1 JANUARY 2005, Page 19

We are not evil

From the Revd Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP Sir: I am sorry that Steve (‘We are all Pagans now’, 18/25 December) believes that we Dominicans are evil. I expect he thinks that we are so awful because we are supposed to have run the Inquisition. Actually, there were many different ‘inquisitions’, some run by the Church and others by the State. Sometimes they did terrible things, and we Dominicans should repent of our part in their cruelty. But we did not generally run the inquisitions and were not even the order most involved. Witches should look back to the inquisitions almost with affection, since wherever they operated there was vastly less persecution of witches. They were one of the first courts to operate on the basis of the rigorous testing of the evidence and so opposed the mass hysteria that often led to the deaths of hundreds of witches where there was no inquisition, as in Scotland.

For example, Professor Diarmaid MacCullough, Professor of Church History at Oxford University, and not a Catholic, wrote of the Spanish Inquisitors that ‘they decided that evidence required for a satisfactory verdict of guilty was extremely difficult to obtain, and that in fact there was very little evidence for the widespread existence of witches, let alone active pacts with the Devil. They regarded even most confessions of witchcraft as delusions, to be treated with pastoral discipline, not death, and they generally disciplined colleagues who took extreme measures, much to the fury of various secular officials who wanted to forward persecution’ (The Reformation, p. 575).

Timothy Radcliffe

St Giles, Oxford