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by Catherine Frakas 27 Feb 2002

The Great Inquisition QUESTION from Walter Wildes Jr June 17, 2000 I have a question going back to the early church. Why was the great Inquisition started? And was the Inquisition covering up some of the church's bishops that where corrupt during that time especially when a woman that was accused of being a witch and was with child and the Inquisition stated that the devil made her have the child and the woman accused the bishop of giving her the baby by rearing her. In other words was the Inquisition a cover-up to protect the church and execute people that where not guilty of any crime or evil.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on June 24, 2000 Dear Mr. Wildes:
Please accept my apologies for the delay in answering your question. The Inquisition was established in 1233 A.D. in order to combat the heresy of Catharism, which had been spreading across many parts of Europe for the last century, and was particularly entrenched in Southern France. At the time, society was perceived as being established on a religious foundation, and that if that religious foundation was attacked, the whole society was attacked.
I am unfamiliar with the particular sorcery case you are referring to. Witch-hunting was not one of the main occupations of the Medieval Inquisition; it was mostly done in the Early Modern Period (1500-1700) through ecclesiastical courts in various European countries, particularly those along the Rhine River. The Inquisition had nothing to do with covering up any bishop's particular vices because it was concerned with uncovering heresy and it was run by the Dominicans, who were not under any Episcopal jurisdiction, although the assistance of the local bishop was necessary in order to prosecute cases. If a particular case involved heresy, the Inquisition dealt with it; otherwise, it was taken up by church courts. In the case you mentioned, there is no explicit mention of heresy, so I doubt it had anything to do with it.
Like any judicial system, the Inquisition was subject to abuses, and there were certainly evil inquisitors and dishonest clergy involved. That wasn't the case in general. If the Church had wanted to cover up any dark secrets, nothing would have been easier. However, if historians are able to write the Inquisition today, it's precisely because there was no systematic attempt to cover up anything. The records of the Medieval Inquisition were not well preserved, but approximately 100 000 records of the trials of the Spanish Inquisition still exist-- in spite of the turmoil it experienced in the 18th and early 19th century. Two historians by the name of Jaime Contreras and Gustav Henningsen have classifed over 44 000 of these cases into various categories. The charge of cover up is plainly false.
One interesting note: the Spanish Inquisition did prosecute individuals for sorcery, as it prosecuted any misdeed that involved heresy. Sorcery was believed to involve blasphemy, as it invoked demons to perform certain deeds. However, the Spanish Inquisition was quite ahead of its time in being skeptical of claims of sorcery. Frequently, old and lonely women, or troublesome old women, were accused of witchcraft because they were ugly and vulnerable. The Spanish Inquisition came to recognize that a number of these charges were bogus and laid only to dispose of socially undesirable individuals.
Thanks for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne
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