VATICAN CITY (Agence France-Presse) — The Vatican yesterday published a lengthy report exposing abuses committed by the medieval Inquisition, as Pope John Paul II again apologized for the body’s excesses in cracking down on heresy.
Set up in the 13th century, the Inquisition spread fear throughout Europe in the Middle Ages as it tried people accused of heresy — a major challenge to the Catholic Church even before the Protestant Reformation.
The Inquisition took the form of a network of ecclesiastical tribunals equipped with judges and investigators. Abuses were widespread and executions were carried out through burning at the stake.
Presenting the 800-page report here, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray said that acknowledging the past was all the more relevant given the continued use of torture in the 21st century.
“The lessons that come to us from history never come to an end,” he said. The Inquisition was “a sad chapter which Christians must look into with an open spirit of repentance.”
Reaffirming an apology made in 2000, the pope expressed in a letter accompanying the report the Catholic Church’s sorrow over “the errors committed in the service of the truth by the recourse to non-Christian methods.”
The Inquisition’s abuses were most extreme during the early years, which led to reform and regulation by Rome. After becoming independent of the Vatican in the 15th century, the Spanish Inquisition committed some of the most notorious abuses of the period.
“There is no doubt that at the start, the planned procedures were applied with an excessive rigor, which in some cases degenerated into true abuses,” the Vatican study said.