666 Christian Crimes



1200 - 1224


1200s, Early

Local bishops were empowered to identify, try & punish heretics. They were ineffective. Rome then sent papal inquisitors, usually Dominican priests, to purge them. [Haught, 1990, 61]



Pope Gregory IX authorized the killing of witches. The number of deaths due to witch hunts has been estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million. [Haught, 1990, 73]



The Fourth Crusade, initiated by Pope Innocent III, took the Christian city of Zara (Zadar) in Hungary for Venice in order to raise more funds for the crusade. The pope had objected but the crusaders took the city anyway. [Billings, 128]



"Innocent III made clear to the German princes by the Decree 'Venerabilem' ... in May, 1202, in what relation he considered the empire to stand to the papacy. ...." The right to elect a king was given to the German princes by the Apostolic See. The pope has "The right to investigate and decide whether a king thus elected is worthy of the imperial dignity ....," i.e., the pope had the final say. "There was scarcely a country in Europe over which Innocent III did not in some way or other assert the supremacy which he claimed for the papacy." [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Innocent III"; Grun, 164]

This was a reversal of the previous state of affairs in which kings approved, or even chose, popes.



Crusaders from the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, the seat of the empire and eastern Christianity. They were allowed three days by their leaders to pillage and destroy. They looted the main church, St. Sophia, destroyed or stole sacred relics, raped women, girls and nuns, and massacred thousands of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

One Byzantine historian, Nicetas Choniates, wrote: "Even the Saracens [Muslims] are merciful and kind compared to these men who bear the cross of Christ on their shoulders." In other words, the European Christians who were supposed to liberate Jerusalem from the Moslems spent their energies killing other Christians of the eastern empire and looting their holy places. This crusade never got to the Holy Land.

The crusaders also took over the eastern empire and divided the land and the spoils among the Venetians and the French nobles. Constantinople was made a Latin kingdom. Kingdom and patriarchate lasted only until 1261, when the Byzantines retook Constantinople. Rome tried to force a union with the Eastern Church on its own terms in 1274 and again in 1438. Both efforts failed.

After the crusade's success in the east, Pope Innocent III wrote to the Greek emperor: "... we believe the Greeks have been punished ... by the just judgment of God." What provoked Innocent's outrage was not the undeserved violence against innocent Greeks, but that the crusade's leaders failed to give him control of the Greek Church by permitting the Venetians to select a patriarch. But, according to Billings (137), Innocent was angry about the sack of Constantinople and had never authorized it. In 2004, 800 years after the crime, Pope John Paul II finally apologized to the Greek Orthodox Church. [Ellerbe, 67-68; Martin, 134; McCabe, 1916, 193-194, and 1953, Ch. IV; Williams, 2002, 231-233]



Pope Innocent III endorsed the slander that Jews made their wet-nurses pour their milk into latrines for three days after taking communion. Only then would they allow them to nurse their children. [Kirsch, 170-171]


Pope Innocent III forbade any legal help for heretics. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Inquisition"]



Pope Innocent III called upon the King to use force to rid southern France of Cathari heretics. He also declared a crusade (the "Albigensian" crusade, named after the town of Albi) against them, offering indulgences, eternal salvation, and land to those who participated. By the end of this crusade some thirty years later, the entire region was destroyed and a million people had been killed. "For the first time in Europe, a pope was calling on Christians to kill other Christians." (Kirsch, citing Karen Armstrong) [Ellerbe, 74; Kirsch, 45; Catholic Encyclopedia, "Cathari" and "Albigensis"]

According to many sources, the pope had been trying to settle the dispute with the Cathars by peaceful means until January 14 or 15, 1208, when the pope's representative, Peter of Castelnau, was assassinated.


Followers of Amalric of Bena's pantheistic teachings were burned alive. Amalric's body was exhumed and also burnt. [Cross 41, 375; Haught, 1990, 58; Wikipedia, "Amalric of Bena"]



Pope Innocent III's Albigensian crusaders, led by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, massacred the inhabitants of Béziers in an effort to stamp out the Waldensian and Albigensian heresies.

Thousands of the residents of Béziers were blinded, mutilated, dragged by horses, and used for target practice. Papal legate Arnaud Amaury said, "God's wrath has raged in wondrous wise against the city." [Haught, 1990, 56]

The massacre was started by a somewhat disorganized band of mercenaries accompanying the main force of French knights and their followers. The knights of course did nothing to stop it. The mercenaries were the first ones in because they were encamped the closest to the city. They got in because a few of the city's defenders stupidly opened a gate so that they could ride down the mountainside and harass some of the soldiers. When the knights saw that the mercenaries were plundering the city, they drove them out so that they could get the plunder to which they felt entitled. The regular troops "... cared not a straw for the slaughter, but 'choked with fury' when they saw other people making off with their plunder." [Oldenbourg, 110-121]

At the fall of Béziers, an underling asked papal legate Arnaud Amaury how they could tell true believers from the heretics. Amaury said, "Kill them all. God will know his own." The Catholic Encyclopedia ("Albigenses") denies that Amaury uttered those words. All other sources consulted disagree and attribute those words to Amaury. Oldenbourg (p. 116) says the quote was attributed to Amaury "by the German, Caesar von Heisterbach."

"In 1209, Arnold Aimery [Amaury] exulted to the Pope that the capture of Béziers had been 'miraculous'; and that the crusaders had killed 15,000, 'showing mercy neither to order, nor age, nor sex'." [Johnson, 1976, 252]

Amaury also wrote the pope: 'Divine vengeance raged miraculously. Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex, or age, and put to the sword almost twenty thousand people.' After the killing, the crusaders set fire to the city. [Oldenbourg, 391]



After capturing Bram, Simon de Montfort, leader of Pope Innocent III's Albigensian crusaders, blinded and mutilated a hundred of the town's defenders. He let one keep an eye so that he could lead the others to nearby towns as a warning.[Kirsch, 49; De Rosa, 160; Oldenbourg, 136]


After de Montfort's successful siege of Minerve, he ordered 140 perfecti [Cathars] to be burned without charges, trial or sentence. [De Rosa,160; Kirsch, 49]

"... at the capture of the Castle of Minerve, the Crusaders piously offered their prisoners the alternative of recantation or the stake, and a hundred and eighty preferred the stake...." [Lea, 1901 v.1, 105]

Oldenbourg (141-42) quotes Pierre Des Vaux de Cernay (a contemporary historian) to the effect that "more than one hundred and forty" Cathari heretics brought forth from Minerve were burned that day. She also states that the mass executions were approved by the Church and occurred without trial or sentence.

When crusaders quarreled about whether to burn heretics who had recanted, De Montfort thought that the heretics might be lying. He said if they were sincere, the fire would purge their sins, so go ahead and burn them all. The papal legate suggested he allow them to live if they converted to Catholicism. Simon reluctantly agreed only after the legate said he thought few would convert. The legate's prediction proved to be correct—at least 140 were burned alive. [Engh, 131]


"Philip II has Amaury de Bène's disciples burnt at the stake in Paris." [Oldenbourg, 392]


Pope Innocent III restricted the teaching of Aristotle's work in Paris. [Ellerbe, 55]



At Lavaur, Simon de Montfort, leader of Pope Innocent III's Albigensian crusaders, hanged about eighty knights who had defended the town, along with four hundred refugees, and the lord of the town. The lord's sister was "thrown down a well and stoned to death." [Kirsch, 49]

The siege of Lavaur lasted two months. The defense was led by the nobleman Aimery de Montréal, who was hanged with eighty of his knights. However, the gibbet collapsed, so the survivors' throats were slit. Afterward, 400 male and female perfecti (Cathars) were burnt "in the largest single holocaust during the entire crusade." [Oldenbourg, 148]


"Fall of Cassès: ninety-four Cathars burnt." [Oldenbourg, 392]

At Les Cassès "the crusaders seized some sixty suspected heretics ... and burned them 'with great rejoicing.'" [Engh, 131]



Albigensian crusaders completely destroyed Montgey. "Nearly eighty heretics put on trial at Strasburg, and the majority went to the stake." The people of Ananclet were massacred. Auterive was burnt. Hautpoul and Moissac were subjected to sieges and massacres. [Oldenbourg, 392]


A shepherd boy named Stephen began preaching a crusade for children. Like the Peasant's Crusade, no writing by a participant is extant. None of the existing stories agree about the facts of the crusade, and some are pure fiction by people writing long after the crusade took place. [Billings, 139-140]

Nicholas, the boy from Cologne and Stephen, the young shepherd, in two separate crusades persuaded thousands of children to conquer Palestine. When they reached Brindisi, Italy, some were sold into slavery and most of the others died of hunger and exhaustion. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Crusades"; Williams, 2002, 236-38]



Casseneuil was subjected to a siege and massacre. [Oldenbourg, 392]



The Fourth Lateran Council was convened. The Catholic Encyclopedia called it "... by far the most important council of the Middle Ages." Canons 78, 79 decreed that Jews and Moslems must wear distinctive dress and be confined to ghettos, and that Christian princes were responsible for preventing blasphemies. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Fourth Lateran Council" and "Pope Innocent III"]

Torture was officially sanctioned. That sanction was not repealed until 500 years later, in 1917. The doctrine of transubstantiation was passed. This meant that a host wafer miraculously turns into the body of Jesus during mass. This canon led to more persecution of Jews for "host nailing."[Haught, 1990, 49-50]

Monks and nuns were prohibited from taking each other as lovers. [Kirsch, 24] Some commentators point out that sex in the convents must have been common, else the council would not have addressed the issue.

It was decreed that salvation is not possible outside the Roman Catholic Church.[Kirsch, 62]

Pope Innocent III said that anyone whose view of God conflicted with Church dogma must be burned. [Ellerbe, 77]

The Council imposed a "crusade tax" on all Christians of one twentieth of their income. Rich people could buy their way out of serving in a crusade by equipping one crusader at an estimated cost of $200,000. They also received a plenary indulgence, which would allow them to bypass purgatory and go straight to heaven. [Williams, 2002, 243]

The Council decreed that the secular authority should apply the punishment for convicted heretics. Failure to do so would result in excommunication and possible forfeiture of land. [Cline, medieval4]

The Council voted that the Bishop of Rome held absolute authority over spiritual and temporal matters. "The Lord left to Peter," Pope Innocent III said, "the government not only of all the Church but of all the world."

"For centuries it was assumed that popes had the right to dethrone any king, to annul any secular decree, or to cast aside any constitution." [Williams, 2003, 19]


After hearing that England's King John had signed the Magna Carta, Pope Innocent III said, "By St. Peter, we cannot pass over this insult without punishing it." He called it "contrary to moral law" and said that the king was not subject to the barons or to the people—only to God and the pope. Innocent then published a bull which annulled the charter and absolved the king from having to observe it. He excommunicated anyone who supported the content of the Magna Carta. De Rosa comments that "All English people, it must be presumed, are still excommunicated." Innocent also stated,"Every cleric must obey the Pope, even if he commands what is evil; for no one may judge the Pope."  De Rosa also says that Innocent "shed more blood than any other pontiff." [De Rosa, 72-73] 

"Innocent declared the Catholic Church to be a genuine state and, hence, heresy became a crime against the state which could be punished accordingly...." [Cline, medieval4]



Pope Honorius III forbade priests to study Roman law and had prohibited its teaching at the University of Paris. [Ellerbe, 62]



After the fifth crusade laid siege to Damietta in Egypt, the sultan, al-Kamul, offered the Christian leaders a truce on terms favorable to the crusaders. King John of Jerusalem wanted to sign, but was overruled by the papal legate, Cardinal Pelagius, who wanted more. The cardinal was confident that Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, was on the way with a large army, which would allow the crusaders to take Cairo, all Egypt and Palestine by force. When the sultan heard that more crusaders were on the way, he offered an even better deal for the Christians. Again Cardinal Pelagius refused the offer. Then the crusaders discovered that most of the inhabitants of Damietta were dead and a battalion of the German army had arrived, although without Frederick. The crusade pushed on to Cairo and pitched camp on a flood plain. The sultan destroyed the flood barriers and the crusaders were washed away. The Cardinal escaped but the crusade was over, having achieved none of its objectives. [Williams, 2002, 245-247]



An English deacon, who converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman, was burned alive in Oxford on charges of bestiality. A Frenchman was burned as a sodomite in Paris, along with his Jewish mistress. [Kirsch, 170]



Frederick III's constitution prescribed burning for heretics convicted by an ecclesiastical court. [Cline, medieval4. Other sources say this should refer to Frederick II.]







© R. Paul Buchman 2011