Pope seeks forgiveness for Spanish Inquisition
The Pope has asked for forgiveness for the wave of torture, trials and executions the Church unleashed across Europe in its hunt for heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.
Pope John Paul II made the plea in a letter read out at a news conference at the Vatican marking the launch of a book on the subject.
He repeated a phrase from a 2000 document in which he first asked pardon "for errors committed in the service of truth through use of methods that had nothing to do with the Gospel" - shorthand for torture, summary trials, forced conversions and burnings at the stake.
But in the letter, the Pope went further, saying the request for forgiveness was for "both the dramas connected to the Inquisition as well as for the wounds to the [collective] memory that followed".
He also used the reassessment by Church historians to qualify the apology he made during the Church's millennium celebrations, claiming that far fewer people were tortured and executed for heresy than was popularly believed.
The Pontiff stressed that actions which had "disfigured the face of the Church" had to be viewed in their historical context.
Pope Gregory IX created the Inquisition in 1233 to try to curb heresy, but Church officials soon began to count on civil authorities to fine, imprison, torture and kill heretics. It reached a peak in the 16th century to counter the Reformation.
However, Agostino Borromeo, professor of religious history at Romeís Sapienza University and curator of the study to be published in the book, said that while about 125,000 suspected heretics were tried in Spain, only about 1 per cent were executed, far fewer than commonly believed.
Many of the burnings at the stake were reportedly carried out by civil rather than religious tribunals, although the link between church and state blurs too great a distinction.