In recent times, the Vatican has issued apologies to victims affected by the misconduct and abuses committed by both Christian priests and nuns around the world. However, there is a glaring disparity between the apologies extended to victims of the Church and the silence towards the Hindu community. This article takes a deep dive into the criminal aspect of the Catholic Church, the complexities surrounding the Pope’s selective remorse, and the reasons for this disparity, and encourages dialogue towards genuine reconciliation.
Church as a Criminal Enterprise
“Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet.” – Prayer of the young Saint Augustine, 380 CE.
For centuries, the Catholic Church has been led by popes who claim to be pious representatives of Jesus Christ on earth. The truth is that a significant number of these characters are known for their debauchery, dishonesty, and brutality. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most notorious popes. 
Sergius III (904-11): Known as “the slave of every vice,” he came to power after murdering his predecessor. He had a son with his teenage mistress – the prostitute Marozia, 30 years his junior – and their illegitimate son grew up to become the next Pope.
John XII (955-64): Was accused of sleeping with his two sisters and inventing a catalog of disgusting new sins. Described by a church historian as “the very dregs,” he was killed at the age of 27 when the husband of one of his mistresses burst into his bedroom, discovered him naked with his wife, and battered his skull with a hammer.
Benedict IX (1032-48): Continually shocked even his most hardened cardinals by debauching young boys in his palace. He was described as “a wretch who feasted on immorality, a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest.”
Alexander VI (1492-1503): Generally agreed to have been the worst Pope ever, he was said to have presided over more orgies than Masses. 
Julius II (1503-13): He is remembered for two things – commissioning Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and as the first pope to contract syphilis from Rome’s male prostitutes. On Good Friday of 1508, he could not allow his foot to be kissed by Christians as it was completely covered with syphilitic sores.
Considering such popes as its head, it’s no wonder the Roman Catholic Church has a long history of unforgivable crimes – the systematic rape of millions of children and women by Catholic priests often assisted by the nuns; the burning of women accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages; the genocide of non-Christian populations during the colonial era; the Inquisition involving the torture and murder of countless innocents around the world; the silencing of Galileo Galilei for daring to say that the earth revolves around the sun; the Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany that gave moral legitimacy to Adolf Hitler; and the tacit approval of the Jewish Holocaust. 
Understanding the Apology Dynamics
From the late 20th century onwards, with nowhere to hide under the harsh glare of mass media, the popes started showing a semblance of remorse for the Church’s numerous crimes against humanity. These apologies manifest the Church’s apparent willingness to acknowledge past wrongdoings. The Vatican’s official position is to promote healing, reconciliation, and mutual understanding between the Catholic Church and affected communities. Against this backdrop, the Church has apologized to various groups, including Indigenous peoples, Jews, and other Christian denominations, recognizing historical injustices perpetrated by its members. However, it must be noted that these moves are motivated primarily to deflect criticism from the public, avoid further media probing, and especially to stop the mass exit of people from Christianity.
On July 9, 2015, speaking to indigenous groups in Bolivia, Pope Francis apologized for the sins of the Church in service of colonialism. “I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God,” he said. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the Church herself but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” 
On September 28, 2021, in a letter published to mark the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the Catholic Church’s “sins” in the Latin American country. Actions that went against Christian beliefs had also caused “profound suffering” in the predominantly Catholic nation, the letter noted.
On July 25, 2022, two years after the discovery of the unmarked graves of over 1,300 children of Canada’s First Nation communities and the confirmation that up to 50,000 indigenous children were murdered by the Catholic Church, Pope Francis visited Canada and said: “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples…. Here, from this place associated with painful memories, I would like to begin what I consider a pilgrimage. A penitential pilgrimage.” 
Francis wasn’t the first pope to show remorse. On November 20, 2001, from a laptop in the Vatican, Pope John Paul II sent his first email apologizing for the Catholic sex abuse cases, the Church-backed “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children in Australia, and to China for the behavior of Catholic missionaries in colonial times. 
John Paul II also apologized to Muslims by seeking forgiveness for the Crusades.  (However, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI wound up Muslims when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying that Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, had brought into the world “only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”) 
In contrast, the Hindu community has not received an apology for past wrongs committed by the Catholic Church. Are the crimes of the Church in India less brutal than the violence it perpetrated in other parts of the world? On the contrary, the Inquisition in India is one of the most sinister chapters in the history of the Catholic Church. Spanning over two centuries, from 1560 to 1812, it was a time of relentless persecution, torture, and repression of non-Christian communities in the Portuguese colony of Goa. The 18th-century French 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 worshiping the Devil, while it is they who served him.” 
The architect of the Goa Inquisition was Francis Xavier – a.k.a. St Xavier – one of the six pioneers who, in 1534, founded the Society of Jesus, one of the most devious Christian sects and the Catholic Church’s stormtroopers. Xavier had been converting Hindus to Christianity ever since he landed on the Coromandel Coast in 1542. On February 8, 1545, he wrote about his work in Malabar to the Society of Jesus: “Following the baptisms, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in their turn prepared for baptism. After all, have been baptized, I order that the temples of the false Gods be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols by the very people who formerly worshiped them.” 
However, Xavier wasn’t satisfied with merely converting large numbers of Hindus; he wanted to make them give up every vestige of Indian tradition and culture. To establish puritanical Christianity in India, he wrote to Portugal in 1545 to establish the Inquisition. The Inquisition could only be established after a period of time in Goa due to difficulties between the Portuguese king and the Pope. But the Jesuits kept on pressing for it till the Goa Inquisition was officially established in 1560 by the Portuguese Viceroy Dom Constantino de Braganza, under the authorization of King Joao III of Portugal.
Historian Paul Roberts describes what went on in the Inquisition’s Goa court, which had been housed in an old palace and had a huge plaster image of Christ overlooking the scene: “Children were flogged and slowly dismembered in front of their parents, whose eyelids had been sliced off to make sure they missed nothing. Extremities were amputated carefully so that a person could remain conscious even when all that remained was a torso and head. Male genitals were removed and burned in front of wives, breasts hacked off, and vaginas penetrated by swords while husbands were forced to watch. And it went on for two hundred years.” 
Uruguay-based Alfredo de Mello, a Goan-born historian, in his ‘Memoirs of Goa,’ writes how in a span of 252 years, the Inquisition held sway in Goa “with a power that Stalin and other tyrants would have liked to hold.” Referring to the Goan Inquisition, de Mello calls it “the worst of the existing inquisitions in the Catholic orb of the five parts of the world.”
De Mello also cites the memoirs of Judges Magalhaes and Louisada, who in 1859 described what they witnessed: “The Inquisition, this tribunal of fire, thrown on the surface of the globe for the scourge of humanity, this horrible institution which will eternally cover with shame its authors, fixed its brutal domicile in the fertile plains of the Hindustan. On seeing the monster, everyone fled and disappeared, Mughals, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, and Jews. The Indians, that is, Hindus even more tolerant and pacific, were astounded to see the God of Christianism more cruel than that of Mohammed, [and] deserted the territory of the Portuguese…. In this fashion, the fields and cities became deserted as are today Diu and Goa.” 
The Goan Inquisition did not spare the Christian communities that had been living in India and enjoying complete freedom of religion under the Hindu rulers for over 300-500 years before the arrival of the Portuguese. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, President of India’s Constituent Assembly, writes that the “Syrian Christians shrank with dismay from the defiling touch of the Roman Catholics of Portugal and proclaimed themselves Christians and not idolaters…. The inquisitors of Goa discovered they [the Syrian Christians] were heretics, and like a wolf on the fold, down came the delegates of the Pope upon the Syrian Churches. 
The Portuguese separated Syrian Christian “priests from their wives; excommunicated on trifling grounds, members of the churches; and destroyed old Syriac records which contained proof of the early purity of their faith.”
Pune-based writer and columnist Shefali Vaidya writes that all Hindu rituals, including marriages, thread ceremonies, and cremations, were banned by law. “More than 42 Hindu customs were considered heretical, including wearing the sacred thread, wearing a tilak on the forehead, greeting people with a namaste, and removing slippers outside a place of worship.” 
Vaidya adds that the effects of the Goa Inquisition are felt in Goa till today: “There are families torn forever into two; one branch still carries the ancestral Hindu name while the other bears a Christian name. Churches exist where temples once stood.”
Limited Awareness and Advocacy
Considering the nature and duration of the Goa Inquisition – which happened under the direct orders of the Vatican – it is appalling that the Pope has refused to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the genocide it unleashed in India. This has raised concerns among Hindus and prompted debates about the reasons behind this omission.
The chief reason is that India is one of the few nations where missionary hordes have been unable to destroy the ancient polytheistic religion. With China and Japan off limits to Christianity, the Vatican hopes to make a final push into the Hindu heartland. This is aptly illustrated by Pope John Paul II’s call to the Church in 1999 to redouble its efforts to convert Asians. “Just as the first millennium saw the cross firmly planted in the soil of Europe, and the second in that of America and Africa, so may the third Christian millennium witness a great harvest of faith on this vast and vital continent,” he told a crowd in India. 
The irony was that the Pope’s exhortation – which implied the destruction of Hindu India – was made from a stadium in New Delhi on November 8, which marked Diwali, the most auspicious of Hindu festivals.
An apology would mean backtracking on the goal of Christianising India. Says Vaidya: “There is also the issue that the current Pope Francis is himself a Jesuit, and the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier was one of the founders of his order, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Xavier is held in very high esteem by the order’s members and was known as the “Apostle of India” until the 1950s when the mythical St Thomas replaced him. No Jesuit is willing to condemn Xavier for his crimes of forced baptism of children and, by extension, forced conversion of their parents, destruction of temples on the Coromandel Coast, and his extreme hatred of Brahmins who were the custodians of Hindu religion and culture and thus an obstacle in the way of his evangelizing activities.” 
Secondly, the awareness and advocacy surrounding certain issues significantly impact the likelihood of receiving an apology. Communities that have effectively advocated for acknowledgment of their past sufferings may be more likely to elicit apologies from the Vatican.
In 2015, after years of painstaking research, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission established that the Catholic Church was definitely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous children. In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the Pope to come to Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in the mass murders. “I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness Pope Francis to press upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” Trudeau said. The Pope’s apology came a year later. 
In October 2020, Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote a letter to Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis, urging them to apologize for the indigenous people’s massacre during the region’s conquest 500 years ago. The Pope did so by September 2021.  Bolivian President Evo Morales once described his presidency as the end of the country’s “colonial and neoliberal era” and was critical of the Church, ending its role in state ceremonies. To wind him up, the left-leaning Morales gave the pontiff a large hammer and sickle crucifix. The Pope got the message. 
In contrast, not one Indian Prime Minister has demanded an apology from the Church. Ironically, Xavier is revered by millions of Christians in India, and several famous institutions, such as XLRI in Jamshedpur, are named after him. Xavier’s corpse is preserved in the Basilica of Bom Jesu in Old Goa, and the Goa archdiocese has announced that the next decennial exposition of his body will commence on November 21, 2024. Close to four million people visited the Basilica during the last exposition, which concluded in January 2015.
Thirdly, there is plain arrogance. Not only the Church but many ordinary Christians may have internalized the Vatican’s official position that the torture committed in the name of Christ was to establish truth and, therefore, to grow the Church. Comments the Catholic Herald, one of the oldest Catholic publications in the UK: “It is significant that in a recent American poll, the percentage of Catholics willing to accept the possible need for torture was significantly higher than the general population. We have not learnt our lesson yet.” 
The arrogance is amply evident among Christians in India. When in 1999, the VHP raised the issue of apology for the Inquisition during the Papal visit to India, Indian Catholic officials crisply declared that “tendering an apology for the so-called Inquisition was not on the Pope’s agenda” and termed such a request by Hindus as “raking up unnecessary issues for cheap publicity”. As Aravindan Neelakandan, the co-author of the pathbreaking book ‘Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines’ says: “In other words, Hindus weigh definitely less than the Jews, Native Americans and Rwandans in the public relations radar of the Vatican.” 
The fact that all the direct and unequivocal apologies offered by the Pope have been to Christian nations attests to the truth in Neelakandan’s words.
The Pope’s apologies to victims of the Catholic Church are essential steps towards acknowledging and atoning for historical wrongs. To promote genuine reconciliation, the Catholic Church and the Hindu community must engage in open dialogue, cultural understanding, and bridge-building efforts. By working together, they can strive for a future of mutual respect, compassion, and solidarity among all religious communities.
Senior Hindu leaders (including cabinet-level ministers, monks, and heads of religious institutions) should not be shy of demanding answers from the Vatican. India must realize that it has considerable leverage when dealing with foreign countries. The Vatican embassy in Delhi serves no useful purpose to India; its only raison d’etre is the conquest of India for Christ. The embassy can be privately asked to shut shop and ship out – until the Pope publicly expresses remorse for the crimes done in the name of his god.
Apologies alone are not enough. The Pope must accompany words with concrete actions to address the lingering impacts of past offenses and actively work towards preventing future misconduct.
- Paul Williams Roberts, The Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India, New York, 1997
- Annaes Marítimos e Coloniais, Vol 2, page 59, Nova Goa 1859
- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, Volume 5, pg 435-37