The ambivalent position of the Croatian Catholic Church towards the barbaric regime of murderers known as ‘The Independent Croatian State’ (1941–1945) determined that Church’s attitude to the murder of Croatia’s Jews.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped all Canadians and First Nations communities grapple with the sorrowful realities of their nation’s colonial past, particularly the gruesome legacy of its residential schools for Indigenous children. Those schools, many administered by Catholic religious orders and intended to be engines of assimilation, became centers of despair and brutality.
CBC Radio · Posted: Jun 17, 2016 | Last Updated: June 30, 2017
In May of this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Pope Francis at the Vatican. At the heart of his audience with the Pope was a request.
Trudeau asked Pope Francis to issue a public apology for the Catholic Church’s role in establishing and running Residential Schools in Canada. Such an apology is among the ‘calls to action’ from the Truth And Reconciliation Commission.
But the troubled history of the Catholic Church and indigenous people stretches back centuries.
In 1572, the killings began. That year, authorities in the tiny settlement of St Maximin, in present-day Germany, charged a woman named Eva with using witchcraft to murder a child. Eva confessed under torture; she, along with two women she implicated, were burned at the stake.
The pace of prosecution picked up from there. By the mid-1590s, the territory had burned 500 people as witches—an astonishing feat, for a place that only had 2,200 residents to begin with.
Why is it that early modern Europe had such a fervor for witch hunting? Between 1400 to 1782, when Switzerland tried and executed Europe’s last supposed witch, between 40,000 and 60,000 people were put to death for witchcraft, according to historical consensus. The epicenter of the witch hunts was Europe’s German-speaking heartland, an area that makes up Germany, Switzerland, and northeastern France.
Conventional wisdom has chalked the killings up to a case of bad weather. Across Europe, weather suddenly got wetter and colder—a phenomenon known as the Little Ice Age that pelted villages with freak frosts, floods, hailstorms, and plagues of mice and caterpillars. Witch hunts tended to correspond with ecological disasters and crop failures, along with the accompanying problems of famine, inflation, and disease. When the going got tough, witches made for a convenient scapegoat.
But a recent economic study (pdf), which will soon be published in the The Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society, proposes a different explanation for the witch hunts—one that can help us understand the way fears spread, and take hold, today.
In the early morning light, on the day after Ash Wednesday, the primary day in the Church calendar for Christian penance, Giordano Bruno, one of the most original minds of the sixteenth century, rode into Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori on a mule. Stripped naked and gagged with a leather bridle to prevent him from shouting out heresies to those present in the plaza, Bruno mounted the pile of firewood, charcoal, kindling, and pitch. Tied to the stake, Bruno turned his head away in anger when a crucifix was held up to his face. The pyre was lit and the flames leaped to consume the heretic.
Witchcraft is an area of history that most people feel familiar with. From the Salem Witch Trials to the witches of Macbeth, the figure of the witch is embedded in our culture. The problem is that most of what we think we know is wrong.
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Answered by Eugene Byrne
Published: August 16, 2012
St Thecla of Iconium (died early first century AD) was supposedly saved from burning by a miraculous downpour. Or there’s Lassi Didriksson, sentenced to burning for sorcery in Iceland in 1675, whose fire was put out by rain three times. The most famous rained-off burning wasn’t an execution, but a trial by fire in which the Italian preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) would demonstrate his divine protection as the rain fell.
Within the opening chapters of my book, Burning Blood, the witch Aurelia finds herself about to be burned at the stake.
‘Witch, you have been tried and convicted under the benevolent will of God. You are a consort of Satan and shall burn at the stake. Repent now and God may have mercy on your soul. Fail to repent and you shall writhe on that stake just as you shall writhe for eternity in the pits of Hell!’
The rough rope grazed her neck as it tightened, ready to take away her breath and leave nothing but an empty shell to cook in the flames. The cross danced in front of her face, with Christ’s tortured body hanging limply on it, the crown of thorns cutting painfully into his forehead.
‘Bring the flames and let that be the end of it,’ she intoned, her voice cutting through the rabble’s clamouring.
It’s hard out here for a pope. See, when it comes to religious history, the list of Catholic Church transgressions makes for pretty uncomfortable reading. Despite exalting virtue and kindness in its teaching, church leadership has spearheaded a long history of outright unforgivable Catholic actions.
You might remember some of these improprieties from school – the Inquisition, Joan of Arc, and the trial of Galileo should all ring a bell. But not everything here is medieval. Though Vatican violence goes way back, a number of disturbing episodes are from recent history. Some of this repugnant behavior comes from popes, some was church-endorsed, and some, most unsettlingly, was just straight-up regular church practice.
Dark church history contains scandal after scandal rife with every vice and taboo you can imagine. When the church was at the height of its power (at which point it was the most powerful organization in the Western world), it’s safe to say everything went to its head. Combine that with church leaders seeming to stubbornly resist adapting to changing morality and you’ve got a whole lot of unforgivable moments on your hands.