As Henry Kamen said when appearing in the MSI [The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition BBC documentary], “We find that comparing the Inquisition, merely in Spain with other tribunals, that the Inquisition used torture less than other tribunals. And if you compare the Inquisition with tribunals in other countries, we find that the Inquisition has a [very clean] record with respect to torture.”

The MSI elaborated:

“The Inquisition used none of these [torture] methods [prevalent among secular authorities]. They had a rulebook … which specified what could and could not be done; those breaking the rules were sacked. So the Inquisition did not, as alleged, roast their victims’ feet, or brick them up [encase them in a wall] to languish for all eternity, or smash their joints with hammers, or flail them on wheels. They never used the iron maiden…. The inquisitors didn’t ravish their female victims…. In fact, the inquisitorial torture chamber of popular myth never existed, even though this image [of a torture chamber presented in the documentary] was reprinted hundreds of times. And it was not only the use of torture that was falsified; stories were also fabricated about the gruesome conditions in which prisoners were kept.”

Kamen expanded on this last point, saying:

“Ironically, the Inquisition had probably the best jails in Spain…. Let me take a quotation from the inquisitors in Barcelona in the middle of the 16th century, when they were asked to report on the state of their prisons and they said, “Our prisons are full.” But then they complained to their bosses in Madrid, “We don’t know where to send the leftover prisoners we have; we cannot send them to the city jails because the city jails are overcrowded, and there they are dying at the rate of 20 a week.””

In fact, so superior were Inquisition jails that there were “instances of prisoners in secular criminal courts blaspheming in order to get into the Inquisition prison to escape the maltreatment they received in the secular prison,” said another MSI-featured expert, Northern Illinois University history professor Stephen Haliczer.

Inquisition jurisprudence was superior as well. Just consider how the Roman Inquisition, established in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V, started to bring modernity to the Middle Ages. As scholar John Tedeschi points out in The Prosecution of Heresy: Collected Studies on the Inquisition in Early Modern Italy, the Roman Inquisition gave the accused a right to counsel and would even provide him an attorney, and a notarized copy of the charges would be available so that a defense could be formulated in advance. Secular courts at the time offered none of these rights and protections. In fact, so ahead of its time was the Roman Inquisition that, Tedeschi writes, “It may not be an exaggeration to claim … that in several respects the Holy Office was a pioneer in judicial reform.”

Selwyn Duke, “The inquisition and iniquity: Burning heretics or history?” The New American (2013, Dec 23)


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