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Does Francis still believe in witches?

October 28, 2014

Andrew Sullivan, like many Catholics, is pleased that Pope Francis approves of evolution, the Big Bang, and other parts of modern science, explicitly rejecting a view of the Christian god as “a magician” running around with “a magic wand.” Sullivan sniffs:

None of this is new, of course. Catholics in general do not buy the irrational and anti-intellectual delusions of evangelical Protestants with respect to Creation and the origins of the universe.

Of course it isn’t new. The Catholic Church has never insisted on taking the creation story as history. Augustine argued against that in the 4th c. If we want to look at whether the Church is inching toward some accommodation with modern knowledge, instead of looking where it never conflicted, let’s look where it did. For example, witches. Over the course of a few centuries, the Church tortured and murdered many thousands of innocents who were accused of consorting with the devil. Innocent VIII gave this his full support with Summis desiderantes affectibus:

…persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals…

If Francis wants to drag the Church into the modern world, let’s hear him declare that witches and demon possession are nothing but myth. Fortune tellers and curanderos, too. Catholics have little room to hold themselves more rational than southern snake handlers, while their Pope still approves exorcists. What is a god you call to cast out demons, if not a magician with a wand?

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