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The Pope pardoned the 'heretic' Templars

01:00 Mon 08th Apr 2002 |

A.According to new evidence, yes. Vatican documents have come to light showing that the Knights Templar were massacred in the Middle Ages for 'heresy, idolatry and sexual perversion' even though the Pope, Clement V, had exonerated them in a secret trial.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.� Who were the Templars ���������������������������������������

A.� A Knight Templar was a member of a religious military order established at the time of the early Crusades in the 12th Century. The Templars - real name The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon - were founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, together with the Hospitallers (or Knights of St John).

Q.� Protect from whom

A.� Mainly marauding bands of Muslims. A handful of French knights, led by Hugues de Payens, vowed in late 1119 or early 1120 to protect the pilgrims and form a religious community for that purpose. Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, gave them quarters in a wing of the royal palace in the area of the former Temple of Solomon, and from this they got their name.

Q.� And their numbers grew

A.� Yes. The Templars performed courageous service in the Holy Land, and their numbers increased rapidly, partly because of the writings of St Bernard of Clairvaux. There were four classes of Templars: knights, sergeants, chaplains, and servants. Only the knights wore the Templars' distinctive white coat marked with a red cross. Each Templar took vows of poverty and chastity.

Q.� They were similar to priests

A.In many ways, yes. In 1139, Pope Innocent II placed the Templars directly under the Pope's authority. From then on, they soon became a vital element in defending the Christian crusader states of the Holy Land. At their height, there were about 20,000 Templar knights.

Q.� So they were becoming independently powerful

A.� Yes. The Templars began to acquire wealth. The kings and great nobles of Spain, France, and England gave them estates. By the mid-12th Century, the Templars owned properties throughout Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Their military strength enabled them to safely collect, store, and transport treasure through Europe and the Holy Land so efficiently that they became bankers to royalty and pilgrims.

Q.� And this made them popular

A.� Up to a point. As they became more powerful, they developed enemies. Acre, the last remaining crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims in 1291 - and with it the reason for the Templars' original existence. Then nasty rumours started to emerge.

Q.� Such as

A.� Templars were said to take part in irreligious practices and blasphemies as part of their secret initiation rites. They were accused, among other charges, of heresy, homosexuality and spitting on the image of Jesus. In response, King Philip IV (Philip the Fair) of France had every Templar in France arrested on 13 October, 1307. He then seized all the Templars' property in France.

Q.� That's hardly fair. Why

A.� He may have feared their power, or (more likely) he may have simply seen an opportunity to seize their immense wealth. Philip accused the Templars of heresy and immorality and had many of them tortured to secure confessions. Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, came under strong pressure from Philip and ordered the arrest of Templars in a series of dawn raids.

Q.� And then

A.� Philip succeeded in getting the Pope to suppress the order at the Council of Vienne in France in 1312. The Templars' property throughout Europe was transferred to a rival order, the Hospitallers, or confiscated by the state. Many Templars were executed or imprisoned, and in 1314 the order's last grandmaster, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake.

Q.Where does this new evidence come in ������

A.Clement V made an investigation into the claims but records of his inquiry were apparently lost when Napoleon looted the Vatican during his invasion of Italy in the 18th century. Now L'Avvenire, the Catholic daily, says the long-lost parchments have been found.

Commentators believe the revelation will put pressure on the Pope John Paul II, who has asked the Muslim world for forgiveness for the Crusades, to apologise for the persecution of one of the main crusading orders as well.

Q.How did Clement V clear them

A.Contrary to the popular view that he was a weak pontiff who went along with Philip's every demand, Clement V ordered his emissaries to question the Templars.

The Pope had accepted the knights' explanation that the charges against them of sodomy and blasphemy were due to a misunderstanding of arcane rituals that prepared them for interrogation and torture by the Muslims. They were taught how to abuse their own religion 'with the mind only and not with the heart'.

Clement V wrote: 'We hereby decree that they are absolved by the church and may again receive Christian sacraments.' But Philip IV had Templar leaders put to death before the Pope's verdict could be published.

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Steve Cunningham

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