Before responding to anti-Catholics who use the Crusades to slur the Church, we should first consider the actual logic of their argument: “The Catholic Church did something evil, therefore the Catholic Church is not the true Church.” It’s a form of the ancient heresies about Church purity. “Where there is sin, the Church cannot be.” So people perceived the Church as impure and went off to find their own, more pure “church.” Only it never ends well, because eventually the new “church” will itself splinter over the same purity arguments.
We must recall the Parable of the Weeds:
24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants** said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
There will be wheat and weeds, saints and sinners, within the Church until Christ’s parousia. The men in the Church will not be pure. This doesn’t lessen the ministry that Christ entrusted to it, or make its sacraments and teachings invalid. So when an anti-Catholic throws the sex-abuse scandal, the inquisition, or the crusades in your face, you shouldn’t respond by tacitly agreeing their purity argument by defending every evil done by men and women in the Church. We don’t need to write a hagiography. We can acknowledge dark times caused by the men in the Church.
But neither should we rush to judgment without context. Richard did execute 6,000 prisoners. He was anxious to continue his campaign, but sound military strategy would not let him march with them, he could not afford to leave them behind under guard, and he could not afford to let them go. Perhaps he could have sold them into slavery instead. He chose to execute them. Why? We can’t deny that Saladin was *intentionally *stalling as a military tactic to allow additional forces to march up from Egypt. By not paying the ransom, he thought he could keep Richard’s campaign from continuing. Saladin could get his reinforcements and keep Richard pinned down. The executions Richard ordered were themselves a military response to Saladin’s strategic, military choice to delay.
Perhaps we should still rightly judge Richard’s action here as intrinsically evil. But we shouldn’t ignore both the military context and the context of the twelfth century.**