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Christians Killing Christians, Enough Blame to Go Around

No matter whether Protestant or Catholic, the late Pope John Paul II lamented that believers in Christ would sometimes seek to use violence against consciences and to forcibly stamp their religion upon others.  The Medieval view was that heresy was a mortal sin that killed the soul.  Some argued that such was a capital crime given that the murder of souls was direr than the murder of bodies.  Governments also usurped religion for political purposes, seeing religion as glue that held society together.  On both sides there was often exaggeration as to the blood lust of the other.  Indeed, to this very day, anti-Catholic bigots will use impossibly large numbers in their prejudicial arguments and slurs against the Church.  Some critics bring up the crusades or the inquisitions as if they happened last Tuesday.  Forgotten is the real threat that Islam posed for the Christian world and how money and power, as well as an invention called the printing press, fueled the Protestant Reformation.  Many of the inquisition courts were very modest in their efforts.  While there were various national courts, when there is criticism, the target is usually the harsher Spanish Inquisition, which was even criticized by Rome.  Further, as I already said, Protestant monarchs would repress the freedoms of Catholics just as Catholic leaders had sought to minimize the damage of non-Catholic factions in their nations. The Inquisition in Italy is regarded by all authorities as the most mild. Crimes were not just heresy but infractions for which today’s civil courts would also render punishment. Of 75,000 cases judged, some 1,250 may have received the death sentence.


What was the position of the Protestant reformers? 

Calvin sought to persecute heretics (particularly Roman Catholics) so as to keep Protestant believers in the lands divided by the Reformation faithful to his new teachings. He viciously persecuted the Spaniard, Michael Servetus, having him burnt alive on October 27, 1553. As early as 1545, Calvin had written, “If he [Servetus] comes to Geneva, I will never allow him to depart alive.” He kept his promise.  (Here is a case where Protestants attacked their own in that Servetus, while having a brother who was a Catholic priest, had participated in the Protestant Reformation.  Unfortunately, he was regarded as a heretic by both sides.)

Melancthon, one of the more mild reformers and the editor for Luther’s many works and teachings, would write to Bullinger, “I am astonished that some persons denounce the severity that was so justly used in that case.”

Theodore of Beza wrote: “What crime can be greater or more heinous than heresy, which sets at nought the word of God and all ecclesiastic discipline? Christian magistrates, do your duty to God [speaking in Calvin’s Geneva of 1554], who has put the sword into your hands for the honor of His majesty; strike valiantly these monsters in the guise of men.” He went on to characterize those who demanded freedom of conscience “worse than the tyranny of the pope. It is better to have a tyrant, no matter how cruel he may be, than to let everyone do as he pleases.”

Martin Luther also fanned the flames of intolerance, “Whoever teaches otherwise than I teach, condemns God, and must remain a child of hell.”

Much of this information (and numbers) is taken from The Truth about the Inquisition by John A. O’Brien and published in 1950 by The Paulist Press.  It should be noted that the numbers of deaths under King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth have been challenged by other researchers.

King Henry VIII of England took upon himself the role of grand royal inquisitor.  O’Brien states that the king took the lives of some 72,000 Catholics, many who were cruelly tortured.  Father Francis Marsden offers the correction:  “Henry’s victims were John Fisher and Thomas More, the Carthusian abbots and monks, and a few more Catholics, plus all those (several hundred) executed after the Pilgrimage of Grace.  There were also a number of Protestants executed for denying the Six Articles of 1540. But he certainly did not kill 72,000.”  Nevertheless, the best estimate from Wikipedia is that approximately 70,000 people were executed (for all offenses) during the reign of Henry VIII.  Another critic suggests that there may have been 4,000 Catholics killed under Henry VIII, not “judicially” executed, but killed by agents of the Crown, soldiers and the like. There were some Catholic revolts put down by force.  The figures go up and down, making a historical analysis difficult.  But for those facing death, no matter what the number, it was bad.

Queen Elizabeth, says O’Brien, proved herself the former’s daughter by putting to death more people in one year than the Inquisition had done in 331 years!  Here too, Father Marsden insists that “In England and Wales, we have about 500 martyrs and confessors in total over the period 1534 to 1679. I believe the last Catholic died in prison about 1720.  Elizabeth’s victims may have been about 300, plus those executed after the rising of the Northern Earls of 1569-70. But this is over the whole of her reign, 1558-1603.”  By contrast, “the death toll of the Inquisition is in the range 2000 to 5000.”

Yes, there was more than enough blame to go around. Maybe it is time for respect and dialogue and if need be, the charitable anathema, instead of mockery and half-truths?  Of course, sometimes the truth is hard to discover.  I was told that one of Sir Thomas More’s own letters makes mention of the death of 4,000 Catholics in the minor port town of Chelsea.  However, another critic corrected that in 1528 the population of Chelsea was reported to be 190 adults and children, including 16 households which grew no corn, and Sir Thomas More reported that 100 were fed daily in his household, 49 though not all those would have been living in the parish. In 1548 there were 75 communicants (16 years and over).

The Catholic Truth Society reckoned that 318 men and woman were put to death for the Faith in England between the reigns of Henry VII and Charles II. “After being hanged up, they were cut down, ripped up, and their bowels were burned in their faces.”

The entire population of England and Wales at that time was only around 4 million.

O’Brien makes reference to the whole vicious enmity that would bring persecution and deaths for centuries.  Henry VIII got the ball rolling (or heads rolling) and even had himself declared head of the Church in Ireland.  Monasteries were closed and destroyed, monks were imprisoned, dispersed and executed, and lands were confiscated.

It was a Protestant England that committed genocide upon a starving Catholic Ireland.  The guilt for that blood is on the hands of many, including the one who initiated the break with the true Church.  Today, the truth of this betrayal is admitted in UK school text books.  Crops were sold by the landowners even as the tenants themselves starved.

11 Responses

  1. JACOB: The title to this blog,

    FATHER JOE: You mean the subject of this post.

    JACOB: Protestants have killed more catholics than catholics, protestants, would be laughable…

    FATHER JOE: “If” should be capitalized, as should be “Catholics” and “Protestants.”

    JACOB: …if not so decietfully a lie.

    FATHER JOE: The world “deceitfully” is misspelled.

    JACOB: …or from the beginning…

    FATHER JOE: The word “beginning” is misspelled.

    JACOB: Roman Catholicism has murdered, imprisoned, tortured, and treated evily…

    FATHER JOE: The word “evilly” is misspelled.

    JACOB: …woman, men, and children,

    FATHER JOE: The word “woman” should be the plural, “women.”

    JACOB: …all who would turn to truth inJesus Christ,

    FATHER JOE: A space is required between “in” and “Jesus.”

    JACOB: …lording over Gods heritage,

    FATHER JOE: There is no plurality of deities. Polytheism is a serious sin. What you probably intended to write was the possessive “God’s.” An apostrophe in the right place can change everything.

    JACOB: …putting to death anyone who dared even posses a bible

    FATHER JOE: The word “possess” is misspelled.

    JACOB: …to read the word of God for themselves,

    FATHER JOE: A matter of some debate, many critics feel that the “Word of God” should be capitalized.

    JACOB: …which the RomanCatholic forbid less others should know the truth.

    FATHER JOE: A space is needed between “Roman” and Catholic.” The verb “forbid” must agree with the subject and so should be plural, “forbids.” (Remember the rules about the subject and predicate.)

    JACOB: That Roman Cathlolosism…

    FATHER JOE: The word “Catholicism” is misspelled.

    JACOB: …was and is a pagan religion of men, and operates contrary to the very words of Christ Jesus. Your blog is deceitful and dishonest as is the very foundation of your church,

    FATHER JOE: Argued by critics, the word “Church” should be capitalized.

    JACOB: which is NOT the church of God,

    FATHER JOE: Again, somewhat argued, the word “Church” should be capitalized.

    JACOB: …and neither the Pope a vicor of anything but the deciet you perpetrate.

    FATHER JOE: The word “vicar” is misspelled and is arguably “Vicar” because of specificity. The word “deceit” is misspelled.

    FATHER JOE: I am moved by your argument and skill with language— not! You can slam the faith and past martyrdom of believers, but you make no substantive argument. Your comment derides a good post. But you are not interested in facts or overtures for understanding. You merely want to shout out your bigotry.

  2. phil doherty, if they are fabricated, they are fabricated from official census figures.

  3. Thank you Chris for your remarks.

  4. What is so amazing to Drew? That one side ambushes another in times of civil conflict?

    How many Catholic priests and religious were killed in the French Revolution? Visit the churches of Paris, esp. San Sulpice, and note the memorial markers to those murdered theren or about Sept. 8, 1792. Grok the literal meaning of “Montmartre.” Discover why the statues of St. Denys always show him with his head in his hand. The organized murder of Catholics continued in the Mexican Revolution, and the Spanish Civil War, 200 years after the Reign of Terror. When Communism took control in late 1917 — as warned of by the Virgin Mary at Fatima months before — about 2500 Catholic priests and religious were killed monthly, and the churches destroyed.

    “Paris is worth a Mass,” Henry of Navarre famously said, lest he have even more blood on his hands.

    Drew is unaware that during the French Revolution, several hundred Catholic rebels were captured, chained to old barges, and drowned while alive in the river.

    The murder of Catholics continues today all across Africa and the Mideast, and in south Asia, and the Indonesian archipelago.

    Finally, it was not the Catholics who hanged, or burnt, “witches” by the thousands from ca. 1380, post-plague, until 1700, in Sweden, Scotland, Switzerland, the Rhineland, eastern France, and finally Salem, Mass., USA. That genocide was the work of the self-righteous, Bible-thumping Protestants (as was American slavery, and Calvin’s exhortations to become workaholics in service to Mammon.) The dead “witches” — today we call them “senior citizens” — number in the hundreds of thousands, though American Feminists, always seeking a toehold for their misanthropy, claim it was “millions,” a demographic absurdity.

    For more on the wars of religion, review “Beneath the Cross,” by Barbara Diefendorf, “From Exaltation to Infamy,” by Stephen Haliczer, “The Wars of Religion,” by Richard Dunn, and other books by Robin Briggs, Lyndal Roper, and Henry Kamen. A key point: from 1600 to 1650, partially as atonement for the wars of religion, Catholic women established 50 “houses” in Paris alone to serve the poor and to solidify the Counter-Reformation.

  5. One of Benny Finnegan’s paragraphs is a word-for-word plagiarism from my http://www.irishholocaust.org. (It begins; “Meanwhile, ‘food, from 30 to 50 shiploads per day…” ) He also cites Prof. Boyle who once, in The Irish Echo newspaper, sought funds to sue the Crown for its deeds in Ireland during 1845-50. My subsequent Echo-published letter kiboshed It by pointing out the following; It would have been a major propaganda coup for Britain, as his case omitted the substance of the case – the at-gunpoint removal of Ireland’s abundant food crops. Instead, Boyle’s spurious charge was that Britain had failed to deliver adequate CHARITY food to Ireland, and thus had violated a U.N. law about duties of Occupying Powers that didn’t exist until 1948, a century later.

  6. Phil Doherty’s false exculpation of Britain for its 1845-50 Holocaust in Ireland is readily refuted by my map on http://www.irishholocaust.org which shows which British regiment stripped the food from which Irish district. My data are those of the original “Disposition of the Army” records kept in Britain’s National Archives in Kew, Surrey. I possess a true copy of those records. Wrong in this, Doherty is similarly wrong regarding the murder toll.

  7. You lost me on this one. St Bartholomew’s Day alone killed way more Protestants. Plus your side murdered many biblical reformers, wrongly accused as heretics. I must admit it is difficult to forgive Catholics for massacring my Huguenot brothers and sisters in fifteenth-century France. I’m still working on that one.

    At least one Calvinist Protestant is enjoying your blog… bye-bye.


    Catholics were never authorized to kill Protestants with impunity. The St. Bartholomew Day Massacre was indeed a tragedy. The king’s sister, Margaret of Valois, married an important Protestant leader, Henry of Navarre. Her mother and her family secretly arranged for his assassination. When it failed, they convinced the king that there would be a Huguenot reprisal. They decided to strike first but the government could not retain the violence. Religious war broke out and upon his conversion to Catholicism Henry of Navarre became king, himself. Unfortunately, another religious war would follow. It is bigotry to condemn the whole Catholic Church for what amounted to a French civil war.

  8. The Irish Holocaust of 1845-1850 was NOT due to insufficient delivery of charity food into Ireland; but WAS due to Britain’s at-gunpoint removal of Ireland’s food crops to its ports for export while its producers starved. More than half of Britain’s then-empire army, 69 reg’ts of its total of 137, were deployed into Ireland to perpetrate that genocide. To learn which British regiment starved which Irish district see my wwwdotirishholocaustdotorg and click on its map until fully legible.

  9. Thank you for your insights, Father Joe.

    I have been studying these historical episodes for a few years for my book. Some observations:

    In Sweden during the Witch Craze, the Lutheran “reformers” hunted down and killed Catholics when they ran out of heretics and witches, the landmark study by Hugh Trevor-Roper shows. The number of witches executed, mostly by hanging as at Salem (not burning), was severe in Protestant lands. In certain areas (Trier, the Rhineland) the Catholics were as vicious as the Protestants in hunting witches, but that was not the case in Scotland or England and eastern France and Bavaria where Protestants ruled. The Inquisition was much less bloodthirsty and sinister than secular culture likes to portray it. (The Witch Craze toll is similary exaggerated, esp. by the Feminists.)

    Prof. Wm. Monter in Frontiers of Heresy shows that about 50% of Inquisition punishments in Spain were for Bestiality, esp. by French shepherds. Another major offense was Sodomy, incl. between married couples. These were crimes in the secular law, but the Church courts were charged by the Government with the administration of the law since the Catholic Church was stable and meticulous (as in Joan of Arc’s lenghty trial) and the government saw no reason to reinvent the wheel. In Italy, the Inquisition was mildest, and again Bestiality and Sodomy offenses predominated.

    Since the Italian, Spanish, French, and German Catholic officials believed in redeeming alleged witches, through exorcism when available, they were less eager to execute them. The Protestants by constrast were newly self-righteous, and strict “Law and Order” types, as reflected in the German temperament and the punitive Calvinist mindset.

    The #1 Inquisitorial sentence in fact was Public Shaming, usually with 100 lashes and the penitent paraded semi-naked, wearing a dunce cap, on an ass, through the village(s). Further sanctions included banishment, forfeiture of property, and the worse short of execution: at sea, on the galleys. To reach the stage of execution (being “relaxed” at the auto-da-fe) one had to be especially obdurate.

    The Inquisition varied greatly within Spain, often depending on the local nobility, and an occasional Torquemada. The Spanish “Suprema” in due course refused to authorize further indictments in the aggressive provinces, though the formal “Holy Office of the Inquisition” was still extant into the 1800s, another factoid the anti-Catholics love to harp on.

    Authors who disentangle these skeins between the Reformation, the Witch Craze, and the Inquisition are: R. Briggs, B. Levack, L. Roper, H. Kamen, J. B. Russell, T. K. Osterreich, G. K. Waite, Keith Thomas, Bernard McGinn, Norm Cohn, R. Dunn, Kors & Peters, and A. P. Dickens.

    The Catholics survive scrutiny admirably for many of the regrettable episodes in early modern European history that reflect the Protestants’ collective loss of faith and which germinated the dystopia unenlightened post-Enlightenment Europe is in today.

  10. The Irish Holocaust

    In 1520, when Henry VIII broke with Rome, it added religion to the bias against the Catholic Irish. Under Henry’s daughter, the murderous Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the killing fields of Ireland ran red with the blood of innocent victims. It is estimated 1.5 million Irish peasants were starved or “put to the sword” and much of their lands seized by English predators, while she reigned.

    By the time the zealot Oliver Cromwell arrived on the scene, the Irish were ripe for more carnage . “It has pleased God to bless our endeavors,” he wrote of the mass slaughter in 1649, by his Puritan troops of 3,552 Irish inhabitants of the seaport town of Drogheda, just north of Dublin. He pompously continued, “I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches.” This Drogheda massacre is one of the leading examples of the insidious British policy of ethnic cleansing in Ireland. Another is Cromwell’s sacking of Wexford and the killing of 2,000 of its citizens.

    The infamous “Cromwellian Settlements” followed his conquest of Ireland. Millions of acres of land (41 percent of Antrim, 26 percent of Down, 34 percent of Armagh and 38 percent of Monaghan) were allocated to English Protestant settlers. The landowners of Irish birth were either killed, banished or forced out to Connaught in the west of Ireland, where it was hoped “they would starve to death.” A Cromwell biographer labeled this massive confiscation of Irish lands, “by far the most wholesale effort to impose on Ireland the Protestant faith and English ascendancy.” The British policy of colonizing Ireland with Protestants still has repercussions which are felt today on the streets of Belfast.

    From 1649 to 1652, one-third of the population of Ireland was destroyed. Petty, an English historian says, “660,000 Irish people were killed.” Twenty thousand Irish boys and girls also were sold into slavery to the West Indies. The Irish peasant farmers that survived were forced to pay rent to their usurpers. Once prosperous home grown industries were also destroyed because they “competed with British factories.”

    The memory of the holocausts under Elizabeth I and Cromwell have been forever seared into the psyche of the Irish race. Cromwell’s evil idea that Irish Catholics were “barbarous wretches” has, too, unfortunately, passed into the British mindset.

    Parliament reacted to Cromwell’s crime against humanity in Ireland by passing an infamous Resolution that legitimized ethnic cleansing. It stated, “The House doth approve the execution done at Drogheda, as an act both of justice to them and mercy to others who may be warned by it.”

    After the shaky British monarchy was restored in 1660, under Charles II, the vicious propaganda against Irish Catholics continued unabated. Many of the “vilest pamphlets” hyping the threat of a supposed “Popish Plot” against the Crown were printed in Holland.

    When James II, Charles’ brother, succeeded him as King of England and Ireland in 1685, the hopes of Irish Catholics rose. His defeat, however, by the forces of William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, on July 12, brought renewed disaster. More confiscations of Irish lands followed and the adoption into law of the notorious “Penal Laws” in the late 1690s. Their net effect was to hold that, “The law does not presume any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic.”

    As time passed, there were periodic, but failed, rebellions in Ireland. In 1845, with nationalist aspirations at their lowest ebb, the moans of the starving were heard. The potato crop was blighted and famine stalked the land.

    The Irish Genocide

    Author Thomas Gallagher sets the scene for this unspeakable tragedy in his moving testament to the Irish dead, Paddy’s Lament:

    “A famine unprecedented in the history of the world, a chapter in human misery to harrow the human heart was about to start, and even little children could see its quick, sure approach in the nakedly fearful eyes and faces of their parents.”

    By the mid-19th century, Ireland was a country of eight million, mostly peasants. As a result of years of exploitation, they survived as tenant farmers and were never far from economic disaster. They were forced to exist on a single crop: the potato. A disease turned the potato into a foul slime. When the Irish masses turned to the British government for relief, they received the back of London’s hand.

    Meanwhile, “Food, from 30 to 50 shiploads per day, was removed at gunpoint (from Ireland) by 12,000 British constables, reinforced by 200,000 British soldiers, warships, excise vessels, and coast guards… Britain seized from Ireland’s producers tens of millions of head of livestock, tens of millions of tons of flour, grains, meat, poultry and dairy products-enough to sustain 18-million persons.”

    Gallagher estimates 2 million died from the famine. Writer Chris Fogarty, however, places the numbers “murdered at approximately 5.16 million… making it the Irish holocaust.” Distinguished legal scholars, like Professors Charles Rice of Notre Dame U. and Francis A. Boyle, U. of Illinois, believe that under International Law, that the British pursued a barbarous policy of mass starvation in Ireland from 1845-50, and that such conduct constituted “genocide.”

    Source Materials:

    Seamus MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race
    J. M., The Way of the Aggressor
    Frederick Harrison, Oliver Cromwell
    William Cobbett, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland

  11. Those estimates of the Irish potato famine are totally fabricated and exaggerated. And the British state did not have a policy of mass starvation either. This is just rubbish. Did the British also starve the Germans during the same period as they suffered from the potato blight as well? This was a problem facing all of the islands not just Ireland. Its been turned into grevience politics.

    Not that I’m saying the British didn’t act terribly in Ireland – they did, especially during Cromwell and Queen Elizabeth’s time, but despots always act horribly to suit their aims and beliefs.

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