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Slavery, Abolition and The Catholic Church

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Cavalry Charger, Aug 12, 2017.

  1. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    What was the Catholic Church's position on slavery, and were Catholics abolitionists? I've found they are rarely mentioned in the conversation around abolition. Here is some information that sheds a little light on the subject, maybe others can add more:

    "When Europeans began enslaving Africans as a cheap source of labor, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was asked about the morality of enslaving innocent blacks (Response of the Congregation of the Holy Office, 230, March 20, 1686). The practice was rejected, as was trading such slaves. Slaveholders, the Holy Office declared, were obliged to emancipate and even compensate blacks unjustly enslaved.

    Papal condemnation of slavery persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pope Gregory XVIs 1839 bull, In Supremo, for instance, reiterated papal opposition to enslaving Indians, blacks, or other such people and forbade any ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse. In 1888 and again in 1890, Pope Leo XIII forcefully condemned slavery and sought its elimination where it persisted in parts of South America and Africa.

    Despite this evidence, critics still insist the Magisterium did too little too late regarding slavery. Why? One reason is the critics failure to distinguish between just and unjust forms of servitude. The Magisterium condemned unjust enslavement early on, but it also recognized what is known as just title slavery. That included forced servitude of prisoners of war and criminals, and voluntary servitude of indentured servants, forms of servitude mentioned at the outset of this article. But chattel slavery as practiced in the United States and elsewhere differed in kind, not merely degree, from just tide slavery. For it made a claim on the slave as property and enslaved people who were not criminals or prisoners of war. By focusing on just title servitude, critics unfairly neglect the vigorous papal denunciations of chattel slavery.

    The matter is further muddled by certain nineteenth century American clergy including some bishops and theologians who tried to defend the American slave system. They contended that the long-standing papal condemnations of slavery didn't apply to the United States. The slave trade, some argued, had been condemned by Pope Gregory XVI, but not slavery itself.

    Historians critical of the papacy on this matter often make that same argument. But papal teaching condemned both the slave trade and chattel slavery itself (leaving aside just tide servitude, which wasn't at issue). It was certain members of the American hierarchy of the time who explained away that teaching. Thus, according to Fr. Panzer, we can look to the practice of non-compliance with the teachings of the papal Magisterium as a key reason why slavery was not directly opposed by the Church in the United States.

    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.


    http://www.catholiceducation.org/en...eople-go-the-catholic-church-and-slavery.html
     

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  3. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    It may have been a sin, condemned by the Church, but it was legal!
     
  4. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    In some places.
     
  5. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    My concern was not so much around the legality, but the position the Church took in relation to its teaching. If Protestants could be, and were, outspoken abolitionists based on their beliefs, why weren't Catholics? If they were, I am yet to hear about it. The link seems to indicate that the Church hierarchy found ways to overlook the teachings and explicit instructions of the Magisterium in relation to slavery, but hostility to Catholics at the time could also have prevented them from speaking out. I am coming from a Catholic perspective in seeking to understand the role the Church played in these events.
     
  6. AshleyMel

    AshleyMel Sergeant

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    Good luck with this thread, CC! I'm sure someone will be able to help! I've been studying the Presbyterians and have not come across a lot on the Catholic side of the aisle, mostly just along the likes as you have already posted. There seems (at least in my lookings) more of info, on the Baptists, Methodists and other Protestant religions at the time but not as much with Catholicism. If I come across anything I'll definitely share! :thumbsup:
     
  7. John S. Carter

    John S. Carter Sergeant

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    Why would one be surprised by the silence of the Church regarding slavery when it was silence when Spain was enslaving the Indians and the slave trade were operated by Catholic countries , Portugal being the one to start the trade of blacks .When the Indians died out they stated sending them to the Spainish . The Church had centuries of condemning what they saw as heritical and over looking that which was inhuman. The church was very skilled at international politics.
     
  8. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    When did the Catholic Church actually commend slavery? Is it possible that the Catholic Church had not yet come to the conclusion that slavery was wrong until after the Civil War? We often hear that in 1860 America had not yet decided on the morals of slavery, so why should we be suppressed that the Catholic Church had not done so?
     
  9. David Moore

    David Moore First Sergeant

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    Here's an interesting essay about the Catholic church in Cincinnati, which was the largest city in the west, and the slavery question. The opinion of the church was voiced in The Telegraph which was edited by Rev. Sylvester Horton Rosecrans the younger brother of General WS Rosecrans who in turn
    was an outspoken advocate for emancipation as the Chicago Tribune article demonstrates (page 2 column 6.)
    http://library.cincymuseum.org/topics/c/files/civilwar/ovh-v02-n2-rec-023.pdf

    http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1863/05/28/page/2/article/maj-gen-rosecrans-on-slavery
     
  10. John S. Carter

    John S. Carter Sergeant

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    I am not of the Church so I shall allow this to pass. But again why would the Church remain silent till 1860 when the Abolitionist had been preaching against slavery for a least fifty years,Again look at the history of the Church in regards to any social issue ,it is sometimes a matter of politics and not religion which seems to determin their stance.Then again not only the Church but the religious leaders of any played the game not challenging the establishment ,in the South it preached the moral values of the system for the black in the North they preached the evils of the system . So religion played it role in this event.
     
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  11. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    Thanks @AshleyMel . Much appreciated :smile: Obviously I'm not the only one noticing the lack here.
     
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  12. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    The Church never commended slavery as far as I know, but had issued Papal Bulls, or Declarations that condemned it in preceding centuries (going by the article I posted) @major bill . I think there was awareness around this, but it was not followed up on, and there may have been extenuating circumstances with regard to Catholics and how they were also viewed at the time. The Church's role is to lead the people in understanding the moral right and wrongs of a situation, and when it came to the issue of slavery it seems they failed in many respects to fulfill their obligations. It may have been 'legal', as @unionblue pointed out, but that doesn't make it right, and I can't help but feel the Church failed its people in this respect at the time.
     
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  13. David Moore

    David Moore First Sergeant

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    Even the two most famous Quakers in history owned slaves.http://web.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/speccoll/quakersandslavery/commentary/people/fox.php
    The further one goes back in time the more likely the people of the past become less like us even to the extent of seeming stupid or evil. History should give us perspective and make us feel better about our own age (to paraphrase Flaubert.) However many if not most people use history to bolster their current political or worldviews (to paraphrase Gordon Wood) with the possible effect of making people feel depressed about human history.
     
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  14. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    I have to agree with you here @John S. Carter . Politics can, and does, have a huge influence over the Church at times, and it is disappointing to say the least. It is also devastating to the people who are looking to the Church to make the difference. This issue probably cuts across the board when it comes to the various denominations, and some were more outspoken than others; some denominations split over the issue, I believe; others actively promoted slavery as a good rather than an evil. The fact that slavery was legal at the time probably muddied the waters for many, also beliefs that blacks were not equal to whites would have had an influence I think.
     
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  15. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    I am encouraged by what I read in the article I shared, in the sense that the Church was well ahead in issuing instructions with regard to slavery. This is positive, and should not be disregarded...the Catholic Church did speak on this issue. What is disappointing is that it did not follow up on this at a time when other Christians were so outspoken with regard to the evils of slavery. Obviously, I have more reading to do, and will look at the links you've shared. Thanks.
     
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  16. Bee

    Bee 1st Lieutenant Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017

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    @Cavalry Charger , there are a couple of folks here on the forum who might be able to help you out on some information: @Pat Young or maybe @KansasFreestater Me? Sorry: about as useful as life ring in the desert on this topic.
     
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  17. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    Thanks, Bee :smile: Hopefully when they get a chance they might chime in here.
     
  18. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    @David Moore, I am deeply indebted to you for sharing the first article, which I have just read. It provides a real clarification around the question that I have asked, and I would recommend anyone else who is interested in this issue to read this document. I hope to post some sections of it in the thread to highlight what stood out for me.
    I will get to the second article asap. Thank you again.
     
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  19. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 1st Lieutenant

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    The Pope and the larger Church may have clearly condemned slavery, but as you may know from modern experience, local bishops and clergy can choose whether or not to affirm and explain that teaching. And back then, there was no internet, and English translations of papal documents were probably hard to come by, so there was even more burden on the bishops -- and individual priests -- to communicate the Church's teaching to local Catholics.

    I bet you can think of a couple modern issues on which the Church's teaching is very, very, very clear -- and yet, the Catholics in the pews pay absolutely no attention to it. What's the clergy gonna do? Bar people at the door? However, there were, in fact, some Protestant churches that did bar slaveowners from their congregations.

    In every age, there's hypocrisy, disobedience, and flat-out ignoring Church teaching -- we're all sinners, after all -- but I don't know what to say about the disturbing contrast between the Catholic Church's behavior and that of some Protestant churches during the same era (but not the Southern Protestant churches, please note -- as you may know, some of the big mainline denominations split into Northern and Southern denominations over this issue). This is something I'll have to look into further. Looking forward to reading the article David linked above.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2017
  20. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 1st Lieutenant

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    This would be a whole 'nother thread, but Quakers are pacifist and totally committed to nonviolence -- yet many of them fought in the Civil War and killed their fellow man.

    As I said above, a church's teaching is one thing, but individual believers' behavior is quite another. Sometimes a church will ban the sinner from their midst (some smaller sects still do this); sometimes a church will condemn the sin in theory but be relatively silent in practice, as we've seen with the Catholic Church; sometimes a church will simply look the other way; and then, sometimes a church will rationalize or even change its mind and cheer the very behavior it once condemned as a sin. All of these things have happened in different times and places.
     
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  21. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    The papacy was very conservative. It was aligned with Napoleon III, with the Austrian monarchy, and with anti-democratic forces in Italy, Spain and Mexico.
    The Catholic church in New York and Ireland was re-aligning with reality. Working class parishioners had nothing in common with large land owners in France.
     
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