A History Lesson For The Pope

Roman Catholic Bishops giving the Nazi salute

In his first Christmas Eve mass since becoming the leader of the Catholic faith, Pope Benedict XVI had a lot to say about peace. Referring specifically to the Middle East, he said, “We wish to pray for peace in the Holy Land. Look O Lord, upon this corner of the earth, your homeland, which is so very dear to you. Let your light shine upon it! Let it know peace!”

He mentioned Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Darfur, and all of Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Speaking specifically of Iraq, he said, “I appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country.”

While any quest for peace is a noble endeavor, it’s difficult to forget the role the Catholic church has played in brutal conflicts of the distant and not so distant past.

Ever hear of the Crusades? If centuries of bloody massacres don’t count as brutal violence, what does? And where did these supposed holy wars take place? In the very Middle East the Pope prayed for.

Of course, no one expected the Spanish Inquisition, or any of the other inquisitions that took place from the 1100’s to the 1600’s. Talk about brutal violence. So-called “heretics” were hunted down, put on trial, often tortured until they confessed and then tortured some more because they confessed, then finally executed, often by torture. And who was a heretic? Anyone who disagreed with the Church, anyone who even suggested that perhaps the Church wasn’t following the Scriptures. Didn’t Jesus say we should love our enemies? (Matthew 5:44) Of course, how would these unlearned people of the earth know what Jesus said, or what the Scriptures taught at all, since they weren’t allowed to read the Bible. Oh, yes. That was a crime too. Translating, reading, even owning a Bible was often enough to get you killed. Ask William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his work in translating the Bible into the common tongue.

If the memory of these historical nightmares is too vague, how about something more recent? The First World War took place less than a century ago, in what can legitimately be described as modern times. Yet, British Brigadier General Frank P. Crozier said, “The Christian Churches are the finest blood-lust creators which we have and of them we made free use.”

Still too far back? How about the second world war. You did know that Adolf Hitler was a Catholic, didn’t you? And that he was never excommunicated?

More recent? How about 1994 and the bloody tribal war between the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, a country where 70% of the population are Catholic? But did the Church have any role in the hostilities? In several ways. First, it failed to teach it’s people what Jesus said at Matthew 5:44. Second, it failed to keep itself separate from the world, as Jesus taught at John 17:16. If it had, it wouldn’t have taken sides in the political turmoil in the country, and wouldn’t have encouraged its people to do the same. Third, it’s leaders were at times at the forefront of the violence as fighting clerics.

More? How about the continuing violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland?

If the Pope really wants peace, instead of just praying for it, why not simply order his people to put down their weapons? That’s what Jesus did at Matthew 26:52: “Return your sword to it’s place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Do you hear the knocking at the door?