Catholic Church and black slavery

Why was the Church, until the 19th century, so silent about black slavery, when she condemned indigenous slavery since the 16th century?

The slave trade was condemned much earlier than that. You are getting your facts wrong. Now, sometimes Catholics didn’t listen to the Church on this (which is one reason Brazil has such a large black population)


When exactly was the slave trade condemned?

1435 is the first official condemnation of the modern era, though the groundwork was set long before in Christ’s teaching.


As has been pointed out above, the Popes did oppose such slavery. Many bishops and others in places where slavery was entrenched in society thought that abolishing slavery immediately would lead to worse social disorders and therefore considered it an evil to be tolerated (this wasn’t malicious or completely irrational, along with worries of making a dependent class have to fend for themselves without any real means to do so, they worried about social upheaval, as we saw happen with the American civil war;–but I think having gotten through it we all agree it was worth it). Other bishops were just silent don’t-make-waves types like we see today with regard to various social evils in our own times.

Here’s a good article on how the Church and her moralists have treated slavery from a moral perspective. Note, there can be forms–at least theoretically–that don’t violate the natural law, but what we saw with African chattel slavery in the Americas certainly did (generally the term “slavery” has come to mean the evil form in modern parlance).

The Church defines the strictly immoral form in CCC 2414 listing those elements that violate the natural law (my emphasis):

2414 The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.

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