From time-to-time, we receive email from Roman Catholics challenging our statement that their Church historically forbid its members access to the Bible.  Hopefully, the article below should leave no question as to the nature and scope of the abuse.

Vatican Archives Reveal Bible Was Once Banned Book

By Jude Webber

ROME, Jan 22, 1998 (Reuters) - The Vatican permitted scrutiny of one of the most notorious periods in Roman Catholic Church history on Thursday when it opened the archives of the department once known as the Inquisition.   Scholars now will be able to study cases such as that of the astronomer Galileo, condemned by the Inquisition for claiming the earth revolved round the sun, and Giordano Bruno, a monk burnt for heresy in 1600 in Rome's Campo dei Fiori square.

Vatican officials say the secret files, dating between 1542 and 1902, will yield precious few juicy secrets -- the Church officially rehabilitated Galileo in 1992, for example.  But the archives do contain some surprises.  Opened on Thursday alongside the Inquisition archives was the infamous Index of Forbidden Books, which Roman Catholics were forbidden to read or possess on pain of excommunication.  They showed that even the Bible was once on the blacklist. Translations of the holy book ended up on the bonfires along with other "heretical'' works because the Church, whose official language was Latin, was suspicious of allowing the faithful access to sacred texts without ecclesiastical guidance.

Protestants, who split from Roman Catholics during the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, were allowed to read holy works directly.   The Index of Forbidden Books and all excommunications relating to it were officially abolished in 1966 [only 3 years prior to I becoming a Christian!].  The Inquisition itself was established by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 as a special court to help curb the influence of heresy.  It escalated as Church officials began to count on civil authorities to fine, imprison and even torture heretics.  It reached its height in the 16th century to counter the Reformation.  The department later became the Holy Office and its successor now is called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which controls the orthodoxy of Catholic teaching.  Its head, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, declared the archives open at a special conference and recalled how the move stemmed from a letter written to Pope John Paul some 18 years ago by Carlo Ginzburg, a Jewish-born, atheist professor in Los Angeles.

I am sure that opening our archives will respond not just to the legitimate aspirations of scholars but also the Church's firm intention to serve man helping him to understand himself by reading without prejudice his own history, Ratzinger said.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, a senior Vatican figure, told La Repubblica newspaper this month that although the archives contained attention grabbing cases such as Giordano Bruno, there was also a wealth of information from the Reformation, through to the Enlightenment, French Revolution and the 20th century.

To be able to consult an unexplored source will be a real treat for scholars,'' he said.

One Vatican official, Father Pagano, was one of few figures allowed into the archives when he was sent, on the Pope's orders of to collect the documentation referring to the Galileo case.  He told the Italian newspaper La Stampa last week that the archives of the Inquisition and Index, housed in two rooms, had suffered badly down the centuries and were now ``modest.''  Pagano said the Church had a tradition of burning many of the most delicate heresy files and the Inquisition's archive was almost entirely burned on Pope Paul IV's death in 1559.

The documents were hauled off to Paris under Napoleon's rule in 1810 and Pagano said more than 2,000 volumes were burned. Some fell in rivers during transit, others were sold for paper or became mixed up with other files.  The Vatican said the archives now held around 4,500 volumes, of which only a small part referred to heresy trials.  The rest detail theological controversies and spiritual questions.

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