The episcopal carte blanche: When the Catholic Church intimidates nations and states

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 14, 2008 shows Cardinal George Pell officiating the opening mass of World Youth Day (WYD), in Sydney. Cardinal George Pell said on June 29, 2017 that he would take a leave from the Vatican to return to Australia to fight child sex abuse charges after being given strong backing from Pope Francis, who has not asked him to resign from his senior Church post. / AFP PHOTO / WILLIAM WEST

Delhi Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto’s  has  now issued a letter asking  Christians to fast every Friday “for the nation and calling, for a “prayer campaign” ahead of the 2019 general elections. Couto said India is witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of the nation.

This episcopal letter of the Delhi Archbishop in turn demands a scrutiny into the intimidating role  of the Catholic Church in colonial history .

The 15th century Pope, Alexander VI, evidently had no doubt that the world was his to allocate as he chose. In his bull Inter caetetera divina of 1493, he authorised the bifurcation of the world between rival Roman Catholic colonialists Spain and Portugal. The Church also felt itself authorized to interfere in deconstructing various regimes which refused to succumb to its intimidation. Pope Pius V openly called for sedition against Queen Elizabeth I of England, and funded an uprising against her. In his bull Regnans in Excelsis of 1570, Pius excommunicated and purported to depose her as Queen. Pope Gregory XIII confirmed that it was the duty of Roman Catholics to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, and gave personal support to a number of attempts on her life. Pope Sixtus V promised Philip II of Spain financial backing for his planned invasion of England. In the eighteenth century, Pope Innocent XIII offered James III of England, 10,000 ducats if he could return Britain to the Roman Catholic fold.

Two papal bulls, Romanus Pontifex and Inter Cetera, issued by the Catholic Church confiscated indigenous lands  which were turned into Christian Empires. Papal Bull ‘Romanus Pontifex’ was issued in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal. Pope Nicholas V ordered King Alfonso V to declare war on all non-Christians throughout the world. Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull ‘Inter Cetera’ on May 3, 1493 giving Spain the right to colonize, convert, and enslave. It also justified the enslavement of Africans.

Those who attempted to question this Papal bull were threatened with incurring “the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.”  Currently there are worldwide demands to Pope Francis to abolish this papal bull behind colonization.

Walter Rodney in his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, contended that missionaries were agents of imperialism: “The Christian missionaries were as much part of the colonizing forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers… missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense, whether or not they saw themselves in that light.” Aaron Maboyi, retired Zimbabwean Ambassador to Egypt, comprehensively wrote on the dubious and dominant role of Christian missionaries in carving out a colonial empire in Africa.

Winona La Duke, an American Indian scholar and activist, an Ashinaabeg (Ojibwe) by tribal affiliation, said it best: “Papal law was the foundation of colonialism; the Church served as handmaiden to military, economic, and spiritual genocide and domination. Centuries of papal bulls posited the supremacy of Christendom over all other beliefs, sanctified manifest destiny, and authorized even the most brutal practices of colonialism.”

In his work, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, David Kertzer argues that Fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews. This gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini has been presented by Kertzer after detailed research in the Vatican and Fascist archives.

It is widely alleged that the movement toward European integration is a Vatican plot. Many founding fathers of the European Union such as Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman, and Konrad Adenauer, were devout Catholics. The dream of a unified Europe has held sway since the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

Finally the Catholic church  admitted its long term association with colonialism and asked pardon for the crimes and brutalities it committed in the name of religion. During a speech in July 2015  before the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Pope Francis   apologized for the “grave sins” committed by the church in service of colonialism. Earlier in 2000, Pope John Paul II donned mourning garments at St Peters Basilica in Rome  to apologize  for millennia of grievous violence and persecution — from the Inquisition to a wide range of sins against Jews, nonbelievers, and the indigenous people of colonized lands  — and sought pardon. In November 1997, Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness for the abuses of Europe’s colonial-era proselytizing around the world.

Let us not forget that it was the same  Delhi Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto  who  appreciated the current Modi  government on February 24, 2015. Couto openly said “We appreciate and thank  the role played  by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and  Indian Government in securing his (Jesuit priest Alexis Prem Kumar’s) safe release  after his kidnapping  by Taliban  in June 2014.”