The Vatican and the Atlantic Slave Trade

Please note: this article is from a 1981 issue of History Today, and its language contains outdated terms and descriptions. Articles in our archive remain as they were first printed, and do not reflect the current values of the magazine.

At a time when the Atlantic slave trade had already assumed horrific dimensions, when the decennial imports into the Americas had probably reached a quarter of a million and were still rapidly increasing, two of the most powerful organs of the Papacy – the Holy Office and the Congregation of Propaganda Fide – were called upon to consider some of the moral and religious issues raised by the trade. As a result they handed down a set of decisions, which, had they been implemented rigorously, would have effectively halted almost all the worst excesses of the slave trade a century before Wilberforce and his associates mounted their full-scale campaign against it.

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