In 1999 the VHP raised the issue of apology for Inquisition during the Papal visit to India, Indian Catholic officials crisply declared that “tendering an apology for the so-called inquisition was not on the Pope’s agenda.” And termed such a request by Hindus as “raking up unnecessary issues for cheap publicity.” – Aravindan Neelakandan
When it comes to ‘apologising’ for genocides, which it either directly instigated or facilitated through tactical support, Vatican is a conjurer adept in sleight of words and institutions. You are made to believe that Vatican has changed; that the Vatican has apologised but then you go through what has been actually said officially and by whom, and you realise that nothing has changed.
Take for example the absolutely safe sounding name for one of the oldest congregations in Vatican— ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’. That is the modern name. The original name? ‘Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition’. And what did it do? Banned books and burnt the heretics. And what does it do now? It still bans and restricts books within its sphere of influence like the books of Rev. Anthony de Mello SJ and the fact that it does not burn the heretics no more is more because of the want of power than because of the want of willingness. The spirit behind is the same: ‘Roma locuta; causa finita est‘ – Rome has spoken and the case is closed as every student of theology knows, even if the case closed means the closing of the lives of millions in torture chambers.
So it will be prudent for the followers of Indic faiths to understand how the Church has reacted with response to its role in other genocides. Here we take the example of three cases: Nazi Holocaust, Native American genocides and Rwandan genocide. And in each case we shall see briefly the Indic parallels.
When Pope John Paul II expressed his regret for the Holocaust, the same play with words was in display in full plumage. In the much popularised ex cathedra statementissued by Vatican We Remember: A Reflection of the Shoah, the Church laid the blame everywhere else except on itself. The Holocaust “was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime” and “its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity”, the communication stated.
The fact is that paganism as such had no institutionalised anti-Semitism. Most of the virulently anti-Semitic laws had their origin in Christian laws. For example, in 1592 Jesuits introduced the rule forbidding admission of men of Jewish origin calculating their ancestry to the fifth generation. Derived from the Jesuit rule, ‘German blood certificate’ of Nazis introduced in 1935 calculated Jewish ancestry for three to four generations. Similarly blood-libel, a Christian propaganda against the Jews based on which the Church even manufactured martyrs, Passion plays which incited mobs to attack Jews, were all substantial Catholic contributions to Nazi propaganda. Yet, the Church without hesitation could call the Holocaust as the workings of a Neo-Pagan regime whose anti-Semitic roots were outside Christianity.
Then it pointedly called Jews “the elder brothers”, quoting Christian scripture. To the uninitiated in Christian theology it looks very pleasant. But in Christian theology it has a specific meaning. The elder brother is always wrong in Christian discourse. When quoting their scripture to call Jews “the elder brothers”, the theologians who crafted the document were well aware that this phrase actually links in their theology the Jews with Cain. In the grand narrative of Church the verse “…the elder shall serve the younger” in Hebrew Bible (Genesis 25:23) is darkly transformed to mean Jews serving the Christians in servitude. Maximinus to Tertullian, the founding fathers of the Church had allowed the ink to flow in torrents to explain how Jews as elder brothers were cursed like Cain. Historian Leon Poliakov in the third volume of his authoritative book The History of Anti-Semitism points out that one of the “essential points” of the teaching of the Church has been “the fall from grace of the elder brother, since wandering Jew, wandering like Cain was also marked by a similar sign on the temple.”
Interestingly the document contained not a single word of apology and had only a single word expressing “regret” for the six million Jews died in the Holocaust. This is the nature of “regret” showed by Church in the most popular and horrible Holocaust of recent history. One should couple with this two important phenomena. One is the installation of “Auschwitz crosses“. This happened when a Carmelite convent was opened near Auschwitz and a huge cross was erected there. Jews protested this blatant Catholic aggression into one of their most painful recent memories. Yet in 1998 the same year Vatican issued “We remember” document on Holocaust, the Archbishop as well as the Cardinal of Catholic Church opposed the removal of the cross which insulted the memory of the Jewish victims of Auschwitz.
And the Church has not bothered to express even such mild watered down, theologically correct, regrets for Gypsies and other “undesirables” killed by the Nazi regime with which Vatican had signed a concordat.
If it is blood libel for Jews, it is the manufacture of Christian “saints” martyred at the hands of Hindus in general and Brahmins in particular, in India. Complete pseudo-histories have been fabricated like in the case of “martyr” Devasahayam Pillai, in which the Hindu king of Travancore ordered torturing and killing of him for embracing Christianity. In reality, the kings of Travancore had been pro-Christian. The missionaries writing to British government actually cited the example of the Travancore Hindu princely state which allowed Bible teaching in government schools and where large parcels of lands were freely given to Christian missionaries. Yet the Church has been actively propagating the fabricated martyr story. The very historicity of this ‘martyr’ has been questioned by historians. Yet stage dramas are conducted demonizing Hindus and full efforts are on to canonise him.
In the case of St. Thomas myth in India also, the Hindus are made the treacherous villains who stabbed St. Thomas. In the case of this legend, there is a well manipulated evolution of narrative to suit the local prejudices. So the initial Christian account spoke of “low caste man” having killed Thomas by accident. In these earlier narratives, they attributed elephantiasis as the curse of St. Thomas. As anti-Brahminism became a popular political and evangelical tool, the current stories speak of Brahmins as the schemers and killers of St. Thomas.
In Christian propaganda literature endorsed by top Catholic clergy, fake “secret circulars” of RSS similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion used by Nasis to demonise Jews, were published.
“Doctrine of Discovery” forms the theological basis of the Native American genocide. It involves the fifteenth and sixteenth century Papal Bulls which gave the Christian invaders the right to own the “discovered” American lands for their Christian States and allowed them to convert, enslave or in case of refusal for conversion, exterminate the Native Americans.
Often Native Americans were lured with gifts from Spain and then they were trapped through baptism and their old ways destroyed. No wonder the missionaries called these Spanish goods “bait and means of spiritual fishing”. The converted Native Americans were kept within the mission compounds and had to labour. Their women produced food for the mission. The men cultivated land and took care of the cattle—effectively becoming cowboys of the mission. To this day, missionary propaganda murals depict these events as one of peaceful serene coexistence.
However contemporary accounts by neutral observers give a different picture. For example the journals of French man Jean Francois de la Perouse, who was sympathetic to the missionaries called the mission compound resembling a “slave plantation”. Native American men were whipped in public and punished if they disobeyed. Women too were whipped but in secret chambers lest it ignite the men folk to raise a rebellion.
Missionaries coveted the Indian land for three reasons: it made conversions easy; landless natives converted and provided slave labour; and it placed vast lands at the disposal of missionaries. “Civilizing the Indian can only be achieved by denaturalizing them,” said Fermín Lasuén, another prominent missionary at the mission. That Fermín Lasuén belonged to Franciscan order of the Catholic Church is an interesting paradox for Hindus (like this writer) who love to eulogize St. Francis of Assisi as a saint with ecological sensibility. However, the point is that such “denaturalizing” of Native Americans at once provided the mission with slave labour and vast land resources.
Along with such naked aggression, the violent proselytizing was also supported by the myth of St. Thomas. Catholic clergy spread the story among Native Americans that St. Thomas had come long before Spaniards to South America. Famous Virgin Goddess they venerated became the image of Mary which the Apostle had kept as a holy relic. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent divinity was St. Thomas. The native God Tehuitzahuac was actually Jesus Christ himself. These ideas spread through sermons in the Church thus justified the destruction of native culture which was supplanted by Christianity. St. Thomas myth fitted well with the “doctrine of discovery”.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 reiterated this mindset of “doctrine of discovery” when he addressed the Native Americans. He declared that the natives were ”silently longing” for Christianity and ”the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.” The present Pope Francis had simultaneously displayed words seeking forgiveness from Native Americans but the deeds were exactly opposite. He is proceeding with the canonizing of Junípero Serra—the founder of Catholic Missions in San Francisco, who ran a mission estate for Native Americans chillingly similar to Auschwitz minus the gas chambers.
Present day parallels in India
In many places across India, Indian Catholics are made to venerate ‘St.’ Xavier the architect of Goan Inquisition. The most prominent Catholic seminary to this day stands on the destroyed Siva temple considered the holiest place in Goa for Hindus.
The St. Thomas myth has been propagated in India also. The Church has been increasingly lending its voice in support of crackpot theories that Hinduism is a derivative of Christianity preached by St. Thomas. In Tamil Nadu, using the Dravidian political movement, sustained efforts have been made to push this crackpot agenda. In the ground level, evangelical guidelines have been issued to missionaries which make use of these crackpot theories to confuse the ordinary Hindus.
Now we come to the “apology” of Vatican for Rwandan Genocide. The fact is that Vatican has not expressed apology and Rwandan government has rightly pointed that out. It was actually an inadequate apology by a Rwandan Catholic bishop. The role of Catholic Church in Rwanda in building the racial tensions is far more sinister and heavy to be washed off in such inadequacies.
The two communities in Rwanda, Tutsi and Hutus, were identified as racial types by the European missionaries, anthropologists and colonial administrators. The Tutsi were invaders and they were “clever”, similar to Europeans to a degree and they appropriated the land through trickery from Hutu who became their slaves. Implanting this myth initially, the colonial administration and its religious arm, the Catholic Church favoured the Tutsis, agreeing with colonial government policy in considering Tutsi and Hutu as distinct races. However, the Church’s support to Tutsis waned dramatically with the Rwandan revolution in 1959.
As some Rwandan patriots of Tutsi origin started questioning the Catholic Church in meddling in politics, the Church joined hands with the Hutus. The Church started filling its local hierarchies with Hutus and the Belgian Catholic clergy even participated in drafting the Bahutu Manifesto in 1957, which paved the way to the genocide later. With colonial and Church support, the Hutu republican party captured power in 1959 and initiated the first Rwandan massacre in which more than 20,000 Tutsis were killed. A report points out:
The demonization of Tutsis preceded the 1994 genocide. Even though this was a clear and grave human rights violation, Bishop Perraudin and his senior aides dismissed these events as a social revolution intended to redress social injustices. For thirty years these views were not questioned.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is the result of a long chain of events in which Church was a major player and hence a key facilitator of genocide. Yet, the Vatican has not found it right to express “regret” or apology—what has happened is the statement of a regional official of the Church.
Church has been at the forefront of spreading the Aryan-Dravidian racial divide theory and has invested much into this conflict creating narrative. Despite the fact that renowned anti-caste fighters like Dr. Ambedkar had denounced racial interpretation of caste conflicts, the Church and its affiliates go on with the propaganda of “Aryan Brahminical religion” oppressing the so-called Dravidians. The Dravidians are traced to Abraham and through him Jesus is made a Dravidian! In Indian North East and in tribal areas of India, many Catholic missionaries take forward the pseudo-scientific race theories claiming that the Hindus and tribals are separate races etc. This sustained campaign on racial lines camouflaged as “social justice” just as in the case of Rwanda, contains in it the grim possibilities of many such massacres in India. Only Indian culture’s innate strength is holding on against such human tragedies happening.
So we come to the crux of the question. Will Vatican apologise for Goan Inquisition? The answer is emphatic “No”. It has never apologised for its crimes against humanity which have been more documented and more publicised. Hindus have never publicised the crimes done against them by the invaders systematically. Hindus seldom have a museum or memorial for those martyred for Dharma by the Catholic Inquisition. There have been no plays, no movies through which the memories the cruelty of Inquisition and more importantly the sacrifices of the Hindus to defend their religion, have been taken forward to their next generation.
So when in 1999 the VHP raised the issue of apology for Inquisition during the Papal visit to India, Indian Catholic officials crisply declared that “tendering an apology for the so-called inquisition was not on the Pope’s agenda”. And termed such a request by Hindus as “raking up unnecessary issues for cheap publicity”. In other words Hindus weigh definitely less than the Jews, Native Americans and Rwandans in the public relations radar of Vatican. The only solace is despite the Church running in India all the tactics it used in Rwanda, pre-holocaust Christendom and against Native Americans, Hindus still survive as a religion, culture and nation. – Swarajya, 4 December 2016
» S. Aravindan Neelakandan is the co-author of a path-breaking book on Dravidian and Dalit faultlines, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines.