas.” (11)

Pius IX (1846-1878) began his reign as a reformer, but reverted to his predecessors’ attitudes after his narrow escape from a revolutionary siege in 1848. In the 1864 Syllabus of Errors, Pius condemned the idea that “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.” (12) Pius held onto the Papal states only with foreign troops; once the French garrison withdrew from Rome in 1870, the last of “Peter’s Patrimony” fell into the hands of the new Italian kingdom. Pius excommunicated the leaders of the Italian unification movement, and ordered Catholics not to participate in the political affairs of the new state.. Papal policy and papal teachings – at the level of encyclicals, which were issued for the whole Church – were consistent in their opposition to political liberalism of any kind.

The 19th Century Italian insurgents, seemingly, deserved a sentence of excommunication by Pius IX. However, the Catholics among the Nazi leaders (including Hitler, who was born Catholic), were never excommunicated by the two Popes who ruled from 1933 to 1945. Nor did Pius XII ever condemn the Nazis’ aggression against Catholic Poland. (13) Not until June 1945 – with Hitler dead and the Third Reich defeated – did the Pope say that Nazism was “a satanic spectre … the cult of violence, the idolatry of race and blood, the overthrow of human liberty and dignity.” (14)

With the Papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903), a policy change began. In the 1881 encyclical Diuturnum Illud, Leo said that “the right to rule is from God,” but “that those who may be placed over the State may in certain cases be chosen by the will and decision of the multitude, without opposition to or impugning Catholic doctrine.” (15) Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) said in the 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris that

“The fact that authority comes from God does not mean that men have no power to choose those who are to rule the State, or to decide upon the type of government they want, and determine the procedure and limitations of rulers in the exercise of their authority. Hence the above teaching is consonant with any genuinely democratic form of government. … A natural consequence of men’s dignity is unquestionably their right to take an active part in government.” (16)

This perspective, which supports constitutional government, civil liberty, and human rights, has been part of Church teaching only since Vatican II.

Again, the Church’s Magisterium changed – for the better, after centuries of standing against representative and limited government.

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Tacit Endorsement of Slavery

A history of the Church’s stance on slavery – written in 2005 for Crisis, a conservative, Republican party-oriented Catholic magazine – shows that the Church has had a mixed record, at best, in dealing with this ancient and brutal human institution.

Author T. David Curp says:

“Theology worked hand-in-hand with Christendom’s strategic imperatives to expand slavery among Christians at the dawn of the modern era, and even led the papacy to grant religious approval to slave-taking. … The papacy endorsed Portuguese—and eventually Spanish—slave-taking out of cruel necessity. Popes Eugenius IV and a later successor, Sixtus IV, both condemned Portuguese raids in the Canary Islands in the mid–15th century in places where Christians already lived. But these condemnations came within the broader context of papal support for a Portuguese crusade in Africa that did include slave-taking. Eugenius IV and his immediate successor issued a series of bulls, including Illius Qui (1442), Dum Diversus (1452), and Romanus Pontificus (1455), that recognized the rights of the monarchs of Portugal and eventually Spain to engage in a wide-ranging slave trade in the Mediterranean and Africa—first under the guise of crusading, and then as a part of regular commerce. As Pope Nicholas authorized the Portuguese in Romanus Pontificus:

‘We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso—to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit….’

The occasional papal pronouncements against slavery earlier in the 15th century and later in the 16th century sought to regulate particular abuses, but they did not deny Spain and Portugal the right to engage in the trade itself. All of these bulls were issued just prior to and after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. … The Ottomans’ advance on Europe, in addition to its general destructiveness, also saw Muslims taking thousands of Christian slaves each year through piracy, conquest, and the devshirme tithe. As a result, the pontiffs of the day were in no position to refuse Portugal and Spain—two of the few great Christian powers enthusiastic about crusading—the opportunity to develop their economic power in whatever way they saw fit. Far from being an innocent bystander, or merely silently complicit, the papacy fully participated in the expansion of the European slave trade.” (17)

Curp defends this stance taken by the Church – and several Popes:

“This was not a product of greed, but of a thoroughly rational and tangible fear of the consequences of not using every available means to defend a rapidly contracting 16th-century Christendom. Divorced from the context of a Europe under a tightening Ottoman siege, papal engagement with the slave trade would appear to confirm the worst prejudices of secular critics. Placed within its historical environment, however, what we confront is the lay faithful and their shepherds accepting a real evil—slavery—to avoid their own subjugation to militant Islam.” (18)

Such a utilitarian defense, accepting an evil so that greater good may come of it, is a standard argument in secular politics. However, this approach is foreign to the message of the Gospels.

Later Popes – most notably, Gregory XVI, in his 1839 statement In Supremo – did condemn the slave trade. The “Vicar of Christ” came late to this understanding; the “heretical” Quakers and Evangelical Protestants in Great Britain had agitated for the abolition of slavery from 1750 onward. After Brazil abolished slavery in 1889, Leo XIII issued the encyclical Catholicae Ecclesiae (1890), saying: “the Church from the beginning sought to completely eliminate slavery, whose wretched yoke has oppressed many people. … This zeal of the Church for liberating the slaves has not languished with the passage of time; on the contrary, the more it bore fruit, the more eagerly it glowed. … We could not repudiate such a laudable inheritance. For this reason, We have taken every occasion to openly condemn this gloomy plague of slavery.” (19)

Finally, Vatican II issued a condemnation of slavery, torture, and other death-dealing social evils, in the 1965 decree Gaudium et Spes:

“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.” (20)

Regarding slavery, torture, and coercion of conscience, the Magisterium got it right this time. Better late than never!

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Requiring membership in the Roman Catholic Church for salvation

Before Vatican II, the formal teaching of the Church about the way to salvation was clear, and repeated with the highest level of authority for centuries: only those who are members of the Roman Catholic Church (and accept the authority of the Roman Pontiff) could be saved.

* Under Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) said, “One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (21)

* In his bull Unam Sanctam (1302), Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) said, “We declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (22)

* Under Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447), the Council of Florence decreed in 1442 that it “firmly believes, professes and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the Sacraments of the Church are of benefit for salvation … and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” (23)

This rigorous view, which defined those not visibly in union with the Catholic Church as damned, began to soften under Pius IX. In his 1863 encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, the Pope said, “they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can … attain eternal life.” (24)

The Second Vatican Council was yet more generous in its view of the possibility of salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Council said, “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved,” (25) it also said:

“The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. … They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power.” (26)


“Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as [the] Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.” (27)

In other words, there is no automatic damnation for the “pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics” whom the Council of Florence had cast into the eternal fire.

In this instance, the Council returned to the perspective of Christ, who had said “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32).. Centuries of “ordinary Magisterium” – including Conciliar and Papal decrees – that assumed (28) the perdition of non-Catholics were thus overturned. Deo Gratias!

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Use of torture and capital punishment to combat heresy

Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) established the first Inquisition in 1231, with the constitution Excommunicamus. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) issued the bull Ad Extirpanda, allowing the use of torture to extract confessions. These tribunals, often run by Franciscans and Dominicans, sought out heretics and other offenders against faith and morals. Church-imposed penalties could range from public penance to life imprisonment; those to be executed were handed over to the secular authorities. Such “rendition” of convicted heretics was accompanied by a ritual plea for mercy – but woe betide the local official who did not kill the heretic; he might find himself facing the Inquisitors. (29)

The Roman Inquisition acted under Papal authority; its courts operated until the Papal states fell to Italian insurgents in the mid-1800s. The Spanish Inquisition was under royal control, but was established in 1478 with Papal approval. It was Torquemada, the Church-appointed head of the Inquisition, who suggested to the government that the Jews and Muslims should be expelled from Spain if they did not convert to Christianity. (30) The Spanish Inquisition issued its last death sentence for heresy in 1824, and the institution was ended in 1834. (31) (Its last victim, a schoolteacher, was hanged for substituting “Praise be to God” for “Ave Maria” in school prayers.) (32) The liberal nationalists of the 1800s, inspired by the French Revolution, ended a system of organized injustice that professed Christians had kept in operation for six hundred years.

Church apologists reply that “papal infallibility falls strictly into the province of teaching doctrine, while the Inquisition was concerned with discipline. … The Inquisition was merely a legal entity that acted in the name of the pope” to enquire into the guilt of suspected heretics. (33) Nevertheless, Papal approval of tribunals that “disciplined” heretics with torture and death was also a Papal statement about faith and morals: that it was just and right to treat religious enemies in this fashion.

Some Catholics still hold this opinion. Dr. Warren Carroll, the Catholic historian, founder of Christendom College and speaker for Mother Angelica’s EWTN, wrote that Hitler and Stalin “would not have been free to gain power in a time which would have taken them at their word and knew the cost and consequences of their hatred of Christianity, which many of those condemned by the Inquisition also nourished. Tomás de Torquemada would have known how to deal – and to deal early – with Hitler and Stalin.” (34)

The Catholic Church now regrets these policies. The 1994 Catechism said, “In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.” (35) As apologies go, it’s a start – even if the statement of regret is mixed with excuses for the conduct of Church authorities.

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Violation of free will - Censorship

Beyond all this, there’s the matter of the Index of Forbidden Books, established in 1557 by Paul IV (1555-1559), last revised in 1948 and (fortunately) abolished in 1966 by Paul VI. While the Index was in force, Catholics were forbidden on pain of mortal sin to sell, own, or read the books on the list unless they got permission from their bishop. Violators could be excommunicated.

What’s noteworthy about the Index is what was included, and what was excluded. English language books on the banned list included the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (banned in 1714), John Milton’s Paradise Lost, philosophical books by John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Bernard de Mandeville, and John Stuart Mill, and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon. (36) However, two of the deadliest books of the 20th century, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were not on the list of books that were forbidden to Catholic readers.

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Witch-hunting - Institutionalized Murder

The hunt for witches was an equal-opportunity obsession in the period from 1450 to 1650; Catholics and Protestants alike used Inquisitional methods to hunt down and destroy them.

In any case, the Popes of the time stoked the frenzy.

* Pope John XXII (1316-1334) issued the bull Super Illius Specula in 1326, (37) “specifically authorizing the inquisition to proceed against all sorcerers, since they adored demons and had made ‘a pact with hell.’” (38)

* A German inquisitor, Heinrich Institoris, persuaded Innocent VIII to issue the bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus in 1484, which gave full Papal support for repression of witches by the Inquisition. (39) In 1486, Institoris published the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer Against the Witches), with Papal approval and with the 1484 bull as a preface. (40) A Christian historian of witchcraft reports, “The Malleus was reprinted in fourteen editions by 1520. Well-organized, impassioned, and enjoying papal approval, the Malleus became one of the most influential of all early printed books.” (41)

The death toll from the European witch craze was about 30,000 to 50,000 over several centuries, including Catholic and Protestant regions. (42) The frenzy died down only after the end of the religious wars in 1648, and with the spread of scientific rationalism.

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Institutionalized Anti-semitism and ethnic cleansing

Conflict between Christians and Jews goes back to the earliest days of the Church; the Temple authorities arrested Peter and John soon after Pentecost for healing the sick and preaching the Resurrection in the Temple (Acts 3:4-4:3).

After the Church gained governmental power, and was able retaliate, it did so – thus directly opposing what Jesus commanded – “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Some of the Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Jerome, and St. John Chrysostom, wrote anti-Jewish polemics. (43) The Frankish Synod of Clermont (535) forbade Jews from holding public office; the synod of Toledo (681) ordered the burning of Jewish books; the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) forced Jews to wear distinctive badges on their clothing. (44) Under Pope Paul IV (1555-1559), “the Jews of Rome were herded into ghettos, forced to sell their property to Christians, and made to wear yellow headgear; copies of the Talmud were searched out and burned.” (45) Saints, synods, councils, and popes were in agreement: Jews were to be, at best, second-class citizens of Christendom. In some instances, Popes and other Church authorities spoke against pogroms – but civil equality for Jews was not considered until the 19th Century, as a response to the French Revolution.

This habit of oppression reached its climax in the Spain of their Catholic majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella. (46) (A century earlier, anti-Semitic riots regularly followed preaching by St. Vincent Ferrer, (47) a Dominican who considered himself to be the angel of the Last Judgment. (48)) In 1492, immediately after the last Muslim territory in Spain had been conquered, the government gave Jews a choice: convert to Christianity or go into exile. About 130,000 Jews were thus banished. (49) The remainder, known to the authorities as “New Christians” or conversos, were always suspected by the Inquisition of secretly practicing the Jewish faith; 13,000 were killed in the first 12 years of the Inquisition’s existence. (50) In 1499, the government gave Muslims the same choice: conversion or exile. These converts, the moriscos, also were targets for Inquisitors hunting for secret practice of their old religion.

With religious persecution and ethnic cleansing came institutionalized racism. In 1449, “Purity of Blood” (in Spanish, limpieza de sangre) laws had been passed to define who was an “old Christian,” and who was a suspect “new Christian” – or a descendant therefrom. Those without the requisite “pure” ancestry were excluded from universities and from public office. (Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) had condemned the 1449 “purity” laws, but his teaching did not prevail.) (51) The last of the “Purity of Blood” laws were not repealed until 1865.

How does the Church stand on these matters now?

On the one hand, Vatican II places the Catholic Church firmly against religious coercion (Dignitatis Humanae) and anti-Semitism (Lumen Gentium). The same Council, in Gaudium et Spes, denounced genocide, “torments inflicted on body and mind, attempts to coerce the will itself,” and deportation as “infamies indeed” and “supreme dishonor to the Creator.” (52) Thus, the Church has, after nearly 2,000 years, spoken with its highest level of authority to renounce the prejudices and practices that were used for centuries to oppress Jews in Christian lands.

On the other hand … since 1974, there has been a cause for the canonization of Queen Isabella, the authoress of the aforementioned judicial murders and ethnic cleansing. Her defenders praise her faith, morality, and charity, and say that “no scandal ever stained her person.” (53) At the web site that promotes Isabel’s canonization, the founder of the Miles Jesu “new ecclesial movement,” a defender of her cause says, “The Catholic Spanish Inquisition, just in terms of the numbers of people executed, is nothing but a kitty-cat, or even just a little mouse, in comparison with the killing monster of Communism.” (54)

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Violation of free will - Opposition to religious freedom

In his 1832 encyclical Mirari Vos, Pope Gregory XVI said that the “shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that erroneous and absurd proposition that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone.” (55) In his 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura, Pope Pius IX quoted his predecessor’s 1832 ruling, and added that those who preach “liberty of conscience and worship” are preaching “liberty of perdition.” (56)

Vatican Council II reversed this teaching, thanks be to God.

The 1965 decree Dignitatis Humanae said, “This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (57)

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In summary …

The above-listed teachings, which were once part of the Magisterium, are – as we now understand – errors in faith and morals. (Had we been attentive to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ other teachings, we would have understood this all along.) At the highest level of authority, its Popes and its Councils, the Roman Catholic Church has erred – and has persisted in certain errors for centuries. It is manifestly false to claim, as Gregory VII did in his Dictatus Papae issued in 1075, that “the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.” (58)

Apologists defend the notion of an infallible Papacy by saying that Popes are not protected from sin in their private lives, in their erroneous opinions that were not given as Church teaching, and in their disciplinary decisions. As one apologist says, “Papal infallibility, once again, involves only the formal teaching office of the papacy. It has nothing to do with how popes govern the affairs of the Church.” (59) But in the above-listed cases, Popes were writing as if they meant their decrees to be in force perpetually; they did not say these rulings were temporary concessions to unfortunate circumstances, or that they were private opinion. Even today, the Vatican says that the laity must obey Church rulings in “disciplinary matters” with “docility in charity.” (60)

No doubt, those who carried out the Inquisitions thought they were doing just this. Present-day Vatican officialdom offers that very defense of the Inquisitors and their deeds. During an early 2006 television program about the Inquisition, the Rev. Joseph Di Noia, the Under Secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said: "It was a mistake to torture people. However, torture was regarded as a perfectly justified, legitimate way of producing evidence and it was therefore legally justified." (61) The Bush Adminstration could make the same relativistic, historical-context defense for the present-day "necessity" for torturing American war prisoners; the Soviets and the Nazis could have likewise said that torture was "perfectly justified" in their struggle against enemies of the State.

As noted above, the Church has reversed itself on these prior teachings. Apologists for the Vatican use tortured logic to explain why (for instance) the prior teaching that “error has no rights” and that states ought to suppress non-Catholic faiths is not contradictory to the current teaching that favors freedom of religion and disavows coercion of conscience. Such verbal gymnastics are no service to Christ, who said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No;’ anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37) Far better for the Church authorities just to say: “We were wrong before, and have changed what we used to teach – so that we can better serve Christ.”

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Myths About the Papacy – Index

Introduction Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4


(1) John Mallon, “The Obedience Test,”, accessed 01/11/06. Mallon is a contributing editor for Inside the Vatican magazine.

(2) Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction, Basilica Press, 1999, p. 15.

(3) Urban II, speech at Clermont, in Charles A. Coulombe, Vicars of Christ, Citadel Press, 2003, p. 226.

(4) Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction, Basilica Press, 1999, p. 195.

(5) Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners, Yale University Press, 2001, p. 225.

(6) Claudio Rendina, The Popes: Histories and Secrets, Seven Locks Press, 2002, p. 476-477.

(7) William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Pan Books, 1960, p. 122.

(8) Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners, Yale University Press, 2001, p. 225.

(9) John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991 encyclical, para. 52,, viewed 01/12/06.

(10) Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, Harper San Francisco, 2000, p. 334.

(11) Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners, Yale University Press, 2001, p. 282.

(12) Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors, article 80, 1864,, accessed 01/13/06.

(13) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum, 1976, p. 490.

(14) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum, 1976, p. 493; quoted from a speech by Pius XII to the cardinals.

(15) Leo XIII, encyclical “Diuturnum Illud,” paras. 5, 6, in Anthony J. Mioni, Jr., The Popes Against Modern Errors: 16 Papal Documents, TAN Books and Publishers, 1999, p. 42.

(16) John XXIII, encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” paras. 52, 56, 60, 73;, accessed 01/13/06.

(17) T. David Curp, “A Necessary Bondage? When the Church Endorsed Slavery,” Crisis, September 2005,, printed 11/15/05.

(18) T. David Curp, “A Necessary Bondage? When the Church Endorsed Slavery,” Crisis, September 2005,, printed 11/15/05.

(19) Leo XIII, “Catholicae Ecclesiae,” 1890, paras. 1, 2;, accessed 01/15/06.

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(23) Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, para. 714, Herder, 1957, p. 230.

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(27) Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 1964, ch. 2, para. 16,, accessed 01/14/06.

(28) With a few minor exceptions: for “baptism of blood,” and “baptism of desire.”

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(30) H. W. Crocker III, Triumph, Forum Publishing, 2001, p.. 227.

(31) John Edwards, Inquisition, Tempus Publishing, 2003, pp. 174-175.

(32) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum, 1976, p. 308.

(33) Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction, Basilica Press, 1999, p.. 240.

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(36) Beacon for Freedom of Expression, list of English language books banned by the Holy See,, accessed 01/14/06.

(37) Society of Jesus USA, “Demonologists and the Devil,”, accessed 01/14/06.

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(39) Jeffrey Russell, A History of Witchcraft, Thames and Hudson, 1980, p. 79.

(40) Jeffrey Russell, A History of Witchcraft, Thames and Hudson, 1980, p. 79.

(41) Jeffrey Russell, A History of Witchcraft, Thames and Hudson, 1980, p. 79.

(42) Sandra Miesel, “Who Burned the Witches,” Crisis, October 2001,, accessed 01/14/06.

(43) Wikipedia, “Christianity and anti-Semitism,”, accessed 01/16/06.

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(46) Karen Armstrong, Holy War, Anchor Books, 2001, pp. 458-460.

(47) Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine Books, 2001, p. 7.

(48) Desmond Birch, Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph, Queenship Publishing Co., 1996, pp. 263-264.

(49) Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine Books, 2001, p. 3.

(50) Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine Books, 2001, p. 7.

(51) John Edwards, Inquisition, Tempus, 2003, p. 66.

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(53) Warren Carroll, “Isabel of Spain, the Catholic Queen,”, accessed 01/16/06.

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(56) Pius IX, encyclical “Quanta Cura,” para. 3, in Anthony J. Mioni, Jr., The Popes Against Modern Errors: 16 Papal Documents, TAN Books and Publishers, 1999, p. 18.

(57) Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, section 2,, viewed 01/09/06.

(58) Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae, 1075, translation at, accessed 01/11/06.

(59) Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction, Basilica Press, 1999, p.. 241.

(60) Catechism of the Catholic Church, article 2037,, accessed 01/06/06.

(61) Jonathan Petre, "Inquisition was a mistake but legally justified, claims Vatican official", London Telegraph, January 30, 2006,, accessed 01/30/06.

Myths About the Papacy


Part 1 – The Claim: Papal Infallibility

Part 2 – The Reality: Papal Sins and Heresies

Part 3 – The teachings of the Magisterium and a History of its Fallibility

Part 4 – A Way Out of the Trap

Published on February 2, 2006

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