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St. Mary Magdalen's
Catholic Church
Willesden Green
London NW10
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Monday, March 26, 2007

The two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade occurs this week. We give thanks for William Wilberforce’s work which sprang from his Christian faith. We also give thanks for the Catholic Church’s consistent authoritative teaching against slavery. The latter dimension has not had much airtime. Rather more prominence has been given, by the BBC for instance, to those Catholic leaders who ignored the pleadings and teachings of the Church. This is very unfair to Christ in the Church, who has unerringly truly uttered his “But I say to you” down the centuries, on this issue as on others.

Pope Eugene IV writing as early as 1435, very early on in the Slave Trade, against the Portuguese who made Canary Islanders into slaves.

We ... exhort, through the sprinkling of the Blood of Jesus Christ shed for their sins, one and all, temporal princes, lords, captains, armed men, barons, soldiers, nobles, communities and all others of every kind among the Christian faithful of whatever state, grade or condition, that they themselves desist from the aforementioned deeds, cause those subject to them to desist from them, and restrain them rigorously. And no less do We order and command all & each of the faithful of each sex that, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their pristine liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands ... who have been made subject to slavery

There were numerous other such passionate Papal pleas invoking the authority of Christ in the Church across following centuries. They were ignored, not just by Bishops, but by Heads of State and others for whom Christ in his Church was not a primary authority.

Our prominent detractors use one or two medieval instances of Popes giving practical sanctioning to forced labour for those who had used violence against the Church. They have presented these out of context and without reference to the tradition of Catholic teaching. Popes never formally taught that making slaves of the innocent was allowed.

The Church teaches today in a manner which is similarly unpopular in the Pro-Life arena. For example we are against “therapeutic cloning”, whereby human embryonic beings are created purely in order to have their tissue harvested to help cure diseases. This is a very modern and very radical form of slavery. Teachings such as these might well be part of the reason some prominent anti-life journalists want to undermine the authority of Christ and His Church.

posted by Sinead Reekie at 10:48 am