In Your Face | The Goa Files: Scars of Inquisition run deep and there is an imminent need for reconciliation
Catholic Church’s stand that violence was committed ‘in the service of truth’ is no justification for the Goa Inquisition
Savio RodriguesMay 09, 2022 11:22:52 IST
Every nation has a past. Some pasts have a history of guts and glory. Some pasts have a history of oppression and brutality. In Goa’s past we faced a history of guts and glory because we faced a history of oppression and brutality.
Some Goans remember the horrid past of the Portuguese oppression and brutality with hurt and anger; some others opt not to acknowledge the trauma of 500-years of the Portuguese colonial rule; and, a few have in their wisdom considered their identity to be one with the colonial oppressor — they consider themselves to be Portuguese, not Indians.
When people look at the Portuguese colonial rule over Goa, they often sidestep one of the most critical factors that led to the brutality meted out to the indigenous people of Goa. The Portuguese as colonisers were not only focused on economic control but also on religious control in a territory of conquest.
The Goa Inquisition was not an act of colonisers attempting to take control of the economic activities of Goa. It was a planned act to convert the religious beliefs of the indigenous people of Goa to Roman Catholicism of the Catholic Church in Rome.
The philosopher Voltaire wrote: “Goa is sadly famous for its Inquisition, which is contrary to humanity as much as to commerce. The Portuguese monks deluded us into believing that the Indian populace was worshipping the Devil, while it is they who served him.”
Commerce did not only drive the Portuguese colonisation in Goa, it was also religious conversion.
On Sunday, 12 March 2000, Pope John Paul II in a feeble attempt at minimising the brutality of the crimes of the Inquisition conducted by the Catholic Church across the world stated, “We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed toward followers of other religions.”
However, shockingly, the Catholic Church often uses the phrase “violence in the service of truth” in its defence to justify the treatment meted out to ‘heretics’ during the Inquisition, the Crusades, and forced conversions of native peoples.
Pope John Paul II termed the violence as an act in the service of truth. Begging one to question whether ‘Truth’ is the prerogative and patent of the Catholic Church, therefore violence though condemned should be forgiven.
Should the persecuted Goans forgive and forget the horrors of the Goa Inquisition on the reasoning of Pope John Paul II that the Inquisition was violence in the service of the truth?
From the year 1500, missionaries of the different orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, etc) flocked out with the Portuguese and began at once to build churches along the coast districts wherever the Portuguese power made itself felt.
Proselytising did not commence with the arrival of the Jesuits in Goa. In fact, the conversion and marriage of Portuguese officers with the indigenous people of Goa was a strategy adopted by the Portuguese. Portuguese policy was to encourage marriages between the European and the native races, with the view of providing a nursery for their army and navy. “When Albuquerque first took Goa, he caused a number of women to be seized and baptised, and married to his soldiers” (Maffeus, Lib. IV). Reportedly, many Hindu and Muslim women in Goa committed suicide than convert to Christianity.
In fact, even before the Inquisition was authorised, the Portuguese government unleashed its diabolic intent on the indigenous people of Goa, especially the Hindus, Muslims, Jews and New Christians.
In 1540, the proselytising by the Catholic Church under the Portuguese government took a vicious form. A Portuguese order to destroy Hindu temples along with the seizure of Hindu temple properties and their transfer to the Catholic missionaries is dated 30 June 1541.
Also, in another act of oppression on the Hindus, King John III of Portugal issued an order, on 8 March 1546, to forbid Hinduism, destroy Hindu temples, prohibit the public celebration of Hindu feasts, expel Hindu priests and severely punish those who created any Hindu images in Portuguese possessions in India.
The Goa Inquisition was established in 1960. It was an extension to the Portuguese Inquisition which was formally established in 1936. The Inquisition was carried out in Brazil, Cape Verde and Goa.
According to the Catholic Church, an “Inquisition” was a legal inquiry.
The Medieval Inquisition started around 1184 in response to the appearance of popular heretical movements throughout Europe, in particular Catharism and Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy.
In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV reluctantly authorised the Spanish Inquisition under pressure from King Ferdinand of Aragon. Initially it investigated charges against Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity of secretly practising their former religions. It acted under the control of the kings of Spain. The early excesses of the Spanish Inquisition were condemned by Popes Sixtus IV, Leo X, Paul III and Paul IV.
The Roman Inquisition began in 1542 when Pope Paul III established the Holy Office as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy and served as an important part of the Counter-Reformation.
The Catholic Church took upon itself the responsibility of defending its religious beliefs against heresies and its efforts to save the people of the world by converting them to Roman Catholicism.
Many European Catholic Church leaders have opined in their attempt to justify, that the Inquisition was intended not to convert people, but to find people who were outwardly claiming to be Christian but secretly practised another religion — such as people who had become Christian outwardly, but who were still secretly practising anti-Messianic Judaism, Islam, or Albigensianism (the last being a religion claiming that there are two gods, one good and one evil). The Inquisition was thus an attempt to protect the purity of the Christian community.
Historian Steve Weidenkopf, in his book The Real Story of the Inquisition, claims that a wealth of historical data shows that, far from being a cruel reign of terror, the Inquisition was actually a noble institution that aimed principally at the repentance and reconciliation of wayward Catholics. It used well-regulated procedures and temperate punishments, protected the accused from harsher treatment by the state, and fostered both religious and national unity.
The Catholic Church has till today never accepted its responsibility for the brutal and horrific Goa Inquisition. Pope John Paul II in 2000 attempted an apology but it left many believers and non-believers disappointed over the horrendous justification of the Inquisition.
Torture, burning at the stake and other punishment for the faithful condemned as witches or heretics by church tribunals during the Inquisition was not as widespread as commonly believed, the Vatican expressed during a press conference in June 2004 to present its 783-page report on its investigations into the allegations of the Catholic Church Inquisitions. Catholics accused of being heretics, witches or others considered of dubious faith, including Muslims and Jews who had converted to Catholicism, and Hindus in Goa were among the targets.
At that news conference Catholic Church officials and others involved in the project said statistics and other data demolished long-held beliefs about the Inquisition. “The recourse to torture and the death sentence weren’t so frequent as it long has been believed,” said Agostino Borromeo, a professor at Rome's Sapienza University.
The 783-page report, which has not been made public, appears to be an attempt at telling the Catholic Church’s side of the story around the Inquisition and not necessarily the truth.
A confidential mission of Vicar Michael Vaz to the King of Portugal is also referred to in Xavier's letters to Roderick. The biographies give the following account of the issue: “Michael Vaz negotiated so well with John III, by following the instructions of Father Xavier, that he obtained another Governor of India who brought out orders almost as the Father wished them to be, signed with the prince’s own hand. These orders were that no pagan superstition would be tolerated in the island of Goa; nor in that of Salsette; that they should break all the idols that were there; that they should search in the houses of the heathen for those that were concealed there; that they should punish the makers of them; that they should punish every Brahmin who would oppose the preaching of the Gospel; that they should comfort the poor infidels newly converted with an annual income of a thousand crowns, which should be paid out of the mosque of Bassein; that they should confer no more public offices on the pagans; that no exaction shall remain unpunished; that they should sell no more slaves to the Mohammedans or the heathen; that the pearl fishing should be entirely in the hands of Christians.”
Henry James Coleridge in his book, The Life and Letters of St Francis Xavier, revealed the following writings of Francis Xavier and his immense dislike for the Brahmins: “We have in these parts a class of men among the pagans who are called Brahmins. They keep up the worship of the gods, the superstitious rites of religion, frequenting the temples and taking care of the idols. They are as perverse and wicked a set as can anywhere be found, and I always apply to them the words of holy David, ‘From an unholy race and a wicked and crafty man deliver me, O Lord’. They are liars and cheats to the very backbone. Their whole study is how to deceive most cunningly the simplicity and ignorance of the people. They give out publicly that the gods command certain offerings to be made to their temples, which offerings are simply the things that the Brahmins themselves wish for, for their own maintenance and that of their wives, children, and servants ... The Brahmins eat sumptuous meals to the sound of drums, and make the ignorant believe that the gods are banqueting. Brahmins have barely a tincture of literature, but they make up for their poverty in learning by cunning and malice. Those who belong to these parts are very indignant with me for exposing their tricks.”
“Whenever they talk to me with no one to hear them they acknowledge that they have no other patrimony but the idols, by their lies about which they procure their support from the people. They say that I, poor creature as I am, know more than all of them put together. They often send me a civil message and presents, and make a great complaint when I send them all back again. Their object is to bribe me to connive at their evil deeds. So, they declare that they are convinced that there is only one God, and that they will pray to Him for me. And I, to return the favour answer whatever occurs to me, and then lay bare, as far as I can, to the ignorant people whose blind superstitions have made them their slaves, their imposture and tricks, and this has induced many to leave the worship of the false gods. If it were not for the opposition of the Brahmins, we should have them all embracing the religion of Jesus Christ.”
In his book Saint Francis Xavier, Father James Broderick, a Jesuit priest, wrote: “St Francis Xavier’s knowledge of Hinduism was, if possible, even less adequate than his few biased notions of Mohammedanism. Though the Portuguese had been in India for over 40 years, none of them appears to have made the slightest attempt to understand the venerable civilisation, so much more ancient than their own, on which they had violently intruded.”
Whether you accept the truth about the Goa Inquisition or not is a matter of choice, but it does not change the fact that the people of Goa were brutalised by the Inquisition because the Catholic Church “in service of their truth” resorted to violence. The Inquisition was not an act of proselytising, it was an act of brute behaviour to exhibit the brute power of the Catholic Church on innocent people who did not accept the ‘truth’ professed and proclaimed by the Catholic Church.
Scars of the Inquisition run deep in Goa. There is an imminent need for reconciliation. The first step to reconciliation is accepting the truth of the Goa Inquisition.
Sins of 500-years of brutality cannot be washed away and neither can the present generation be made accountable for the past, but denying the truth of the atrocities faced by us Goans is to mock the torture and brutality our ancestors faced.
Acting in service of the ‘truth’ did not give the Catholic Church the right to oppress and brutalise people of different faiths in Goa using the powers of the Portuguese government.