Catholic Issues

Did the Church Ever Support Slavery?

by Steve Ray on October 20, 2019

By Steve Weidenkopf   September 18, 2017

Many years ago I attended a conference organized by a national Catholic organization on the topics of marriage and human sexuality. One of the speakers was a professor from Creighton University who, in the middle of his talk on contraception, launched into a long tangent about how the Church had never condemned slavery in the past, which “proved” that the Church had made a mistake, and so perhaps it’s teaching on contraception would be viewed as incorrect in the future (a viewpoint he agreed with).

I did not get the opportunity at the conference to talk with this professor about his erroneous statements about the Church and slavery, so I emailed him and we engaged in a courteous exchange in which I pointed him in the direction of several papal condemnations of slavery, which he dismissed out of hand. He ignored the historical record because it did not fit with his agenda of changing Church teaching on contraception.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon tactic by those with an animus against the Church. Many believe, as this professor did, that the Church approved or at least tolerated slavery, especially of Africans and Native Americans in the New World. Scholars argued that the Church was either late in condemning slavery or actively supported it. But like many other historical myths about the Catholic Church, this one does not withstand scrutiny of the historical record.

The myth persists because there were individual Catholics who supported slavery or owned slaves. Scholars with an ax to grind use these examples as “proof” of the Church’s malfeasance without drawing the necessary distinction that what individual Catholics may do does not necessarily reflect the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium.

Moreover, scholars have routinely failed to distinguish between different types of slavery. The Church has consistently and constantly condemned the practice of “unjust servitude,” which usually entailed the enslavement of a certain race or for economic gain. But Western society since ancient times permitted just title servitude; that is, the involuntary servitude imposed on criminals or prisoners of war. Just title servitude was considered permissible as recently as 1949 when the Geneva Convention allowed nations at war to conscript prisoners of war for labor. In this case, the Church has always demanded humane treatment of slaves by their masters and even encouraged their emancipation. The failure to recognize these distinctions between types of servitude has led many scholars to declare falsely that the Church failed to condemn slavery.

The Church was born into a world where slavery was a lynchpin of society. Imperial Rome was built and sustained on the backs of slaves; the complete abolition of slavery in Rome was unthinkable and impractical. Despite societal acceptance of slavery, the Church made no distinction between slaves and freedmen in its membership. The equality of believers in a highly class-stratified society was one of the attractions that the Church held for the people of Rome.

Once Emperor Constantine legalized the Church in A.D. 313, its teachings influenced Roman laws and policies. Church funds were used by Christians to redeem slaves, especially prisoners of war. One former slave even rose to become pope (Callistus I) in the early third century! Still, slavery continued in Europe even after the collapse of imperial rule in the late fifth century, but as the Church’s influence increased the institution of slavery decreased until it was completely eradicated in Christendom.

Unfortunately, slavery returned to European society in the fifteenth century, with the conquest of the Canary Islands and the discovery of the New World. But from 1435 to 1890, a succession of popes condemned the slave trade and slavery in no uncertain terms. The first pope to do so was Eugenius IV (r. 1431-1447), who in his 1435 bull Sicut Dudum demanded that Christians free all enslaved natives of the Canary Islands within fifteen days; failure to do so would incur automatic excommunication. Thus, fifty-seven years before Columbus’s first voyage, the Roman pontiff unequivocally prohibited the enslavement of native peoples.

In 1537, Pope Paul III (r. 1534-1549) issued a bull, Sublimus Dei, which taught that native peoples were not to be enslaved. In 1591, Gregory XIV (r. 1590-1591) promulgated Cum Sicuti, which was addressed to the bishop of Manila in the Philippines and reiterated his predecessors’ prohibitions against enslaving native peoples. In the seventeenth century, Urban VIII (r. 1623-1644) promulgated Commissum Nobis (1639) in support of the Spanish king’s (Philip IV) edict prohibiting enslavement of the Indians in the New World.

The need for cheap and abundant labor in the colonies is what led to the African slave trade. This new form of bondage was also condemned by the popes, beginning with Innocent XI (r. 1676-1689). In 1741, Benedict XIV (r. 1740-1758) issued Immensa Pastorum, which reiterated that the penalty for enslaving Indians was excommunication. In 1839, Gregory XVI (r. 1831-1846) issued In Supremo to condemn the enslavement of Africans. Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) promulgated two bulls condemning slavery in 1888 and 1890.

Yet despite the many papal condemnations of slavery, European colonists continued to enslave Africans and New World natives until the nineteenth century. Papal denunciations of slavery were so harsh and so frequent that the colonial Spanish instituted a law forbidding the publication of papal documents in the colonies without prior royal approval.

It is ironic that the Church is falsely accused of either supporting slavery or failing to condemn it, when the wholesale enslavement of Christians by Muslims (estimated at one million people), especially the Ottoman Turks from the sixteenth to the eighteen century, is all but ignored. Finally, it is disingenuous to equate the immoral behavior of individual Catholics with official Church teaching. The fact that some Catholics owned slaves or participated in the slave trade is not an indictment of the Church, but rather an illustration that Catholics will sometimes ignore the clear teachings of the Church.

For more information on this and may other common anti-Catholic historical charges, see Steve Weidenkopf’s new book, The Real Story of Catholic History: Answering Twenty Centuries of Anti-Catholic Myths, available late September and available now for pre-order from Catholic Answers Press.

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Was He Ready to Die?

by Steve Ray on October 19, 2019

IMG_9875It was just a normal morning — alarm clock, shower, espresso, dress and a saunter down the sidewalk to work. For Paul, it was another day with a whole lifetime ahead of him. But today was different.

Someone else got up this morning too. They had their coffee dressed and jumped in the car. They tried to catch up on their phone calls along the way and didn’t notice the car stopped in front of them. He swerved and his car jumped the sidewalk.

Paul didn’t even have time to blink. The car slammed into him as he walked to work and he was dead. It was over. No time to think. No time to call out to God. He was dead in an instant.

Was he ready? Where is he now? I don’t know.

IMG_9872A while ago in Rome, I was just out for a run along the same sidewalk. I saw the memorial bolted into the wall with flowers and prayers. Paul’s family hopes he is in heaven. They still bring flowers, light candles and pray at the place he was instantly killed.

I stopped my walking. I pondered the memorial — Paul’s picture. He was a young man; looks like about 30 years old, handsome and full of life. Did he leave a wife and kids behind? Was he a church-goer or had he dropped out for more important things?

Flowers, candles, prayers, tears, longing, hope, sorrow, loneliness, regret. All of this was obvious from the remembrance placed on the sidewalk.

IMG_9874I crossed myself, said a prayer for Paul though I have no idea who he was — or is, I should say because life does not end at death but goes on in heaven or hell.

I suspect he didn’t know his life would end at 8:46 AM that morning. Nor did anyone else. Makes one wonder if his life was in order. Had he gone to confession? Did he harbor grudges against family or friends?

As I prayed and meditated a bit on the sidewalk, I thought of my own life and once again realized how fragile we are and how crucial it is to be right with God and the world at all times. We never know when a cell phone call or an absent-minded driver might snuff out our life.

It’s a good time to take a quick evaluation of your life. Are you ready to die?

For my story, The Last Nightmare: the Story of a Soul, click here.

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I was raised Catholic – You too? Maybe Time to Reconsider
by Mike Cousineau

Christian denominations speak to knowing the Truth, and rightly so!  All Christian denominations have, at least, some truth.  For instance, every denomination is in total agreement with, “The purpose of man is to know, love & serve God.” However, with over 35,000 so-called Christian denominations, is it possible that some of them teach in error, even though there is no intent to mislead?

Many people enjoy pondering “deep things.”  Are you, perhaps, one of them?  Take, for instance, this philosophical adage, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  Haven’t we all thought something to be true, only to find out we were misled?

When someone is nearing the end of life, typically, the family doctor will say, “it’s best you get your house in order.”  What, exactly, does that imply?  Of course, he is confirming there is not much time left.  If final arrangements haven’t yet been addressed, get busy!  Say your last goodbyes, tell your friends and loved ones how much you love them, and if you have not made a last will & testament, don’t put it off any longer.  Finally, the doctor may be implying if you haven’t made peace with God, now would be a good time.

It would be great if all of us were given those final days to get it all squared away.  Unfortunately, experience, otherwise known as real life, has shown, over and over again, that unexpected tragedies frequent every day life all too often.  We could even make a case that far too many die young.

Because tragedy and unexpected suffering will visit all of us, many may “shake their fist at God.”  Going through the stages of grief, they will probably say, “If you really are a loving God, why did you let this happen?”  When this happens, it does not surprise God, nor does it get Him angry or upset.  Believe it or not, He will use this suffering in a way to work it all out in the end.

Nearing the end of life…that’s where we started this, didn’t we!  The Doctor was telling us to get our house in order.  Christians believe God is constantly calling us to get our house in order.  Keep in mind, Jesus would prefer we always have & keep our house in order.  Yet, He understands we struggle in our battle with the very real desires of the flesh.  Because He understands how intense the battle can be, He orchestrated a plan, put it in place & gave it a name.

The name He gave it is The Church.  Scripture specifically says, “The pillar and foundation of truth is The Church.”  However, with so many denominations to choose from, what church is Jesus talking about?  Remember, all denominations believe they speak & teach truth.  Common sense tells us, if there are that many churches, all claiming correct interpretation of truth, they all can’t be right.  Some of them are in error, not intentional mind you, but nonetheless in error.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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My Respectful but Honest Radio Show concerning Pope Francis

September 13, 2019

Today I was invited on the Terry & Jesse Show to discuss the uncomfortable situation we Catholic find ourselves in with Pope Francis. Hope you appreciate the show. My interview starts 15 minutes into the hour.

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Sympathy for Cradle Catholics Who Can’t Explain or Defend the Faith

July 5, 2019

I thought of a helpful illustration to explain why “cradle Catholics” are often unable to explain and defend the Catholic faith. The example has its weaknesses, but it does help get the point across. As an American I asked myself this question: if some one trained to attack America intellectually approached me on the street […]

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Sodomy Past and Present and Confronting the Clergy

June 30, 2019

There is a lot of homosexuality in the ranks of our clergy, even and especially with prelates in Rome. It is not mentioned, not rebuked.  Unhappily it seems to be ignored and condoned. Very few bishops have mentioned or addressed it. Laicized pervert McCarrick and his collaborators and protectors are good examples. He advanced all […]

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Genuflecting a No-No?

May 5, 2019

Several years ago my wife and visited a new parish (new for us). I genuflected before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Believe it or not, I was reprimanded by the Extraordinary Minister while he handed me the host. After Mass I spoke with the priest about it and he reprimanded me as well. I told them Quite […]

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Update: Scholars accuse Pope Francis of Heresy

May 3, 2019

This is a significant and important 20 page letter written to the Pope by a group of scholars. I hope Rome takes it seriously. I am in Rome right now two blocks away from the Vatican. I’d love to go over and beg Pope Francis to consider this letter seriously.  I am not saying that […]

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The World’s 50 Most Anti-Christian Countries

March 17, 2019

Is anyone surprised that the majority of these anti-Christian countries are Islamic? Click on map below for larger image. This was published by Ignatius Press’ Catholic World Report. Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2018 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide according to the 2018 World Watch List, Open […]

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Why Stay with the Church? Make Rome Catholic Again! Steve Ray Talks Straight with Teresa Tomeo

March 9, 2019

Steve’s segment starts 24:00 minutes into the show. The questions are multiple. What is happening to the Church? Why aren’t Rome and the bishops doing something about homosexual clergy? Why should I stay with the Church with all the confusion and lack of action with Pope Francis and the Vatican? I am angry and don’t […]

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Plenty of Sinners in the Church…

March 6, 2019

“There are plenty of sinners within the Church. That’s a given. But I’ve always been more amazed by the saints than I am disheartened by the hypocrites. All it takes to be a hypocrite is to be human, while it takes supernatural grace to be a saint.”  (Carl Olson @carleolson)

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Finally a Bishop Refuses Communion to a Pro-Abort Senator

February 26, 2019

This should be the norm, not an extraordinary event. Bishops should act more like shepherds than politicians. Finally a bishop steps up and says, “NO!” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois says Senator Dick Durbin is “cooperating in evil” and persisting in “manifest grave sin” because of his abortion advocacy and must therefore “not […]

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A MUST READ: Cardinal Müller issues Manifesto: A quasi correction of Pope Francis’ pontificate

February 9, 2019

“February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) (News also released by Catholic News Agency) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, has released a Manifesto which reads like a correction of many of the doctrinal errors Pope Francis has taught during his tenure as Pope…. …Pope Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his post as […]

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Trump’s Brilliant Speech

February 7, 2019

I’ll just say it… [by Brian Birch] That was a helluva speech. President Trump delivered one of the best speeches of his presidency last night, weaving together aspirational rhetoric with raw, emotional personal stories, as well as a focus on key issues of deep concern to Catholics. And Americans agreed… A snap CNN poll showed […]

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Mass with 2 Protestants and 1 Crucifix

January 5, 2019

A while ago we went to Mass with two Protestants.  As we walked in the door — there it was, as big as life — a CRUCIFIX with the Body of Our Lord hanging over the altar. I knew what the Protestants were thinking — I used to think the same — “CATHOLICS ARE WRONG, JESUS IS […]

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Why Many Consider Cardinal Pell’s Conviction a Sham

December 15, 2018

After guilty verdict, questions raised about Pell trial By Ed Condon Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, outside Rome’s Hotel Quirinale, March 3, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA. Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After reports of a guilty verdict emerged in the trial of Australian Cardinal George Pell, […]

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