Lazy, hazy days with a good book

It’s summer time and the papers are full of suggestions about what to read. As in asking twenty well known people what they’re reading on their holidays. Yes, maybe a lazy way of filling a few pages in the silly season but it’s also instructive as it gives a glimpse of what’s available.

At the moment I’m reading Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism, From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, edited by Eamon Maher and Eugene O’Brien. It’s a collection of thirteen essays mainly by academics, which attempt to explain why the Catholic Church in Ireland has been brought to its knees. In other words, what happened between the Pope John Paul’s visit to Galway and the Cloyne Report into the sexual abuse of children, what’s happening now, and what may happen in the future to the ‘lost legacy’ of a Catholic culture.

Even though it’s very well worth reading, for one reason only I hesitate to recommend it because it costs £85 (that’s sterling) or €95 in our money. What a pity that Manchester University Press has thereby effectively ensured that the general reader probably won’t buy this important book. Needless to say I didn’t buy it myself. (After all, there’s a reasonable limit to every obsession).

As with any anthology, the standard is mixed. Most of the articles are excellent but a few suggesting a return to the past are a toxic mixture of naivety and unreality. What is particularly galling is the constant repetition of the widely discredited belief that if something is explained properly that Catholics will automatically accept it. They won’t. That mantra – if you listen carefully I’ll explain where you’re going wrong – is the essence of condescension, especially where adults are concerned, because as we know  adults have minds of their own and Catholic adults nowadays tend to use them. Relying on authority, loyalty and a presumed, though clearly diminishing, respect to make unconvincing teaching credible is a failed strategy, as almost everyone now knows. As is the oft-repeated put-down that Catholic church teaching is unchanging. It isn’t, as any competent theologian will know.

Another book that tackles the changes taking place in Catholicism is Chris Patten’s ‘First Confession, A Sort of Memoir’. Patten has had a quite extraordinary life and an impressive CV: a Conservative cabinet minister once described as ‘the best Tory Prime Minister we never had’; the last Governor of Hong Kong; the man who sorted out policing in the North; Chairman of the BBC; Chancellor of Oxford university; President of the Vatican’s Committee on Communications; and an enlightening and entertaining writer.

A proud and unapologetic Catholic, Patten traces his early religious upbringing – serving Mass in Latin, being taught to say the Rosary, leading the May procession – and concludes that ‘so much of the bone and marrow of my life was learned as part of my religious education and early religious practice’.

However despite his gratitude for what he learned as a child, as he grew older Patten became increasingly outspoken about his discomfort with what he called ‘the authoritarian anti-intellectualism of the Catholic Church’. Patten would prefer that Catholicism was ‘discussed in a more rational way that goes back to its roots, to what really matters and the way decent people – whether Catholic or not – live’.

Like many another today, Patten has difficulty understanding why the Catholic Church does not hold on to ‘the essential message encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount’ while being a little more like the world it serves and more ‘understanding of the lives of those who are practising Catholics’. He also has difficulties, in debates about Catholic teaching, with the Catholic obsession with sexual behaviour: ‘The Catholic Church, which I am happy and proud to regard as my home, has got sex badly wrong’.

People like Patten – intelligent, incisive, committed – who declare their Catholicism ‘as a fundamental part of who I am’ need to be given respect. While people like him are prepared ‘to overlook the ‘occasional absurdity, even pernicious absurdity’ in Catholicism ignoring what they’re saying is the equivalent of shooting ourselves in yet another of the few good feet we’ve got left.

Patten credits Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council for giving him and many others ‘the sort of hope and inspiration as Catholics that kept us actively in the Church’. He rings a bell for many others when he concludes that he is ‘easily enthused whenever what Rome is saying sounds like the New Testament’. Patten’s book is not inexpensive at €23.99 but is worth every cent.

While I can heartily recommend the two books mentioned, part of the problem with looking for good books is that reviews can’t really be trusted. Ireland is a small place and writers tend to meet writers so blurbs tend to be just blurbs and books tend to be reviewed not always because they’re worth reviewing but because the writer knows someone who knows someone. So A reviews B who reviews C who reviews D who is reviewed by A . . . and so it goes on in ever widening circles.

Recently a first novel was reviewed in a national newspaper and received such stunning notices that I decided to buy it. Even though it was a first novel, the covers were littered with lavish compliments from established writers. But, if it was a first edition, how did they know it was so good? Who gave them the unpublished script? Unless their rave reviews were cajoled out of them or they shared publishers or . . .

The best advice on books is always from someone who knows us, knows what we like and recommends a particular book. That happened me with ‘Solar Bones’ by Mike McCormack. I hesitated to buy it because I distrusted the reviews but I was told I would enjoy it and I did. Little wonder that it has been long-listed for the Booker prize.

Treat yourself to it these summer days.


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  1. Kevin Walters says:

    “What is particularly galling is the constant repetition of the widely discredited belief that if something is explained properly that Catholics will automatically accept it. They won’t”. …………

    I agree they will not, as the challenge is, that in an increasingly broken world how can these words of renewal be absorbed within our hearts, in the present moment, especially in the West where many hearts have become stale and cynical in regards to the Christian message.

    “Repent”; change direction

    I have on the sister site to this one a series of posts, with links that attempt to meet that challenge by giving a fresh perspective of our fallen state. Perhaps some may consider reading them; See link
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    ” …the widely discredited belief that if something is explained properly that Catholics will automatically accept it. They won’t”.

    Not just Catholics!
    I’m reading “Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History”, by Rodney Stark: SPCK 2017. Rodney Stark is not a Catholic (and never was). He finishes the Introduction: “I did not write this book in defence of the Church. I wrote it in defence of history.” He deals with ten topics about which “everybody knows” the Catholic Church got it wrong. Antisemitism, Dark ages, Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, anti-scientific, slavery, etc. Not of course that there’s nothing wrong in the church in the past and now, but on these ten topics he’s strong.
    He outlines them briefly in the Introduction, which you can read at
    It’s difficult to persuade people that what they knew for certain that everybody knew is in fact not the case – including Catholics, who often share those beliefs! There are exhaustive references in the end-notes. Any reviews I’ve read on line seem to be positive.
    But maybe we still won’t be ready to believe him!

    Brendan warns us that “Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism, From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond” costs £85 (€95). have it a little more cheaply on their website for €85.15. The ISBN13 is 9781526101068 .

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Antisemitism, Dark ages, Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, anti-scientific, slavery, etc.”

    There is plenty of historical substance in all of these. There may be some “misconceptions” to be corrected, but his language of “confronting distinguished bigots” suggests that this is yet another attempt to whitewash our past.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    Rodney Stark begins with a ridiculous strawman — the alleged widespread belief that the Church believed the earth was flat and so discouraged Columbus. He lists as “distinguished bigots” Gibbon, James Cornwell, and James Carroll. He then lists the following as false:

    ▶ The Catholic Church motivated and actively participated in nearly two millennia of anti-Semitic violence, justifying it on grounds that the Jews were responsible for the Crucifixion, until the Vatican II Council was shamed into retracting that doctrine in 1965. But, the Church still has not made amends for the fact that Pope Pius XII is rightfully known as “Hitler’s Pope.” [He need only read Paul IV’s bull Cum nimis absurdum of 1555, ratified by later popes, to find evidence of what he denies.]

    ▶ Only recently have we become aware of remarkably enlightened Christian gospels, long ago suppressed by narrow-minded Catholic prelates. [This perhaps refers to the banning of the vernacular Bible for a long time.]

    ▶ Once in power as the official church of Rome, Christians quickly and brutally persecuted paganism out of existence.[The record of the Theodosian persecution of paganism is very clear.]

    ▶ The fall of Rome and the ascendancy of the Church precipitated Europe’s decline into a millennium of ignorance and backwardness. These Dark Ages lasted until the Renaissance/Enlightenment, when secular scholars burst through the centuries of Catholic barriers against reason.

    ▶ Initiated by the pope, the Crusades were but the first bloody chapter in the history of unprovoked and brutal European colonialism. [Unprovoked and brutal is accurate enough.]

    ▶ The Spanish Inquisition tortured and murdered huge numbers of innocent people for “imaginary” crimes, such as witchcraft and blasphemy.

    ▶ The Catholic Church feared and persecuted scientists, as the case of Galileo makes clear. Therefore, the Scientific “Revolution” occurred mainly in Protestant societies because only there could the Catholic Church not suppress independent thought. [Copernicanism, an elementary presupposition of modern science, could not be taught in Italian textbooks until the mid 19th century.]

    ▶ Being entirely comfortable with slavery, the Catholic Church did nothing to oppose its introduction in the New World nor to make it more humane. [Weasel words here: the church upheld the buying and selling of slaves as in accord with natural and divine law as late as 1866 and first condemned slavery in principle only when the last standng nation, Catholic Brazil, had abolished the institution of slavery, in the time of Leo XIII]

    ▶ Until very recently, the Catholic view of the ideal state was summed up in the phrase, “The divine right of kings.” Consequently, the Church has bitterly resisted all efforts to establish more liberal governments, eagerly supporting dictators. [The divine right of kings has biblical basis; Adomnan of Iona is one of the earliest Christian proponents of this concept of kings ruling with divine right; “In the Middle Ages, the idea that God had granted earthly power to the monarch, just as he had given spiritual authority and power to the church, especially to the Pope, was already a well-known concept long before later writers coined the term “divine right of kings” and employed it as a theory in political science. For example Richard I of England declared at his trial during the diet at Speyer in 1193 “I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God, to whom alone I am responsible for my actions”, and it was Richard who first used the motto “Dieu et mon droit” (“God and my right”) which is still the motto of the Monarch of the United Kingdom.” The Church claimed the right to depose kings (Gregory VII, Boniface VIII, Pius V). The long resistance of the Church to modern democracy, explicitly ending only in 1943, has a lot to do with the French Revolution’s treatment of the Monarchy.]

    ▶ It was the Protestant Reformation that broke the repressive Catholic grip on progress and ushered in capitalism, religious freedom, and the modern world. [This is strawman stuff.]

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Pádraig McCarthy @ 2

    “But maybe we still won’t be ready to believe him”!

    The basis for credibility/believe is in the serving of the Truth, straight talking, as in “Yes or No”. Those who serve Jesus Christ cannot spin half-truths as to do so will invite derision.

    You have given a link in your post that incorporates a site endorsed by the catholic Church.
    I have been on this site once before as I had to defend the churches teaching on slavery, I took as my guide in support of the Church, information from the link below

    From the link a justification of the churches dealing with slavery in American

    “Another reason may have been the precarious position of the Catholic Church in America before the twentieth century. Catholics were a small and much-despised minority. They were subject to repeated, sometimes violent attacks by Protestant Nativists. In many ways, the American hierarchy of the day was trying to protect the Catholics immigrating to the U.S. and did not regard itself as in a position to be the leader in a major social crusade”.

    But the credibility of this statement is trounced with this, see link below
    From the link

    “In partnership with the Washington Archdiocese and the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Georgetown University held a public spiritual ceremony and building dedication April 18 to honor the 272 enslaved people that Jesuits in Maryland had sold to Louisiana plantation owners in 1838”……

    The article in the site above is endorsed by the Church, and gives an overall picture of slavery throughout the ages and the Churches response (Teachings) in regards to it. And concludes with this statement

    “The Church’s consistent teaching that all men are made in Gods image and are called to redemption in Christ has helped give rise to the modern notion of human rights and equality ideas diametrically opposed to chattel slavery and that have led to a great diminishment in its practice”.

    I agree with this statement but the article is bias, in that it does not go to the heart of the problem that is one of the abuses of power of the elite augmented by unaccountability, manifest as a self-serving culture of clericalism. It is defection from the full reality of the leadership of the church in the past in regards to slavery and this points us also to the treatment of indigenous peoples.

    This same summary
    “The Church’s consistent teaching that all men are made in Gods image and are called to redemption in Christ has helped give rise to the modern notion of human rights and equality”………..

    Applies to-day but sadly we have the very same ongoing problem bias/spin in that it does not go to the heart of the problem that is one of the abuses of power of the elite augmented by unaccountability, manifest as a self-serving culture of clericalism.

    So that now the record of the selfless service of the vast majority of religious men and woman is been undermined as the leadership of the Church will not face up to the full reality of its failings.
    The Church is at a watershed moment in her history, it must face up to the reality of its failings or credibility will be lost permanently; it appears to be refusing to do so and is possibly waiting for the present situation, the ongoing cover up of the child abuse scandal with its refusal to acknowledge its historical culture within the Church, emanating from Rome, in the hope that it will to be lost in the fog of history.
    Because of global communications (Internet) knowledge is available instantly deflect/spin/half-truths can be researched with easy by Joe Bloggs and will no longer stand before mankind, this present episode will not be lost in history quite the opposite as historians will point to it as a point in time when the church’s moral authority was lost never to be regained.

    I would not discourage any one from taking their arguments into the public square but if you do so be prepared to face the full reality of the PRESENT ongoing situation honestly (showing warts and all) if you do not do so you will be greeted with derision.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  6.     Joe, very well said and, as always, so well researched in your responses. Your reaction was exactly mine but I decided I would not react to Padraig this time. But, I am pleased you have.

    We are hearing a lot about indulgences in this important 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. Now, I am not a widely read student of church history but am I correct in thinking that indulgences were originally invented to reward those who went on the Crusades to the Holy land to slaughter the infidels? And, of course, while they were at it, they also slaughtered infidels –Jews –without mercy, nearer to home, especially in Germany and France. (Mary McAleese was so spot on in her recent comment expressing her shame as a Catholic.)

    I have read a bit about the Inquisition, in its many forms. Lord Acton, the great Catholic historian, Charles Acton, called it “the greatest assault on common decency in the history of the(human) race.” 80 consecutive from Gregory 1X, who founded the Inquisition in 1231 to Pius 1X at the end of the 19th century were all the sworn enemies of the most basic form of natural justice.( I am paraphrasing here.) He–Lord Acton–said “the principle of the Inquisition was murderous” and these Popes “made murder a legal basis of the Christian Church and the condition of salvation”
    And this is what I presume some would now wish to, in some bizarre way, mitigate! My God!
    It really does get on my goat when I hear someone try to defend the indefensible, or laud those who attempt to do it on our behalf. The only honest and credible way forward for us is to hold up our hands, accept our guilt and try to move on. That, of course, applies equally to more recent outrages and scandals too.

  7. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    # Joe O’Leary, Kevin Walters and Paddy Ferry.

    Well, now! My comment #2 above has stirred something. I didn’t expect that it would stir those reactions.

    Let me be clear. Brendan Hoban wrote about two books which are/were his summer reading. I mentioned one that I’m reading. I thought others would suggest other books worth consideration.
    In suggesting a book for consideration, I was not suggesting that anyone simply accept and swallow it whole. After all, the idea is that Catholics, and others, do not do so. We question, we examine.

    Reading a book for recreational purposes, as in a novel, etc., is one thing.
    I read a variety of other books and articles. Some of those I read I hope will deepen my knowledge and understanding. Some of what I read I expect will not reflect my own thinking. I read them not for the sake of finding things to disagree with or demolish, but for what I may learn from them, and from people with quite a different point of view. This may at time be frustrating, but it can also be enriching.

    So I suggested Rodney Stark’s book as a book worth reading. For those who disagree with him, that’s fine with me. I don’t know whether Joe O’Leary and Kevin Walters and Paddy Ferry have read the book. If some disagree with Rodney Stark, I hope they will do so on the basis of what is contained in the book, not on the basis of what I say or what a review says, and not just on the basis of what the Introduction says.

    Joe O’Leary (#$) writes: “Rodney Stark begins with a ridiculous strawman — the alleged widespread belief that the Church believed the earth was flat and so discouraged Columbus.” But the point, which was new to me, is that apparently it was a widespread belief, a belief that has its origin in writing by Washington Irving in biography of Columbus in 1828, a belief that Rodney Stark himself grew up with, as it seems did many others. The fact that Joe and I and I imagine many others did not grow up with that idea means we were fortunate, but it does not mean that others did not believe it. Stark refers in the Notes to the Gershwin song, “They All Laughed”:
    “I wasn’t a bit concerned / For from hist’ry I had learned / How many, many times the worm had turned / They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.” He gives references to Jeffrey Burton Reynolds “Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians” (1997); and to Roland Bernhard’s “Kolumbus und die Erdkugel” (2014).

    So for Joe it may seem a ridiculous strawman, but apparently many others took it seriously, including Rodney Stark himself when he was growing up, and that it formed a basis for anti-Catholic sentiment. This is the point of Stark’s argument.

    Joe also writes: “Only recently have we become aware of remarkably enlightened Christian gospels, long ago suppressed by narrow-minded Catholic prelates. [This perhaps refers to the banning of the vernacular Bible for a long time.]” This is not the case – Stark refers to what we might call the “Apocryphal Gospels” – Thomas, Judas, etc.

    Paddy Ferry #8 writes re the Inquisition: “It really does get on my goat when I hear someone try to defend the indefensible, or laud those who attempt to do it on our behalf.” The point is not whether there was everything or nothing wrong with the Inquisition, which certainly has a very bad reputation, but whether there has been misinformation in general circulation about the Inquisition which has been presumed factual, and which historically has been used as a sectarian weapon. It is important not to presume that what we heard in the past is all true, but to ascertain as far as possible what the facts are before we judge it “indefensible” without qualification. Stark’s account is found on pages 118 – 133.

    Similarly with the other specific topics of the book. To agree or disagree it is necessary to read Stark’s book.

    May we have enjoyable summer (and autumn) reading, and perhaps some other books suggested for consideration by ACP readers!

  8. Kevin Walters says:

    Pádraig McCarthy @ 9

    “I thought others would suggest other books worth consideration”…..

    I cannot recommend a good book but I can recommend a good read, that relates to all those who have covered themselves with the public mantel of Jesus Christ, as it is enlightening

    “To think that together with those 272 souls we received the same sacraments, read from the same Scriptures, prayed the same prayers, sang the same hymns, and praised the same God — how did we, the Society of Jesus, fail to see us all as one body in Christ? We betrayed the very name of Jesus for whom our least society is named.
    Now, nearly 200 years later, we know that we cannot heal from this tragic history alone. Many have confessed and labored to atone for this sin, mostly within the confines of our own religious houses and apostolic works. Because we are profoundly sorry, we stand now before God — and before you, the descendants of those whom we held enslaved — and we apologize for what we have done and for what we have failed to do”. Taken from the link in my post @ 7 above

    Also see link for further information on this matter.

    It is said History repeats its self and so it does as can be seen in the similarities within the linked article above and the church’s present day scandals.

    But we can be grateful in that our Lord Himself has placed before these men of power, the elite within the church, who in their own hubris ensnared themselves, by crystalizing their hypocrisy before God and the whole church, in such a way that cannot be misunderstood by all. In endorsing a communiqué that incorporates the direct Word (Will) of God and then using that communiqué, they shamelessly made God in their image, a self-serving image of clericalism.
    Because of this wilfully act our most fundamental belief that God’s Word is inviolate, has been breached by those who profess to defend that belief, their accumulated silence on this matter compounds their guilt before God and mankind.

    “For clarity” the church teaches that divine revelation ended with the apostles.
    The visual and verbal request given by our Lord to Sr. Faustina may not be an additional revelation but it is a communiqué endorsed by the Church that incorporates the direct Word (Will) of God and for that reason it is binding on the Church, in that the true image painted by Sr. Faustina (one of Broken Man) must be venerated and no other.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Hi, Pádraig, you said the online reviews you’d read suggested that the book was well received, but the first two scholarly reviews I found were damning. I have come across many books like this which by sleight of hand try to whitewash what John Kent called “the unacceptable face” of Catholic history (something John Paul II refused to do, though Cardinal Ratzinger did inject some dilution into the Ash Wednesday 2000 “purification of memory” act of repentance). While the Church has firmly disavowed its anti-Jewish rantings (all Jews will go to Hell, Council of Constance; Jews are to be punished for their spiritual blindness and crime of deicide by being consigned to perpetual servitude, Paul IV, Bull of 1555, ratified repeatedly by later popes) it has still not formally disavowed the inquisition or even the methods of the inquisition. The Inquisition was a central plank of papal rule for some seven centuries — when Spain shut down its inquisition in the early 19th century, it reopened it again under Vatican pressure. There are no doubt Vatican prelates who hope that history will conclude the the Inquisition was not such a bad thing after all and who clutch at every pseudo-historical publication that holds out the false promise of such consolation (a little bit like our tactics with the abuse scandals). This is an important battle, something like the battle in the USA over the role of racism as motive of the Civil War, To falsify history is to risk its repeat.

  10. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    On the Columbus story:

    Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) was a well-known American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He is a witness to the propagation of the false story. He wrote in 1997: “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth” – :

    ‘The inspirational, schoolchild version of the myth centers upon Columbus, who supposedly overcame the calumny of assembled clerics at Salamanca to win a chance from Ferdinand and Isabella. Consider this version of the legend, cited by Russell from a book for primary-school children written in 1887, soon after the myth’s invention (but little different from accounts that I read as a child in the 1950s):
    “But if the world is round,” said Columbus, “it is not hell that lies beyond that stormy sea. Over there must lie the eastern strand of Asia, the Cathay of Marco Polo” … In the hall of the convent there was assembled the imposing company-shaved monks in gowns … cardinals in scarlet robes. … “You think the earth is round … Are you not aware that the holy fathers of the church have condemned this belief …This theory of yours looks heretical.” Columbus might well quake in his boots at the mention of heresy; for there was that new Inquisition just in fine running order, with its elaborate bone-breaking, flesh-pinching, thumb-screwing, hanging, burning, mangling system for heretics. Dramatic to be sure, but entirely fictitious.’

    Those who argued against Columbus did not do so because they thought the earth was flat, and he would fall off the edge; they knew the earth was round, and that it much larger than Columbus thought, and so he would not survive his voyage to the Indies. The fact that Columbus survived was not because he was right, but because he was wrong: if he had not happened accidentally on the land we now call the Americas, he would not have survived.

    I wonder how many Irish people learned the incorrect story about Columbus in school?

  11. Joe O'Leary says:

    Book recommendations on controverted church history:

    John Kent, The Unacceptable Face (1987)

    William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty (a classic).

    Andrea Del Col, L’Inquisizione in Italia (masterly study)

    Thomas O’Connor, Irish Jansenists 1600—70: Religion and Politics in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome, Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2008

    Ernesto Buonaiuti, Pellegrino di Roma (fascinating autobiography)

    The works of Diarmaid MacCulloch.


  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    M.T. Clanchy, Abelard (Blackwell, 1997)

    John O’Malley, The Council of Trent

    Jean Lacouture, The Jesuits

    Trent Pomplun: Jesuit on the Roof of the World: Ippolito Desideri’s Mission to Tibet

  13. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #10: Kevin Walters:
    Yes, thanks. I was aware of the Georgetown matter. Yes, there are many shameful episodes in the history of the Catholic church, and these must be acknowledged. But we must also acknowledge that this is not the full story. In the early 1960s, studying philosophy in UCD, one lecturer recommended a book, “Aristotle and the American Indians”, by Lewis Hanke (1959; republished in 2011). It tells of a formal debate in Spain in 1550/51 about whether native “americans” were naturally slaves. Juan Gines de Sepulveda argued for it, and Fr Bartholome de Las Casas argued against it, and the decision eventually was in his favour, even though, being so far away, it had little practical effect. Perhaps the extraordinary thing is that the debate took place at all. The Georgetown episode is one among many shameful episodes. Such episodes in church history are sometimes used as evidence that the Catholic church is all bad. That is not true either. In history, it can be a case not of either/or, but of both … and. We must seek the full story.

    #11: Joe O’Leary:
    Thanks for those two reviews. I have my own reservations about Rodney Stark’s accounts. Eric Smith makes some good points; but I have concerns also about his review! Diarmaid McCulloch’s review is protected by paywall. But my experience of his writing in the past would also have concerns. For example, on 23 Feb 2013 he had an article in the Irish Times which opened with “The Catholic Church, aka the western church of the Latin rite …” I know there can be confusion on this, but for a professional historian to write thus is strange, even though I agree with the heading of the article, “Church needs saving from its dysfunctional structure.” One might say the same of almost any institution comprised of human beings.
    You write, “I have come across many books like this which by sleight of hand try to whitewash … every pseudo-historical publication that holds out the false promise of such consolation.” I don’t know whether you have read the book. My impression is not of sleight of hand, but of saying, yes, there is much reason for criticism, but that is not the full story. As you say, “To falsify history is to risk its repeat.” Falsification of history can be done by assertions which are untrue, as in the case of the Columbus flat-earth story; it can also be done by assertions which are in themselves true, but which ignore other truths.
    Stark’s contention, it seems to me, is that such falsification has been used for political and religious motives, and that we need to take account of this.
    He doesn’t get it all right. But then I read the Irish Times, so I have plenty of experience of writing which does not get it all right!

  14. Kevin Walters says:

    Pádraig McCarthy @ 15

    “We must seek the full story”

    Yes but more importantly we must come to a conclusion based upon Christian morality, unless we do so History ‘will’ repeat itself.

    A brief outline of the life of Bartholome de Las Casas. He started out as a wealthy/educated adventurer who travelled to the New World and acquired a plantation with slaves. However he underwent a radical transformation of his life, mainly due to witnessing the violent atrocities committed against the natives. He made up his mind to give up his slaves and encomienda, and started to preach that other colonists should do the same, around the same time he joined the Dominicans and spent the rest of his life fighting the brutalized colonialization of the New World.

    But “initially”, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of native labour.

    His three volumes of the “History of the Indies” written over many years, were published many years after his death, and in them he regretted his advocacy for African slavery, and included a sincere apology, writing, (In humility)

    “I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery… and I was not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God.” (Vol II, p. 257)[85].

    It has not been possible for me to put a “date” on his full realization of the Truth of this matter.
    Nevertheless would you not agree in that it is fair to conclude and to say, that he was traveling “The Way” of Truth/love/enlightenment, in his own human frailty?
    And are we not all asked to do the same and also bear witness to the Truth in the present day and come to a conclusion in temporal and spiritual matters and act upon that conclusion. Is this not how we grow spiritual?

    Jesus demonstrates (see link) “the Way” of spiritual growth, in His humanity by walking in “faith” He responds in humility to the “Truth” His own “Essence”,
    See my post in the link

    “For those who recognise Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God, does this not influence every aspect of our lives?

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  15. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #16: Kevin Walters:
    Kevin, you write as if you think we are at variance in these matters: “would you not agree in that it is fair to conclude and to say …”
    “Yes but more importantly we must come to a conclusion based upon Christian morality …”

    Nothing you write in this comment contradicts anything I wrote.

    What we learned in the past we may later realise is not the full story, and that sometimes accounts are used polemically for political and religious purposes. To come to such a realisation may challenge and disturb the certainties we thought we previously held to.

    Rodney Stark’s book looks at a number of matters which he considers were not accurately told, and which he sees as being used as anti-Catholic polemics. Whether you agree with all, some or none of his conclusions, it seems to me that his book is worth reading, for what we may learn from it.

    But that’s your decision to make for yourself.

  16. Kevin Walters says:

    Pádraig McCarthy @ 17
    Thank you for your response Padraig

    “Nothing you write in this comment contradicts anything I wrote”

    It may not contradict anything you wrote but it attempts to point to the fact that we all walk in our fallen nature as did Bartholome de Las Casas, and in this state we can never actually know the full truth of history, yes we can and should learn from it, but we can never capture the “full story”. Because throughout history there is a constant battle between good and evil and by its very nature evil will happily play tit for tat, (Debate) continually ….. To avoid a conclusion that is based on Truth (Christian morality).

    Rodney Stark’s book may look at a number of matters from a fresh prospective but the Catholic Church has indorsed the site that promotes his book, this site uses spin, deflection, half-truths in regards to the Church’s history in dealing with slavery, as I have demonstrated in my post @7 and because of this and in so many other matters this statement holds true

    “the widely {discredited} belief that if something is explained properly that Catholics will automatically accept it. They won’t”.

    And for this reason evil (spin, deflection, half-truths, lies etc) has to be confronted now in the present moment, by the serving of the Truth, especially with regards in the need of transparency to be seen in the abuse scandal cover up and also for the need of the elite within the church to give account for themselves, in regards to the blasphemous self-serving image that, has been placed in God’s house before Him and His people.

    The serving of the Truth takes courage and should be a prerequisite for a Shepherd and all of us, as good works and self-image can be feigned and used to lead some astray but the serving of the Truth cannot, as it always involves carrying one’s own cross, the walking of the ‘Way’ behind our true Shepherd, Jesus Christ

    Please consider reading a continuation of this same theme in my Post in the link below.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  17. Joe O'Leary says:

    I looked at the complete MacCulloch review in the TLS today and found it dripping with sarcasm, as was objected by the Catholic novelist Piers Paul Read in a letter in a subsequent issue. MacCulloch claims that Stark says that medieval antisemitism was the work of secular rulers rather than the church, and he ripostes by pointing to the “blood libel” which he says originated in church circles.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) is (conservatively) estimated to have handled some 150,000 cases and executed some 3000 alleged heretics (Henry Kamen). The Spanish rulers forced the Pope to set it up (he needed their military help) though he had planned to issue an encyclical against it.

    The Portuguese Inquisition (1536-1821) was particularly active in Goa, India, where it had been set up in response to the urgings of St Francis Xavier.

    “In Portuguese India, the Goa Inquisition also turned its attention to Indian converts from Hinduism or Islam who were thought to have returned to their original ways. In addition, it prosecuted Hindus and Muslims (non-converts) who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to forcibly convert non-Christians to Catholicism. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus were forced to move out of Goa if they did not convert. The ancient Christian community of Malabar Nasranis on the south Indian coast was also persecuted in the Portuguese Inquisition. The Portuguese described the Malabar Nasranis as Sabbath-keeping Judaizers and burnt their Aramaic manuscripts at the Synod of Diamper.”

    The Roman Inquisition (1542, renamed Holy Office in 1908, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1965) was not as harsh as the Spanish one, but its proceedings against Giordano Bruno and Galileo give it a high profile. Its tentacles reached far: Leonardo Sciascia wrote a powerful account of the inquisition in Palermo. Andrea Del Col estimates that out of 51,000-75,000 cases judged by the Inquisition in Italy around 1,250 resulted in a death sentence

    When Rodney Stark says “the Inquisition was not bloody” he means it was no bloodier than secular institutions of justice. But the peculiar nastiness of using torture and very cruel forms of execution in the name of the Gospel has to be taken into account.

    Also false is the claim in that interview that the church never persecuted the ancient pagans; they simply died out;

  19. Joe O'Leary says:
  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    I made a mistake above: the inquisition in Palermo was set up by Spain, which ruled Sicily at the time. Since there were so few Protestants or Jewish conversos it became a very petty institution with neighbours denouncing neighbours.

    Also the Roman Inquisition had rivals in other proud cities: “In 1547 the government of Venice established a tribunal of laymen, which was converted into a tribunal of clergy by 1551 but closely monitored by the Venetian government. The Venetian inquisition lasted until 1797. Another institutional inquisition, that of the city of Lucca, established in 1545, was also originally staffed by laymen but then clericalized after a few years.”

  21. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Brendan – My apologies that the discussion of Stark’s book seems to have swamped the response to your piece! All I intended was to suggest a book worth reading, not the sparking of a debate on its merits or demerits. One might initiate an inquisition into why there has been no debate here about either of the books you name.

    For those interested in the history of the Inquisition, a book by Dr Tom O’Connor of Maynooth University (published last year) may be of interest: “Irish Voices from the Spanish Inquisition.” It’s another of those expensive books, £67 sterling.
    (No, I haven’t read it.)

    He gave a talk about this at The College at Brockport, NY. It’s to be found on YouTube at, in five parts.

    The word “Inquisition”, of course, is not solely used for ecclesiastical investigations. It has a much wider legal background. The word occurs about 20 times in the Lunacy Regulation Act Ireland (1871)! Other uses are to be found in “Inquisitions Post Mortem” and “Inquisitions Post Attainder.” The Irish Manuscripts Commission has a publication entitled:
    “Calendar of Inquisitions formerly in the office of the Chief Remembrancer of the Exchequer.”

  22. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thomas F. Mayer is an instructive historian of the Roman Inquisition, who can be read online. He shows how the Roman Inquisition established its authority over the other Italian inquisitions in the course of the 17th century, especially thanks to Urban VIII (r. 1623-44). Venice sturdily resisted and was left to its own devices.

  23. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thomas O’Connor’s speech is charming, but almost makes the Spanish Inquisition sound like fun. Of course it’s fun for historians, who are delighted by the rich archival material. But a theologian could not treat it all so lightly, normalizing it. He also tends to let the church off the hook — making it sound as if the State alone set up the inquisition as a matter of national security and social policing, and as if the opposition to it came from the Church (citing de las Casas’s critique as if it were typical). (In fact when the Spanish Inquisition was closed down by a liberal regime in Spain it had to be opened again because of Vatican pressure,) Somehow the facts that most of the prosecuted were Catholics, not conversos or moriscos, and that only 2% (10,000 out of 500,000) were executed, are made to make it sound as if the inquisition were only a relatively benign judicial organization. The global spread of the inquisition was “not a cancer” he says.

    I think every church and every nation has dark scandals in their history which they would love to see treated like this. The Queen’s remark in Dublin Castle about how we can all see with the wisdom of hindsight things that could have been done better or not done at all could generate a very soft interpretation of Britain’s role in Ireland, making indignant Irish nationalist sound like squabbling children. Histories of the Final Solution can be written in such a detached key, more interested in correcting distortions (such as that there was one unified Holocaust, etc.) than in registering moral judgments. The use of history for moral and civic instruction, as in Spain’s use of the Inquisition to preach tolerance, or Hiroshima’s use of the 1945 bombing to preach peace, is a good enactment of the task of healing memory, a task that goes beyond academic history.

    Arthur Lea is a favorite whipping boy of the new suave historians of the Inquisition, a bit like D.T. Suzuki is for the new suave historians of Zen, but the proportions of the respective achievements of the old historians and the new may be the same in each case. Lea and Suzuki may be the ones who best measured the values at stake, however unsophisticated their methods look to contemporary academics.

    I note that the new historians are credited with scotching the myth that the Inquisition was “chaotic”. DId anyone think that?

    Interesting account of the Philppines inquisitions here:

    I notice that another Thomas O’Connor wrote a book “The Inquisition Examined, by an Impartial Observer,” in 1826.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    The article I recommended above says not witches or heretics were burned in the Philippines. However, there is this:

    “The Spanish conquistadors introduced a predominantly patriarchal culture to the precolonial Philippines. Males were expected to demonstrate masculinity in their society, alluding to the Spanish machismo or a strong sense of being a man. Confession manuals made by the Spanish friars during this period suspected that the natives were guilty of sodomy and homosexual acts. During the 17th-18th century, Spanish administrators burned sodomites to enforce the decree made by Pedro Hurtado Desquibel, President of Audiencia.”

    If I recall correctly, historian Jonathan Spence, in the book where I first heard of the Goa and Manila inquisitions, states that heretics and sodomites were burned alive in those places.

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    More on the treatment of “sodomites” by the inquisitions in Asia can be found in Rudi C. Bleys, The Geography of Perversion (consultable online). The awe in which Francis Xavier was held contributed to this, but ultimately it undermined the Christian missions in Asia.

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