Another link between the two themes is explained by Fr Linus Clovis in an article in Faith Magazine, Slavery, the Gospel of Life and the Magisterium. He explains that although the Popes consistently and repeatedly condemned modern slavery from its very beginning in the 15th century. Slavery was also very clearly condemned by the Holy Office of the Inquisition in 1686 and the captors, buyers and possessors of slaves were ordered to make compensation to them. This teaching did not have the effect that it should have had because of the lack of co-operation among some Bishops and priests. He says:
Hence the durability of the scandalous impression of official Church collaboration, support and participation in that most heinous institution of rapine, murder, exploitation and greed. The Papal Magisterium’s clear and unequivocal condemnation of slavery was not echoed, supported, preached on or translated into action by the generality of local hierarchies, clergy and laity. It is similar today with abortion and especially with that other aspect of the Gospel of Life, condemnation of contraception, which teaching is, in at least partial consequence, ignored by many Catholics today.Another article which gives some more details of the various papal documents is The Popes and Slavery.
Of course, people whose information comes from today's BBC get a very different picture. The BBC website has a page on Christianity and slavery which is entirely devoted to the justification of slavery by Christians. Papal condemnation of slavery? Not a word. Instead, we get:
The emergence of colonies in the Americas and the need to find labourers saw Europeans turn their attention to Africa with some arguing that the Transatlantic Slave Trade would enable Africans, especially the 'Mohammedans', to come into contact with Christianity and 'civilisation' in the Americas, albeit as slaves. It was even argued that the favourable trade winds from Africa to the Americas were evidence of this providential design.So there you have it - Christianity wholly reprehensible: no other side to the story at all. The next article, discussing the role of Christians in the abolition of slavery does, of course, go for "balance" putting both sides to the story -
Religion was also a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelisation was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians.
However, some clergy tried to push the idea that it was possible to be a 'good slave and Christian' and pointed to St Paul's epistles, which called for slaves to 'obey their masters', and St Peter's letters (1 Peter 2: 18-25), which appeared to suggest that it was wholly commendable for Christian slaves to suffer at the hands of cruel masters.
"... some have argued that they never showed the same commitment to ending slavery as they did to ending the slave trade. Their attitude towards Africans appear condescending by today's standards..."The article does not, of course, mention the teaching of the Catholic Church's magisterium.