Catholic Church and slavery


What do you say to somebody who claims, “the Catholic Church’s toleration and allowance of slavery has caused monumental amounts of suffering for 400 years”?

The specific example being cited here is Papal Bull Dum diversas.


It would be nice if you could give some actual information as a starting point to conversation.


I would say to that person, “It is easy to throw an accusation around, anybody can do it but show me your proof.”


Well, let’s start off with the first one. Dum diversas authorized the enslavement of non-Christians.


Please post an actual quote from the document that you think authorizes slavery, then we can discuss it.


The Wikipedia article is informative (see here).



I’m not sure how significant of a find that is, but the Church has always had its ups and downs. The Church is holy, yet it still can fall into sin. But it will always remain to be the true and only one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus institued.


There is always danger and difficulty in trying to apply current mores to issues of the distant past. For instance, in this case, the Pope is granting permission to a specific person for a specific task in a specific set of circumstances.

I would point out, after reviewing the Wiki article, that this Papal Bull may be responsible for some persons being taken into slavery, but that the practice did not cease among the protestants once the reformation occurred. How much of the slave trade was carried out by those who rejected the Roman Pontiff and Catholicism.
The conclusion from this is that the idea of salvery was an ingrained one across the civilization and not something abnormally allowed by the Pope.



Temporal decisions of the Church are not teachings, and are neither infallible, nor non-infallible; such decisions are fallible. The papal bull in question contains a temporal decision.

See this article on slavery and Church teaching:
Development or Reversal?
by Avery Cardinal Dulles
First Things, Oct. 2005


I would point them to St Paul’s example, where he urged Titus to free his Christian brother.

This doesn’t contradict the notion elsewhere in the epistles that slaves should seek to serve their masters as slavery was very widespread in the 1st century A.D., as it has been throughout history.

God freed us from the bondage of sin, compared to which the bondage of flesh is a subset of the damage wrought to the world by sin.

No sin, no slavery.

I would hope that those whose consciences are rightly pricked by slavery in the past both harness that outrage to do something about slavery practiced in our own time and extend it to the horror of infanticide. It does us little good to condemn the sins of our forefathers while remaining silent on sins of greater magnitude practiced by our brothers and sisters today. We are complicit in the latter, and will be held to account.

The Church is fighting today—will we join her?


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