THE Roman Catholic Bishop of Pamiers, in France, the Rt Revd Jean-Marc Eychenne, is to apologise for the violent persecution of an ancient Christian group, the Cathars, by the RC Church eight centuries ago, French media have reported.
Cathars came into prominence in the 11th century in the Languedoc, a former province of France, now part of the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region in the south of the country. Its theology, which became popular among all social classes, was considered heretical by the RC Church, the author of the website Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc, James McDonald, said.
“One reason for the ever-increasing popularity of the Cathars is a strong modern resonance. They would not eat meat or any animal products. They regarded men and women as equal. They lived ascetic lives. They did not build churches. . . They had no doctrinal objection to contraception, homosexuality, suicide, or euthanasia. All this resonates strongly with modern society.”
By the early 13th century, Catharism was the dominant religion in Languedoc, and, in 1208, Pope Innocent III launched a formal crusade to stop its spread to Western Christendom. It was led by an abbot, who, in a letter to Pope Innocent, wrote of the slaughter of 20,000 people by the papal army “without regard to rank, age, or sex”, Mr McDonald said.
Bishop Eychenne is due to ask for divine pardon for the crusade on 16 October in the church of Montségur, as part of the Jubilee of Mercy 2016, which is being led by Pope Francis. One of the last surviving Cathar communities took refuge in the castle of Montségur, where they were besieged by 10,000 troops for ten months, before their surrender in 1244. About 225 of them refused to renounce their faith, and were burned alive.
The Cathar version of the Lord’s Prayer (translated literally from the Greek) will be used at the service, and afterwards the congregation is to walk in silence to the Prat dels Cremats — “Field of the burned” — where hundreds of Cathars were martyred, the regional radio station reported.
Mr MacDonald said that “an apology for this well-documented sustained campaign of terror is long overdue. It will be interesting to see on whose behalf the apology is made: similar apologies in the past have always been on behalf of unspecified misguided individuals, never on behalf of the papacy or of the Roman Catholic Church.”
It comes two years after the Church apologised for the persecution of the Waldensians, a Christian movement of the same era.