Archive for the ‘Human Trafficking’ Category

How to Help the People of South Sudan and North Sudan

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

If you are looking for a way to help the people of South Sudan and North Sudan, visit the website of Bishop Max Macram Gassis of the El Obeid Diocese, Sudan.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Catholic Relief Services Asks for Letters to Secretary Clinton on South Sudan

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Catholic Relief Services has asked for letters to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on South Sudan.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Slavery, Human Trafficking, and Child Abuse: Ancient Practices that Never Ended?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

I have noticed that cities with an ancient history in a slave trade and related forms of human trafficking are also today wrestling with the question of abuse of children. These cities are in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and the Americas.

I’m working on a theory that these ancient crimes have been closely associated for millenia, and that clusters of modern child abuse may be distant echoes of an ancient culture of human exploitation that went underground as cities became more developed, but never really stopped.

The modern confrontation with the culture of child abuse and child exploitation is of tremendous significance. I hope it will not take another century or more to drive these vicious crimes from the face of the earth.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Kipnapping, forced marriage, and forced conversion to Islam of Coptic Christian women in Egypt

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

For the past several years there have been reports of the kidnapping and forced marriage of Coptic Christian women to Muslim men in Egypt, along with their forced conversion.

Recent estimates of such kidnappings, forced marriages, and forced conversions have risen to approximately 800 cases, according to July 22, 2011 testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Commission (formally called the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is responsible for monitoring adherence to the Helsinki Accords. For more, please see OSCE). Please also see the recent Catholic News Agency story.

Below is the 7/22/11 testimony of Michele A. Clark, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, who teaches courses on human trafficking, women in global politics, and contemporary dissident movements. Ms. Clark separately serves as “a consultant to government, international and non-profit organizations in the development of comprehensive anti-trafficking programs and continues to conduct field research, write and speak on emerging issues in trafficking.”

I have included a major portion of Ms. Clark’s testimony, due to its importance, so that it can be shared more widely.

Helsinki 7/22/2011


JULY 22,2011



It is an honor to be invited to testify before the Helsinki Commission today on the topic of the disappearance, forced conversions and forced marriages of Coptic Christian women in Egypt. Mr. Chairman, thank you for your this matter. Your sustained and sttong voice in defense of vulnerable women worldwide continues to be an inspiration to many of us who work to end the scourge of human trafficking and for the empowerment of women.

Allegations of Coptic Christian women being lured into deceptive marriages by young Muslim men begin circulating in the international community as far back as the mid 1970s. As such practices became more numerous, they found their way into numerous official US Government reports including the US Department of States’ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices beginning in 2006, the International Religious Freedom Reports and, in 2010, the Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons published by the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. Always with notable disclaimers: “The reports are allegations.” “The conversions are disputed.” “Kidnappings are categorically denied.”

In fact, these reports are not allegations nor should they be disputed. Coptic women disappear. Coptic women are forcibly converted, Oi converted under false pretenses, and Coptic women are forcibly married to Muslim men.

In November 2009, Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights released a report entitled, “The Disappearance, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt.” I am the principal investigator and author of this report, working closely with Nadia Ghaly, a Coptic Christian activist. Together, we interviewed women who had been abducted or lured into deceptive relationships, forcibly converted, and married often against their will. We spoke with family members who lived in fear of reprisal after the young women escaped and returned home to live. We interviewed parish priests who witnessed and documented the disappearance of many of their young female congregants and monks and nuns who provide shelter and assistance to these young women once they escaped from an abusive situation. And we talked with human rights lawyers who are petitioning for the restoration of these women’s religious identities.

I would like to present some of the key findings of my report. (please note: the full copy of this report, including all references and detailed profiles, may be found at:

1. Coptic women and girls are deceptively lured into forced marriages with Muslim men and subsequently converted to Islam.

Documented cases attend to forced conversions of Coptic women and girls to Islam and subsequent forced marriages to Muslim men. One parish priest in a hrge city indicated that, in his parish alone, there were 50 cases of such instances during the previous year. One bishop whose monastery has established two safe houses for young women returning from forced marriages claims that, “We are only one monastery and 45 women live with us.”

These marriages and conversions take place under duress and frequently include abductions and physical abuse. Victims are reluctant to press charges against perpetrators for fear of reprisal. When charges have been filed, there is no documented evidence of a single conviction against the perpetrators.

Consider the following examples:

H. was befriended by a Muslim girl whose brother raped her. Ashamed to tell her [own family], she remained with the man’s family during which time his mother persuaded her to convert to Islam and marry her son. She was locked into her apartment every day when her husband left for work and allowed to leave only with her in-laws. She was denied access to the telephone, made to cover herself when she left the house and was frequently beaten.

The father of a young abducted woman writes to President Mubarek, Mrs. Susan Mubarek; and other high level officials asking for assistance in finding his daughter: “Dear Honored Official: My daughter was kidnapped on February 2, 2005 by a Muslim boy who lives in the village of Balak al Dakoor in the outskirts of Cairo. My daughter is only 18 years old and could harm no one. I beg you to help me find my daughter as she is the apple of my eye and could harm no one.”

Victims are reluctant to press charges against their perpetrators and, when charges have been filed, there is no documented evidence of convictions against the perpetrators.

Mrs. W. is the mother of a young woman who was abducted during Ramadan in 2006 while shopping. The family was able to identify the abductor by tracing messages left on their daughter’s cell phone. The family reported the incident to the police and the perpetrator was arrested but released soon after. No charges were filed. She received a few phone calls from her daughter during the first year after the abduction but has not heard from her in over a year. Mrs. W. is very worried about her daughter who suffers from Rheumatic fever and severe anemia. Mrs. W. fears that if her daughter does not receive adequate medical attention, she will die. Mrs. W. has actively publicized her daughter’s disappearance but, to this date, nothing is known about her whereabouts.

2. The criminality of alleged forced marriages and conversions is generally dismissed by the authorities. Young women are presumed to be willing participants.

The Egyptian government reports that young Coptic women marry and convert according to their own free will. It is assumed that many young women go off with a Muslim suitor in order to escape a rigid home environment, difficult economic circumstances, or out of adolescent petulance. These claims deserved to be addressed because they serve to create the impression of willing participation on behalf of the young women

Anti-trafficking experts increasingly recognize that one of the purposes of trafficking can include forced marriage. The anti-trafficking community further recognizes that one form of recruitment into trafficking takes the form of the seduction. In describing human trafficking in the Netherlands, for example, the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report states that “Within the Netherlands, victims are often trafficked by so-called ”lover-boys,” men who seduce young women in order to coerce them into prostitution.” The international anti-trafficking community recognizes this pattern of deception and recruitment into a fraudulent relationship and subsequent exploitation as a key element of many human trafficking cases and has developed extensive educational and prevention programs to address this particular phenomenon. Cases documented in my report show a similar pattern of enticement into seemingly genuine relationships for the purpose of forced marriage and conversion.

It is important to note that this facade of romance used for the purpose of deception and exploitation is a recognized pattern in related crimes against women and girls. Although some women do in fact consent to romance, they do not consent to the loss of identity that follows. According to Article 3 of the UN Trafficking Protocol, consent is irrelevant in defining a case of trafficking if there are elements of force, fraud or coercion. Such instances have been documented in my report.

3. The abduction and/or disappearance of Coptic women and girls follow consistent patterns.

Our research has shown that men, women and peers are used to build trust and dispel resistance in young women targeted for conversion and marriage. Most cases documented in our report begin with a trusting relationship that ultimately leads to a disappearance or abduction, marriage to a Muslim man, and conversion to Islam. These friendships may include school friends, an elder woman who fills the role of mother figure, a Muslim boyfriend or a benevolent provider. These relationships offer a sense of belonging, camaraderie and emotional financial support. In some cases, they also provide vital services and tangible forms of assistance in times of need. Once a sense of trust is developed, an invitation to leave home can be seen as an opportunity to escape current family problems, to fit in with peers, or to have fun. Such an invitation to romance or friendship is not perceived as a threat. These supposed new friends exploit the vulnerability and naivete of young Coptic women.

Consider these real-life examples:

H. was befriended by a Muslim girl in her neighborhood who introduced H. to her brother. They spent time together and became friends. One day, the girlfriend announced an errand and left H. alone with her brother who subsequently raped her. Out of shame and fear of what her family would say, H. was persuaded to marry her rapist and convert to Islam.

R. was befriended by a Muslim girl in her neighborhood who introduced her to a male friend. This gentleman began to court R. One day, R went shopping with her suitor’s sister. She was drugged and abducted.

The following relationship patters are consistent in cases of forced conversion and/ or forced marriages of Coptic women:

• Coptic girls are befriended by Muslim girls who are classmates or neighbors and who introduce the Christian girls to their families where they meet a Muslim man.

• Women and girls are befriended by older Muslim women who become a mother figure and trusted confidante. This woman later provides material and emotional assistance during difficult times and introduced the Coptic girl to a Muslim man who can help.

• Women and girls are approached by a Muslim benefactor, sometimes a man or a woman, who offers services ‘and assistance.

• Once trust has been established, girls are lured to an isolated place, drugged and
kidnapped. Often, they are raped. Following a rape, the Coptic women experience shame and fear of how their families will respond. They become more willing to stay with the Muslim friends and marrying their rapist because they feel there is no place else to go.

• These marriages are usually accompanied by conversion to Islam at the insistence of the man’s family. A new Muslim identity card is issued.

• Once married, Coptic women experience various forms of psychological and physical abuse including rape, beating, verbal abuse, confinement to their apartments, limited freedom of movement and isolation from their families.

• Women report that, once the marriage has taken place, the new couple or the mother-in-law receives some material benefit in the form of a new apartment or new furniture and a job for the husband.

Another point of interest is that, while Islam forbids a Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim man, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman. In each of the cases documented for this report, conversions and marriages occurred within a few days of each other. In many cases, the young women protested their conversions; in order to secure their compliance, they were raped, beaten, threatened and occasionally drugged. It is necessary to inquire further as to why forced marriages of a Coptic woman to a Muslim man are accompanied by a conversion when Islamic law does not require this.

4. Counseling sessions with members of their own clergy, traditionally part of the conversion process to Islam, are no longer available to potential converts to Islam.

The process of conversion of a non-Muslim traditionally included a counseling session consisting of the prospective new convert and a member of the clergy of his/her faith of origin along with Muslim clergy. These sessions were intended to give the potential convert the chance to make an informed decision about his/her conversion after hearing from both sides. The former government has halted the practice of “requiring advice and guidance sessions with little warning or debate.” Requests filed by human rights lawyers formally requesting that the Ministry of the Interior restore such counseling sessions were denied.

5. Coptic women experience physical and psychological abuse both before and after their conversions and marriages.

Coptic women experience frequent physical and psychological abuse including rape, beatings, forced isolation and lack of personal freedom both before and after their marriage/ conversion. Cases of abduction, rape and physical violence are rarely filed in court.

Examples of abuse and coercion include being forced to cover their bodies and faces when they leave their homes; not being able to leave except in the company of relative or person trusted by the family; lack of access to telephones or other means of communicating with family; frequent beatings and rapes.

Consider the following cases:

R. was raped and beaten after having refused to have sex with her new husband. The Coptic cross, tattooed on her wrist to identify her as a Christian, was burned off with acid.

J. was raped by her abductor, with the help of his mother and sister, who was a classmate. (Case 14)

M. was befriended by a Muslim classmate. She left home and was taken to live with a
Muslim woman and her son and was subsequently raped by the son. The Coptic cross on her wrist was surgically removed. She was married to her rapist who divorced her when she turned 18. She subsequently married her lawyer who prostituted her to his friends. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child.

6. The Egyptian government does not restore the legal Christian identify of Coptic women who have returned to their faith communities of origin.

The greatest challenge facing the women once they return from a situation of forced marriage and conversion is the restoration of their Christian identity cards. Without this document, they are still considered Muslim by the State. Frequently they are unable to remarry in the Church. For those women who are able to leave without their children, the children remain Muslim.

Conversion from Islam is considered to be an act of apostasy, even if the conversion is back to one’s original religion, and as such is considered a crime worthy of the death penalty according to traditional Islamic law. Stringent penalties can be imposed upon those who chose to reconvert to Christianity. Legal precedents indicate that Christian identities have been restored once a Christian convert to Islam wants to return to his/her faith of origin but these are rare.

One Coptic human rights attorney currently counts 101 active cases to retrieve Christian identity cards before the courts, although not all are on behalf of Coptic women who experienced forced conversions and marriages. Other human rights attorneys cite similar caseloads. It is important to remember that these numbers reflect only those individuals who can afford to hire an attorney or who have decided to purse legal proceedings. Since the majority of Coptic women are from economically challenged families, and many are intimidated by threats of harm to themselves or their families, they do not have this option. Even when a new identity card is issued, re-converts retain a permanent mark on their identity-these cards must now include the words “ex-Muslim”. According to one human rights expert, “This essentially marks them as apostates and exposes them to persecution and attack.”

Since the original report was published, there is evidence that numbers of reconversions are beginning to increase.

7. Coptic women and girls are vulnerable to deception and fraudulent practices because of difficult home environments, economic pressures and sheltered lives.

Social pressures, particularly the centrality of marriage to a woman’s identity, combined many Coptic women’s ignorance of the law are key factors in a girl’s decision to convert to Islam. Family conflict and financial pressure are also cited as factors which may lead a young woman to explore conversion and marriage as a way of escaping a difficult situation. Most women who experienced forced conversions and marriages came from low-income families and were frequently minors at the time of their conversion. Many report coming from families experiencing extreme economic hardship, interpersonal strife and deaths of a parent or a child. Several illustrations from actual cases indicate that promises of escape from poverty and freedom from difficult family relationships were used as a means to entice women to form relationships outside of their normal community circles. One parish priest interviewed for the report stated that that there are usually two motivations for a Coptic girl to be susceptible to the advances of a young Muslim man. The first is that the girl could be from an economically disadvantaged household. Marrying a Muslim man is usually presented as having some financial benefits. The second is that there is psychological pressure from peers at school; Coptic girls experience the desire to be “just like everyone else.”

N. came from a poor family and worked as a maid. Confronted with growing family pressure over her unwillingness. to marry the man they selected for her, N. went to live with the landlady of the building where she worked. During this time, her conversion to Islam was being arranged without her knowledge. She was presented with a new Muslim ID card, and soon after married a Muslim man. The Coptic Cross tattooed on her wrist was surgically removed. She was not allowed to see her family and could leave her apartment only if accompanied by a female member of her husband’s
family, and fully veiled.

In some cases, the extremely vulnerable state of the women and girls makes them consider non-traditional options in order to gain support for· their needs.

S. was 12 years old when she was married to a Christian man 26 years her senior. Within a few years, she had five children. The youngest was severely anemic and needed blood transfusions every month. N. could not afford the cost of blood. She was directed to a mosque where she was assigned a caretaker, Shabaan. A few months later, Shabaan proposed marriage but N. refused. She was forcibly driven to Al-Azhar and led through a conversion process. She and her daughter were subsequently held against her will at a facility where services were provided for her child. N. was kept in a secure part of the building, drugged and regularly taken to religious instruction classes.

8. The Coptic Church has developed some safe houses for victimized women and girls.

We visited a monastery that operates two safe houses for women escaping from forced conversions and marriages and who are not able to return to their families. One home for unmarried victims without children housed 25 young women at the time of this investigation. Another home for similarly victimized women who were married and able to leave their abusers with their children housed a similar number. Many of the young women in the first home were minors at the time of their conversions and marriages, and are still completing their secondary education. In their testimonies, women report being sent to shelters at other monasteries, but there is no accurate documentation on the number of safe houses and shelters operated by the Coptic Church. Fear of unwarranted attention from Egyptian authorities causes many church leaders to keep information on these shelters hidden. .

The religious community meets the personal needs of and provides services for the young women in these shelters. If they have not finished school or wish to continue their education beyond secondary school, they attend classes at local schools. Some work at the monastery as cooks, maids and serving girls. Others are engaged in gardening or sewing; the objects they make are sold as a means of generating income for the homes. A resident nun supervises these houses and the young women. The homes we visited were clean and well furnished.

The religious orders consider it part of their responsibility to care for these girls and to provide a safe place for them. Threats of repercussion are common among all such returnees and the need for security is high. The girls who have returned with no children usually live there until the religious community finds another option for them. This is often an arranged marriage with a member of the Coptic community. Many, especially those who have children, remain in the monastery shelters for many years. Once a girl enters such a shelter, she usually does not leave unless she marries or returns to her family.


Based on the preliminary findings of this report; we recommend that the Helsinki
Commission actively pursue the following issues:

1. The reinstatement counseling sessions for those contemplating conversion to Islam by the Government of Egypt.

2. The restoration of Christian identity cards to former converts to Islam who decide to return to their original faith by the Government of Egypt.

3. The investigation of all allegations of kidnapping, rape and other acts of violence
against women associated with forced marriages and conversion of Coptic women by the Government of Egypt.

4. The active use of pro-democracy funds by the US Government towards the strengthening of women’s rights and religious freedom.

Thank you once again for your attention to this matter.

Michele A. Clark

Michele Clark is internationally recognized anti-trafficking expert and advocate on behalf of vulnerable women. From 2001 to 2005, she was the co-director of the Protection Project of the Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, a prestigious human rights institute focusing on e1iminating trafficking in persons world-wide. While at the Protection Project, Ms. Clark conducted field investigations into the scope of the problem on human trafficking in Latin America, Europe, countries of the Former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North America. She has testified as an expert witness before numerous congressional committees on global anti-trafficking concerns. In 2005, Ms. Clark was named the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Assistance Unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe where she assisted the 56 OSCE member States with meeting the commitruents of the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons. She developed and was the first editor of an ongoing publication entitled, Working Papers on Combating trafficking in the OSCE Region. Tbrough the design and development of numerous high-level conferences, Ms. Clark helped to draw attention to emerging trends in the battle against TIP. She was a member of the Steering Committee for the UN-GIFT Vienna Forum in February, for which she wrote one of the three conference background papers.

Ms. Clark is now a consultant to government, international and non-profit organizations in the development of comprehensive anti-trafficking programs and continues to conduct field research, write and speak on emerging issues in trafficking. She is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs where she teaches courses on human trafficking, women in global politics, and contemporary dissident movements. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including, most recently, the Bender Award for Excellence in Teaching.

(accessed from on 7/30/11)


Sadly, the crimes above are ancient in origin. Nevertheless, such human trafficking and violation of religious freedom must stop!

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Sudan bishop rings alarm bell

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio in Sudan released a public statement on 10/1/10, calling for the international community to prevent his region from “descending into violence.”

Source: Aid to the Church in Need

Sudan faces a critical national vote in January, 2011, which may lead to a separation of southern Sudan from the present Sudanese government. Despite a more hopeful June, 2010 message from Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban, fear of a violent confrontation in the Sudan is growing, and thus there has been a call for increased international involvement as Sudan approaches the January, 2011 referendum.

Sudan has seen millions perish since the 1980s. The crucifixion of Christians in Sudan was even reported in 2009 near the town of Nzara.

The government of China has been criticized for its involvement in Sudan. Sudan, with 967,495 square miles, is the largest African country, and rich in natural resources, with rapidly-advancing oil production.

It is important that we heed Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala’s call, and ask our governments to become involved in ensuring that Sudan’s important vote in January, 2011 does not indeed descend Sudan into violence.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


PBS Frontline program: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Very late last night, I watched a shocking PBS Frontline program on organized pedophilia and pederasty in Afghanistan, supported by some of the wealthy, and engaged in by some of the warlords or former warlords.

The program reveals a despicable cultural practice with quite ancient roots in many cultures, putting music and dance to work in dressing up the exploitation of boys, in what is called in this case “bacha bazi”–

The direct link to the program is at–

I do not advise watching the program unless you are prepared to be saddened and shocked.

It wouldn’t surprise me if somehow government dollars are supporting some of the individuals, especially warlords or former warlords, who are engaging in this exploitation of young boys.

Radhika Coomaraswamy was one of the first to speak out against bacha bazi–

The Wikipedia page–

In case the Wikipedia page is vandalized, here is the reference link–

Bibliographic details for “Bacchá”

* Page name: Bacchá
* Author: Wikipedia contributors
* Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
* Date of last revision: 22 April 2010 03:18 UTC
* Date retrieved: 22 April 2010 16:37 UTC
* Permanent link:
* Primary contributors: Revision history statistics
* Page Version ID: 357546067

I’ll have more to say about this topic in the next 24 hours. I do note as a caution that since this documentary was prepared within a country at war, it may, despite its factual nature, be put to work by different factions for different political purposes. That point aside, the exploitation of children must be stopped.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


The Catholic Church and Slavery: a New Look at Augustine and the 1839 In Supremo Controversy

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Both popular and scholarly opinion often list slavery as a matter on which the Catholic Church has either been not forceful enough or, like usury, has either changed or muted its position. It is often noted that it was not until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that the Catholic Church categorized slavery as intrinsically evil, meaning that it is evil in every circumstance in an of itself:

“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

From: Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, 12/7/1965, number 27.

The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church summed up Catholic teaching on slavery by citing the Seventh Commandment against stealing, and quoted the first century letter to Philemon by St. Paul–

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. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Catholic Christians, after centuries of effort, appear to have got it unequivocally and “officially” right on slavery late in the 20th Century.

While it is true that a formal, unequivocal definition of slavery as always evil took place at Vatican II, the recognition that slavery was very evil goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

St. John Chrysostom (345-407), said “Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of extravagance, of insatiable greediness,” and also questioned what price could be put on a human soul (Epist. ad Ephes., Homil. XXII. 2).

We now know from the letter rediscovered by the scholar Johannes Divjak of Vienna in 1975 that the African bishop St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), while elsewhere theologically viewing slavery as a punishment for human sinfulness, as a pastor nevertheless fought the enslavement of his congregation by slave-raiding and human trafficking Galatians (presumed to be an ancient Celtic people from present-day Turkey) in the Roman courts, by ransom, and may have winked when dozens of his parishioners rescued people by direct action from the slave ships. Augustine himself even visited a terrified girl rescued from a slave ship by his church, and described her fear. This letter, referred to sometimes as Divjak letter 10*, is not only one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the African slave-trade and of human trafficking, but shows that Augustine the bishop, despite his late age, was much more pragmatic and pastoral than popular stereotypes of him as an aged authoritarian have previously established. Please see page 470 of Peter Brown’s revised biography of Augustine for another perspective.

Divjak letter 10* not only speaks as one of the earliest African voices on the rampant and illegal slave trade rising like a pestilence during the decline of Rome, but reveals that the Church was fighting this “slave raider” and “human trafficking” form of the African slave trade at its inception.

Augustine’s first mention of the topic in letter 10* is similar to entering a time-machine to see the slave trade begin in Africa:

“There are so many of those in Africa who are commonly called ‘slave dealers’ (mangones), that they seem to be draining Africa of much of its human population and transferring their ‘merchandise’ to provinces across the sea.”

From: Augustine, Letters, Vol. 6 (1*-29*), Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, trans. Robert B. Eno. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. Hbk, 1989. ISBN: 0813200814, pg. 76.

It is amazing that such a significant find as Divjak letter 10* has not drawn more general recognition beyond the field of Early Christian Literature. Not only does this letter appear to show that the Church witnessed the earliest days of the African slave trade and human trafficking, but shows that from the beginning the Church opposed the “slave dealers.”

The Wikipedia pages on Christianity and Slavery and the Catholic Church and Slavery list examples and counterexamples of the Church either condemning slavery, or of participating in it. The Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas (1484-1576) shocked Europe with his vivid condemnation of the enslavement of Native Americans that then led to papal bans on such colonial slavery of indigenous peoples. De Las Casas initially reasoned it appropriate to substitute African slaves in order to protect the Native Americans, but then deeply regretted this position. Unfortunately, his retraction has not widely published until centuries after his death.

According to Joel Panzer’s 1996 book, The Popes and Slavery, the popes condemned slavery in 1435, 1493, 1497, 1537, 1591, 1639, 1686, 1741, 1839, 1866, 1888, and 1890, sometimes in the strongest language, but their bans were greatly ignored, in particular by the North American bishops.

It is therefore unfair and inaccurate for scholars to claim that the Catholic Church’s teaching against slavery was relatively recent when several popes actually condemned it before the Quakers (founded 1648) did. While it is accurate to state that the Church did not unequivocally condemn the slave trade until 1839, arguably did not unequivocally condemn the institution of slavery as such until 1890, and did not condemn absolutely every instance of slavery until 1965, it is also accurate to state that the Church has condemned the most recent forms of slavery for centuries, as each of these new forms have appeared. The Church has both argued about and condemned slavery for the greater part of two millennia.

The Controversy over In Supremo, 1839

The papal condemnation of slavery in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI in his document In Supremo still draws controversy because of the heated if not nullifying response it received from the American Catholic bishops, in particular John England, bishop of Charleston, South Carolina.

In Supremo has been the topic of a rather long-distance scholarly exchange between a priest scholar from Lincoln, Nebraska, Rev. Joel Panzer, and the prominent American Catholic intellectual and federal jurist, John T. Noonan.

Fr. Panzer has maintained that In Supremo condemned both the institution of slavery and the slave trade. Judge Noonan, following Bishop England, maintained it only condemned the latter. Fr. Panzer went right to the Latin in the document to verify that indeed, Gregory XVI did condemn slavery outright in this 1839 document, two decades before the American Civil War. (Fr. Panzer’s text contains an appendix with facing Latin and English versions of the pertinent papal documents on slavery).

Panzer took issue with Noonan’s analysis of the reception of In Supremo in Noonan’s 1993 article (John T. Noonan, Jr., “Development in Moral Doctrine,” Theological Studies 54, December 1993):

The misreading of “In Supremo” that exists among scholars today actually has its roots in the partial rejection of that Papal Constitution by the American Hierarchy over a century and a half earlier.

Panzer, J. S. (1996). The popes and slavery. Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, p. 48.

In his 2005 book A Church That Can and Cannot Change, Noonan dealt indirectly in a footnote with Panzer’s challenge, and maintained from documentary evidence that Bishop England strongly asserted to President Van Buren and to readers of England’s newspaper Catholic Miscellany, that he had it on the direct personal word of the Pope himself that In Supremo did not apply to the United States. In addition, Noonan enveloped his narrative on the development of In Supremo with an interesting tale of how the British ambassadors successfully lobbied the Vatican for the issuance of In Supremo, as part of the British campaign against the slave trade.

Noonan’s response to Panzer, while polished and deft, is substantially feeble in its circumlocution, its reliance on hearsay, and his use of a genetic fallacy. For circumlocution, Noonan did not use the language of In Supremo to refute Panzer’s critique. For hearsay, Noonan in effect stated that Bishop England asserted that Gregory XVI didn’t say what he appeared to have said, and took England’s one-sided account as reliable. For genetic fallacy, Noonan accepted the British lobby-the-pope story as proof of the origin and intent of In Supremo.

History has known many bishops who have made statements in the “I’ve-got-it-straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth-that-what-he-just-said-doesn’t-apply-to-us” genre, or who have managed to assert–and this requires some advanced mastery of ecclesiastical polity–that an authoritative document states exactly the opposite of what it appears to say. One need only look at Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s tangled and artful communication pertaining to a letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004 on questions concerning politicians and Communion to find a similar example. If one enjoys this sort of thing, Cardinal McCarrick appears to have obliged with an encore performance in 2006. Bishops have twisted each other’s words around for centuries, so Noonan’s argument gains little by relying heavily on Bishop England’s numerous protestations to the contrary of the message of In Supremo. Whether Bishop England pulled a Cardinal McCarrick, or Cardinal McCarrick pulled a Bishop England, is for the reader to decide until some independent record of a conversation between Gregory XVI and John England can be documented.

Having known a few lobbyists, I have found few who will not assert that they have moved history, and few in their dotage who are not willing to regale a listener with how they, and not presidents or popes, made things happen. Therefore Noonan’s reliance on the British ambassador’s account does not completely hold sway. A more persuasive story of the origins of In Supremo might have been told by Noonan had the volume of evidence he provided on the British side of this story been at least partially matched by the Vatican side.

Noonan is on stronger ground when he notes that the official subtitle of In Supremo in the official Vatican documents refers to the condemnation of the slave trade. But again, the widespread persistence of this argument may only indicate that certain historians of American Catholicism tend to read titles and subtitles, and not necessarily texts.

As Fr. Panzer notes, the belief that In Supremo condemned only the slave trade, and not slavery itself, thrives within American Catholic scholarship to this day as an echo of Bishop England’s position. Noonan’s restatement of his own position in 2005 does little to undermine Panzer’s observation on this point.

I urge the reader to read the document itself, and decide upon the message of In Supremo by clicking the link in this sentence.

If they have not done so already, it might be appropriate for the US Catholic Bishops to apologize for their support for the institution of American slavery under Bishop England, and put this matter finally and morally to rest.

My above critique of Judge Noonan’s interpretation of the In Supremo controversy takes nothing away from his standing in American Catholicism. He has studied the question of development of doctrine for over 60 years, and it was he whom the University of Notre Dame chose to comment after President Obama’s commencement remarks in the Spring of 2009. Few can match the scope of Judge Noonan’s scholarship.

I do note however, that Judge Noonan missed an opportunity to bolster his own argument on the development of doctrine by quoting Gregory XVI’s In Supremo itself on the subject:

In the process of time, the fog of pagan superstition being more completely dissipated and the manners of barbarous people having been softened, thanks to Faith operating by Charity, it at last comes about that, since several centuries, there are no more slaves in the greater number of Christian nations.

Please note also that Gregory XVI links the development of Charity to the end of slavery. You will find little argument among Christians–let’s hope not–that the development of Charity runs parallel with the development of Faith and of our own understanding of ourselves and our mission as a Church.

One often finds running along with Judge Noonan’s name, on book blurbs and other reviews, the Homeric epithet “impeccable scholarship.” I would agree with the adjectives “impressive” and “useful”–one can learn much from Judge Noonan–but not the adjective “impeccable.”

For Judge Noonan in 2005 offered his readers a very dated view of Augustine on slavery that weakened his presentation considerably. The Divjak letters, known to scholars since 1975, published in English in 1989, and popularized by Peter Brown in 2000 when he felt it necessary to completely rethink his view of Augustine and reissue a new forward to his classic biography based upon such recently discovered documents, evidently did not make their way to Judge Noonan’s desk and into his text. Augustine’s condemnation of human trafficking in North Africa in the early 400s stands up in every way to the passion of De Las Casas’s cries for justice more than a millennium later that so impressed Judge Noonan.

So Augustine himself should have the final words in this blog. Like he has done to many scholars on many questions, it was Augustine himself who had one of the first and at the same time the final words on the subject of development of doctrine:

I am convinced that when he [Moses] wrote those words what he meant and what he thought was all the truth we have been able to discover there, and whatever truth we have not been able to find, or have not found yet, but which is nonetheless there to be found.

Augustine, Confessions, XII, 31, 42; translated by Maria Boulding, OSB, New City Press, 1997.

And some first and final words of Augustine on slave raiding and human trafficking:

“But who resists these traders who are found everywhere, who traffic, not in animals but in human beings, not in barbarians but in Romans from the provinces? Who resists when these people from everywhere and from every side, carried off by violence and ensnared by deception, are led away into the hands of those who bid for them? Who will resist in the name of Roman freedom–I shall not say, the common freedom, but their very own?”

“No one can state satisfactorily how many fall into this same nefarious business because of the incredible blindness and greed and some kind of infection by this disease. Who would believe, for instance, that there is a woman among us here in Hippo who, as a matter of course, lures women from Gidda under the pretext of buying wood, and then confines, beats and sells them? . . . . A young man, scarcely twenty, an intelligent fellow, who kept the accounts for our monastery, was led astray and sold; only with the greatest difficulty was the church able to procure his freedom. . . .
Even if I wished to list all the crimes–just the ones we have had contact with–it would not be possible to do so. . . . There was not lacking a faithful Christian who, knowing our custom in missions of mercy of this kind, made this known to the church. Immediately, partially from the ship in which they had already been loaded, partially from the spot where they had been hidden prior to boarding, about 120 were freed by our people, though I myself was absent. Scarcely five or six were found to have been sold by their parents; of all the others, hardly a person could keep himself from tears on hearing all the various ways by which they were brought to the Galatians by trickery and kidnapping.”

From: Augustine, Letters, Vol. 6 (1*-29*), Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, trans. Robert B. Eno. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. Hbk, 1989. ISBN: 0813200814, pp. 79-80.

I offer as a final comment a very sad fact: There are now more slaves on earth than at any time in human history–

The above puts disagreements among Catholics and historians about just when and how did the Catholic Church condemn slavery into sobering perspective. I think all of the writers quoted above would agree that freeing today’s slaves takes precedence.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Some further links–

Commonweal Magazine Noonan bio–;col1

Arthur M. Hippler’s review of Noonan’s 2005 book–

More on the Panzer-Noonan views on In Supremo.


© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved