Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Popes and Slavery

In light of the forthcoming bi-centenary of the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1815 by the Westminster Parliament, the question arises : When did the Catholic Church condemn slavery?

According to some notable figures, the Church did not finally condemn slavery until recently.

Judge John T. Noonan stated that it was not until 1890 that the Church condemned the institution of slavery, lagging behind laws enacted to outlaw the practice. He and others argue that slavery is one of the areas in which the Church has changed its moral teaching to suit the times, and that the time for this change did not come until near the end of the last century.

Theologian Laennec Hurbon may be cited as representing a belief among many authors that no Pope before 1890 condemned slavery when he stated that, ". . . one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See-those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV-for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery."

In The Popes and Slavery: Setting the Record Straight by Fr. Joel S. Panzer in the January/February 1996 issue of "The Catholic Answer", Fr Panzer explains in detail that from 1435 to 1890, there were numerous bulls and encyclicals from several popes written to many bishops and the whole Christian faithful condemning both slavery and the slave trade.