The Church has always condemned slavery, but some never seem to learn.
There existed the practice of various types of slavery before the 15th century. However, it was not until the 15th century, and with growing frequency from the 16th to the 19th centuries, that racial slavery as we know it became a major problem. It is this form of servitude that is called to mind when we think today of the institution of slavery, and is the type which was to prevail in parts of the New World for over four centuries.
The Magisterium condemned from the beginning the colonial slavery that developed in the newly discovered lands.
Fr Joel Panzer:
“The pontifical decree known as The Sublime God has indeed had an exalted role in the cause of social justice in the New World. Recently, authors such as Gustavo Gutierrez [liberation theologian] have noted this fact: 'The bull of Pope Paul III, *Sublimis Deus *(June 2, 1537), is regarded as the most important papal pronouncement on the human condition of the Indians.’ It is, moreover, addressed to all of the Christian faithful in the world, and not to a particular bishop in one area, thereby not limiting its significance, but universalizing it.”
“Eugene IV and Paul III did not hesitate to condemn the forced servitude of Blacks and Indians, and they did so once such practices became known to the Holy See. Their teaching was continued by Gregory XIV in 1591 and by Urban VIII in 1639.”
‘Sixty years before Columbus “discovered” the New World, Pope Eugene IV condemned the enslavement of peoples in the newly colonized Canary Islands. His bull *Sicut Dudum *(1435) rebuked European enslavers and commanded that “all and each of the faithful of each sex, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of [the] Canary Islands . . . who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money.”
‘A century later, Pope Paul III applied the same principle to the newly encountered inhabitants of the West and South Indies in the bull *Sublimis Deus *(1537). Therein he described the enslavers as allies of the devil and declared attempts to justify such slavery “null and void.” Accompanying the bull was another document, Pastorale Officium, which attached a latae *sententiae *excommunication remittable only by the pope himself for those who attempted to enslave the Indians or steal their goods.
‘When Europeans began enslaving Africans as a cheap source of labor, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was asked about the morality of enslaving innocent blacks (Response of the Congregation of the Holy Office, 230, March 20, 1686). The practice was rejected, as was trading such slaves. Slaveholders, the Holy Office declared, were obliged to emancipate and even compensate blacks unjustly enslaved.
‘Papal condemnation of slavery persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pope Gregory XVI’s 1839 bull,* In Supremo*, for instance, reiterated papal opposition to enslaving “Indians, blacks, or other such people” and forbade “any ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse.” In 1888 and again in 1890, Pope Leo XIII forcefully condemned slavery and sought its elimination where it persisted in parts of South America and Africa.’
It is high time to face reality.