BY FREDDY GRAY
A VATICAN official has prompted controversy after he defended the Inquisition on a television programme.
Fr Joseph Augustine Di Noia, under secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the Catholic Church's use of torture to root out heresy was "legally justified".
He was interviewed in a four-pan American-made series about the Inquisition, which used secret Vatican archives that were opened for the first time in 1998.
Fr Di Na. perhaps the highest-ranking Church official to have been questioned about the inquisition, told the documentary makers: "It is a mistake to torture people. However, torture was regarded as a perfectly justified, legitimate way of producing evidence and it was therefore legally justi
fled." He added that before condemning the Inquisition, people needed to appreciate the historical context in which the organisation existed, as well as -the sociology of religion, how communities react to threats which they regard as dire or fatal".
Current trends in historiography would support Fr Di Noia's argument. In 2004 a Vatican study on the Inquisition containing 31 essays from European and American academics was published.
The document concluded that the horrors of the Inquisition were often in reality the mere fabrications of Protestant propagandists. The study suggested that of the 125,000 trials for heresy carried out by the Spanish inquisition, less than one per cent of those accused were actually burned.
Pope John Paul II applauded the authors of the study. He acknowledged the "errors committed in the service of truth" by the Inquisition but added: "In public opinion the image of the Inquisition represents in some way the symbol of counter-witness and scandal. In what way is this faithful to reality?"
Professor Agostino Borromeo, an indirect descendent of St Charles Borromeo who edited the scholarly symposium, said: "The recourse to torture and the death sentence weren't so frequent as people have long believed."
The idea that the Inquisition's brutality was greatly exaggerated is nothing new. In 1985, historian Philip Kamen wrote The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision, a book that sought to counter the myth that Inquisitors were mad zealots with a penchant for torture.
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