Religion & Culture

Pope Benedict’s history of censorship

Many, many things will be written about the papacy of Benedict XVI in the coming days (as a good summary of Ratzinger’s reign, I’d highly recommend this from John Hooper).

For me, it’s worth noting, briefly, Joseph Ratzinger’s historic association with Vatican censorship.

Previous to becoming Pope in 2005, Ratzinger had been head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith — previously known as the Holy Office, and before that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition (bear with me).

The Holy Office had, in 1917, absorbed the Sacred Congregation of the Index. This was the body responsible for the maintenance of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum — the list of books and authors the Vatican prohibited Catholics from reading. This list, started after approval at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, contained authors from Giordano Bruno to Jean Paul Satre.

The Index was last updated in 1948. It’s very existence became an issue for debate during the discussions of the Second Vatican Council.

One of the main proponents of retaining the Index of banned books was Cardinal Frings, formerly the Archbishop of Cologne. Frings’s “Peritus” (theological consultant) during Vatican Two was Joseph Ratzinger. Frings and Ratzinger failed, and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was abolished in 1966.

A few years later, when trying to think of a name for a new magazine documenting censorship around the world, poet Stephen Spender, journalist Michael Scammell and others settled, with an ironic nod to Rome, on “Index“.

And here we are today.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 11Feb13 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Dear oh, dear you are confused aren’t you? The Index Librorum Prohibitorum concerned only matters of faith and operated in much the same way as any school, University or professional organisation worth the name does and has always has done. Would you expect for instance to see a book on a mathematics course that completely mis-represents calculus or algebra? No? Surely to your way of thinking that’s censorship is it not? And if any student walked into class bearing such a book under their arm what kind of teacher would allow them to be misled by its contents?
    You are not alone though that ignoremus Richard Dawkins makes the same mistake when asking why Mein Kampf was not on the list – because Richard, listen up, it did not deal with matters of faith, DOH!!!
    BTW the writings of Saint Faustina were on the list for a short while until it was discovered that a very poor translation had taken place and that was soon rectified.
    I’m not particularly concerned what you think or believe but at least you could bother to comment with facts and not let your own prejudices drive your blog. There are far too many idiots posting mis-informed opinion without you adding to their number.

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  1. [...] For those who missed the overtones of this title, this institution was formerly known as the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition (italics my own), and was responsible for creating and maintaining the [...]