2 November 14, 1975
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Avoiding Historical Distortions: Demonic Role
of Isabella of Spain and an Episode Relating
to Catholic Attitude on Inquisition, Blood Libel
The Church, Inquisition and Ritual Murder Libel
An innocent description of a queen with
a record for cruelty as if she were a great
and noble ruler revives interest in a forgot-
ten chapter of controversy over the Inquisi-
tion and the Catholic Church.
Mike Whorf, the brilliant director of the
Detroit radio station WJR Kaleidoscope
programs, chose Columbus Day as occasion
to magnify the role of Queen Isabella. Only
in the last words of his broadcast did he
mention what he said was a negative aspect
of her career, her share of guilt with her hus-
band, King Ferdinand, in the institution and
promulgation of the brutal Inquisition.
The occasion years ago for an uproar
and for protests was the publication by Rob-
ert M. McBride & Co. of "Isabella of Spain"
by William Thomas Walsh.
December 23, 1930
Mr. Philip Slomovitz,
525 Woodward Ave.,
I have received your kind note, and also
the copy of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle. De-
spite the things my friends have said of
me, I know that I am far from being a
"representative Catholic scholar," and conse-
quently my criticism of Dr. Pool's review
may not have very much weight.
How does this accord with the Rev. Mr. "Catholic Answers to Protestant Charges"
Pare's kind belief that the subject of ritual by G. Elliot Anstruther, organizing secre-
murder "was introduced not because Mr. tary of the International Catholic Truth So-
Walsh believed it to be true, but because Isa- ciety. The answer to the charge on the Span-
bella believed it"? ish Inquisition reads:
My suggestion that the Catholic Church
in America should disavow this book which,
though unofficial, that the Catholic Church
which has produced Frank's refutation of
the ritual murder charge and Papal Bulls
discrediting that charge, might in its own in-
terest find it advisable to disavow a work
which ostensibly, if unofficially, seems to
identify the Church with that charge.
D. de Sola Pool
As a mere student I, of course, have
an opinion, and it is this. Dr. Pool is too
violent. His review may be comforting to
his own people, but it will hardly influence
the judgment of the public outside. He is
no more infallible in saying that Isabella
was "warped by sadistic perversions"
The biography was an exoneration of than is Mr. Walsh in making her a para-
The following is an editorial in the De-
Isabella's role, not only as a major partici- gon of virtue.
troit Jewish Chronical, Jan. 2, 1931, by its
pant in engineering the Inquisition but
There are probably only a few men in then editor, Philip Slomovitz:
also as an endorser of the outrageous ri- the world competent to make an impartial
A Catholic Replies to Dr. Pool.
tualmurder libel against the Jews.
and dispassionate study of the varying for-
Shocking was such an endorsement of tunes of the Jewish people in Western civili-
Isabella's barbarous role that the late Dr. zation. I doubt very much whether, in case
David de Sola Pool, the eminent rabbi of the such a study were made, either Christians or
Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New Jews would be absolved from all blame for
York, one of the oldest in this country, called the reprehensible things that have happened.
upon the Catholic Church to repudiate the In regard to the matter of ritual murder
biography and thereby reject the instigation I am entirely in accord with Dr. Pool. It is
of the horrors which were condoned in the lamentable that every so often your people
Walsh biography. should be stigmatized by a recurrence of
The late Dr. Cecil Roth, chief among the that revolting accusation. I am glad that the
authorities on the era of the Inquisition and most notable and exhaustive refutation of
of Spanish Jewish history, joined in con- the charge is the work of Frank, a Catholic
demning the outrage that marked the publi- priest.
However, it seems to me that, in the
cation of the glorified Isabella biography.
work under review, the subject was intro-
Justice, ecumenism and quest for truth duced not because Mr. Walsh believed it to
give credence to a review of an old case in-
true, but because Isabella believed it. That
volving perpetuation of horrid and hoary bi- be
is quite another matter.
gotries. One wonders: would the Catholic
Today, both ritual murder and the
hierarchy today more speedily respond to Inquisition
are unthinkable. Five hundred
Dr. Pool's request for a repudiation of a tale years ago they
were not. In such matters
like Walsh's "Isabella?"
We are very grateful to Rev. George W.
Pare of the Sacred Heart Seminary of this
city for his statement replying to Dr. David
de Sola Pool's attack on William Thomas
Walsh's "Isabella of Spain, the Last Cru-
sader." Even if it is not to be considered an
official reply, as it can not possibly be, it is
a fair indication of what a Catholic scholar
thinks of the matters involved — the Inquisi-
tion. the ritual muder lie, etc.
It is clear that Reverend Pare has tried
to be fair in his reply, even if he did call Dr.
Pool's review of the Isabella biography "too
Nevertheless we are disappointed in
some of his statements. He states, for in-
stance, that "today, both ritual murder
and the Inquisition are unthinkable. Five
hundred years ago they were not. In such
matters perspective is everything." If our
learned correspondent refers to the senti-
perspective is everything.
I am not much impressed by Dr. Pool's ments of unthinking masses, then we do
cry that the Catholic Church must disavow not have to go back four centuries to prove
Mr. Walsh's book. Because Mr: Walsh is a when both the Inquisition and ritual mur-
Catholic — as I think he is — it does not fol- ders were "unthinkable." Even the en-
lightened Twentieth Century Jews are
low that the Church has avowed his book.
For him to pass on the inerrancy or in- suffering such bigoted "thinking."
This Commentator had a role in ex-
posing the outrage 45 years ago. Your
Commentator called an eminent Catholic
scholar, the Rev. George W. Pare, then in
an official capacity at the Sacred Heart
Seminary, 2701 Chicago Boulevard in De-
troit, for a view of the issues in the debate accuracy of what is necessarily a matter of
over the Catholic attitudes on the Inquisi- history would be to arrogate to himself an
tion and the blood lie.
infallibility which I fear Dr. Pool does not
Then editor of the Detroit Jewish
Chronicle, your Commentator wrote on the
subject at length, editorially.
That incident is best defined in the se-
ries of letters, the Pare statement and the
editorial of Jan. 2, 1931, just referred to. The
chronological record of the occurrence of 45
years ago follows:
Dec. 19, 1930
Rev. George Pare,
Sacred Heart Seminary, ,
2701 West Chicago Boulevard,
I am sending you under separate cover a
copy of today's issue of our paper, and I am
very anxious that you should read the article
which appears on the first page in which Dr.
David de Sola Pool criticizes Walsh's "Isa-
bella of Spain, the Last Crusader."
In view of the challenge by Dr. Pool,
I am interested in securing a statement
from a representative Catholic scholar
commenting on the views expressed by Dr.
Pool. Your name was recommended to me
as that of a man best suited to speak on
this subject, and my good friend James L.
Devlin of The News tells me that the News
librarian, Mr. George Catlin, considers
you one of the ablest historians in Detroit.
To secure a statement on the subject from
you would therefore be a privilege.
May I hope to be favored with word
from you on the subject in question?.
Cordially and sincerely yours,
concede to him even in the sphere of religion.
If Mr. Walsh's book can be discredited by an
impartial and painstaking refutation, it will
be disavowed by every lover of justice and
The following is a response from Dr. Pool:
December 29, 1930
Mr. Philip Slomovitz, Editor
The Detroit Jewish Chronicle
525 Woodward Avenue
My dear Mr. Slomovitz:
I have read with interest and appreciation
the Rev. George W. Pare's letter about my
review of "Isabella of Spain."
Nothing would be gained by entering
into any discussion as to Isabella's character.
Whether or not those who investigate and
look on the torture of fellow human beings
with gratification can rightly be described as
sadistic, is a question of definition to be set-
tled by the psychologist and the dictionary.
It is not I that am violent, it is the word
which must have a violent connotation to de-
scribe a violent condition.
If Mr. Walsh had introduced the sub-
ject of ritual murder purely from an objec-
tive historical point of view, there could be
no quarrel with him whatsoever. The
quarrel with him is that he not only bela-
bors the ritual murder question in a
markedly tendentious way, but he com-
mits himself to such astounding state-
ments as, "The charge here given legal
sanction cannot be dismissed as a mere ev-
idence of fanaticism or propaganda, for
the fact is that from time to time Jews ac-
tually were convicted of such crimes".
But we are dealing with the high coun-
cils of the church, and we are surprised to
hear that at any time, even in the most big-
oted periods in the history of mankind,
teachers of religion and ethics should con-
done the existence of such a "revolting accu-
sation," to use Reverend Pare's own words,
as the ritual murder lie, and such horrible
instruments as the Inquisition.
In Jewish life such an instrument could
never be excused. And official Catholicism
never did either, as was emphasized by Dr.
Pool when he made reference to the disap-
proval of the zeal of the Spanish Inquisition
by Popes Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII and the
Borgia Pope Alexander VI, who pleaded with
Isabella to be more merciful.
Reverend Pare writes us that "if Mr.
Walsh's book can be discredited by an impar-
tial and painstaking refutation, it will be
disavowed by every lover of justice and
truth." But every lover of justice and truth
has already disavowed the sentiments of the
book. History has condemned the Inquisition
and the efforts to pin the ritual murder lie
on the Jews. And joining in the condemna-
tions were Catholics as well as Protestants
still in existence, for the purpose of in-
vestigating and dealing with heretical
teaching. It is needless to say that it
never inflicts capital punishment
nowadays, or imprisonment, or any of
the other penalties which followed
from its action in bygone centuries.
The Inquisition, as such, could not be
confused with the Spanish Inquisi-
tion, with which this note has to deal.
The Spanish Inquisition was
founded in 1481 by Ferdinand and Isa-
bella, and its severities were con-
demned by some of the Popes them-
selves. No Catholic would desire for
one moment to condone its excesses;
no Catholic nation nowadays would
But we must remember in order
to judge even the Spanish Inquisition
fairly, that in the days when it was in
operation torture and death were in-
flicted all over Europe, including,
England, for an enormous number of
offenses, and heresy was then ad-
judged, especially in Spain, to be a se-
rious crime against the state. As a
matter of fact, while the Inquisitors
decided as to the heresy of the ac-
cused, the state executed the sent-
ence, the Inquisition being a joint
tribunal of church and state.
"The History of the Spanish In-
quisition," written by Llorente, on
which most Protestant writers rely, is
full of statements and statistics which
cannot be reconciled with those from
other sources, and it is significant
,that he burnt the official records
which would have enabled his figures
to be checked.
The Spanish Inquisition was not
more cruel in its procedure — it was
indeed more just — than were the civil
courts of that time. Llorente gives
the almost certainly false total of 6,024
victims of the Inquisition under Tor-
quemada during 14 years; according
to a yearly average computed by Sir
James Stephens, there were in a simi-
lar period 11,200 executions in Eng-
land under Queen Elizabeth.
We believe that the above speaks for it-
self. Only the uninformed and the very naive
will justify the Inquisition on the grvnd
that it "was not more cruel in its procedure
— it was indeed more just — than were the
civil courts of that time."
Our argument at this time, however, is,
that the Catholic Church ought not to be a
party to such aspersions of the Jewish people
as are contained in Walsh's "Isabella," and
we again join Dr. Pool in urging Catholics of
this country to disavow the volume.
January 6, 1931.
Mr. Philip Slomovitz, Editor
The Detroit Jewish Chronicle
My dear Mr. Slomovitz:
I too am sorry that you did not receive
my answer to Rev. Mr. Pare's criticism ear-
lier, but that is one of the penalties I have to
pay for living in New York and not in
We continue to hope that the official
Catholic Church will disavow this biography
of Isabella. Dr. Pool's attack on Walsh's book
was tempered with a feeling of friendship
for the present Catholic Church, and his at-
tack was limited to the cruel institutions
which were created by fanatics and which
However, your own editorial certainly
were as abhorrent to truly religious Catholic did much to off-set the impression made by
souls in the Fifteenth Century as they are in Pare's letter. What does surprise me is that
the Jewish Daily Bulletin featured Pare's
In all fairness to our Catholic friends, letter without giving me an opportunity to
we quote the Catholic explanation of the comment on it in the same issue.
Spanish Inquisition. A devout Catholic
friend has supplied us with a copy of
D. de Sola Pool