Speaking truth with gentleness and power
On the occasion of the presentation to the Holy Father of
the volume "L'Inquisizione" containing proceedings of the International
Symposium on the Inquisition, organized at the Vatican from 29-31 October
1998 by the Historical-Theological Commission for the preparation of the
Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Pope addressed a Message to Cardinal
Roger Etchegaray, who was President of the Committee for the Great
The Inquisition, perceived as "the symbol of
counter-witness and scandal", has been abolished, the Pope said. In the
future let us "promote truth in the gentleness of charity", and "the
children of the Church cannot but return in a spirit of repentance to 'the
acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and
even the use of violence in the service of the truth'".
The following is a translation of the Holy Father's
Message, which was written in Italian and dated 15 June 2004.
To my Venerable Brother
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,
former President of the Committee
for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000
1. I receive with deep
appreciation the volume containing the Proceedings of the
International Symposium on the Inquisition, organized at the Vatican from
29-31 October 1998 by the Historical-Theological Commission for the Great
Jubilee of the Year 2000.
This Symposium answered the
desire I expressed in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente:
"...it is appropriate that... the Church should become more fully
conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in
history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and,
instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the
values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly
forms of counter-witness and scandal" (n. 33).
In public opinion, the image
of the Inquisition is as it were the symbol of such
counter-witness and scandal. How faithful to reality is this image? Before
asking for forgiveness it is necessary to have exact knowledge of the
facts and to put shortcomings with regard to what the Gospel requires in
the context where they are effectively found. This is the reason why the
Committee has consulted historians whose scientific competence is
Distinguish between true 'sensus fidei' and a predominant
2. For theologians, the
irreplaceable contribution of historians contains an invitation to reflect
on the conditions and life of the People of God on its way through
The theologians will be
guided by a distinction in their critical reflection: the distinction
between the authentic sensus fidei and the predominant mentality in
a specific epoch that might have influenced their opinion.
The sensus fidei must
be asked to exercise the criteria of a level judgment of the life of the
Church in the past.
Truth wins over minds with gentleness and power
3. This discernment is possible precisely because with the
passage of time the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, perceives with ever
clearer awareness what she needs in order to conform to her Bridegroom.
Thus, the Second Vatican Council was able to formulate the "golden rule"
that directs the defence of the truth, which is the task proper to the
mission of the Magisterium. "Truth can impose itself on the mind of man
only in virtue of its own truth..., which wins over the mind with both
gentleness and power" (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 1. This
assertion is quoted: in Tertio
Millennium Adveniente, cf. n. 35).
The institution of the
Inquisition has been abolished. As I had an opportunity to say to the
participants in the Symposium, the children of the Church cannot but
return with a spirit of repentance to "the acquiescence given, especially
in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence
in the service of the truth" (Address to the International
Symposium on the Inquisition Organized by the Central Committee for the
Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, 31 October 1998, n. 4;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ORE], 11 November 1998,
This spirit of repentance, it
is clear, entails a firm determination to seek in the future ways to bear
witness to the truth that are in keeping with the Gospel.
Carry out service of truth humbly in imitation of Christ
4. On 12 March 2000, on the occasion of the liturgical
celebration that marked the Day
forgiveness was asked for errors committed in the service of the truth by
recourse to methods not in keeping with the Gospel. The Church must carry
out this service in imitation of her Lord, meek and humble of heart. The
prayer I addressed to God on that occasion contains the reasons for a
request for forgiveness that can also be applied to the tragedies
associated with the Inquisition, as well as to the injuries to memory that
result from it.
"Lord, God of all
men and women,
in certain periods of history Christians have at times given in to
[forms of] intolerance and have not been faithful to the great
commandment of love, sullying in this way the face of the Church,
Have mercy on your sinful children and accept our resolve to seek
and promote truth in the gentleness of charity, in the firm knowledge
that truth can prevail only in virtue of truth itself.
We ask this through Christ
Our Lord" (Prayer for Forgiveness, Day of Pardon, 12 March, II;
ORE, 22 March 2000, p. 4).
The beautiful volume
containing the Proceedings of the Symposium is written in the
spirit of this request for forgiveness. As I thank all the participants, I
invoke the divine Blessing upon them.
From the Vatican, 15 June