Protestant writers seeking to defame the Church invented quite a few lies. One key myth is the breadth, depravity and ruthlessness of the 'Inquisition'. As usual facts get in the way of the myth. In a very good book 'Gods Philosophers', by James Hannam, on pages 84-85, I came across his historical analysis of the Inquisition. As Hannam states, the Inquisition was not nearly as bloody or as widespread as the Protestants and Church-haters make out. In fact over 250 years, maybe 3.000 were put to death by secular-civil authorities, after being handed over by Church 'Inquisitors'. Whilst 3.000 too many, this is the same number of daughters slaughtered, or Infidels and Apostates murdered, in any 3 month-period by the cult of Islam. Hollywood movie not forthcoming.
Hannam maintains that though the Inquisition was in some ways a dark era for the Church, there is ample evidence that it was in some ways necessary and contrary to atheist theology and bile, even beneficial.
-The inquisition was initiated to root out the Cathar heresy of the early 13th century [a militant dual-materialist sect in southern France, which maintained that all material matter including sex was evil]. The Cathars and others rejected the Church and openly proclaimed their heresies.
-Due to corruption, a misunderstanding of canonical texts and laws, and various 'interpretations' of the scripture, heresy was becoming all too common in 13th century Europe. If you believe that divine spirituality is achieved through the 'bride of Christ' namely the Church, this was a serious problem indeed. Yet the Church itself was in some measure to blame.
-Fra Dominic founded the Dominican monkish order in the early 13th century to combat heresy, reform the church and expunge the corruption and worldliness from the church and its priests and bishops. It would be the Black-Friars or Dominicans who would be the most active [named the dogs of the Pope], in prosecuting heresy.
-The world's first University was started by the Church in Bologna in the mid 12th century. Its focus was on Canon and Civil Law. Interestingly, the legal reforms proposed by Bologna rejected current legal traditions and instituted a fact-evidence based jurisprudence. Legal traditions were in the main based on pagan concepts, traditions and character. It was called an 'accusatory' system. If a supposedly honest man accused a dishonest man of a crime, the defendant had little chance of escaping punishment. Trials by ordeal – the burning of the hands, throwing the 'guilty' into rivers to see if they floated [thereby the will of God allowed them to live], or other barbarisms were common. These practices were outlawed by the Church in 1215. In their place was instituted a system of witnesses, juries, evidence gathering, common-sense and proof. The basis of modern law today.
-The Dominicans and other Inquisitors used the Bologna legal reforms to investigate heresy. The due process to obtain real evidence was paramount. Most of the heretics were given the chance to recant and given a light a penance. Most of those investigated were thus absolved. A few would be handed over to the secular authorities who would punish them under the more severe secular law. In Medieval Europe it was better to be tried by the Church, than by secular powers.
-The Inquisition was active in areas of religious strife. Southern France in the 13th century, the recently conquered areas of Moslem Spain [to eliminate the 5th column]; and along the Rhine [which would be the power base of Luther's nationalism in the early 16th century]. In essence the Inquisition was a reaction to a low-grade civil war against Church authority.
Though the Inquisitorial era was hardly a model of tolerance and restraint, it is in reality quite difficult to see what else the Church could do. Either you believe in the marriage of the Church to Christ and his word or you don't. Allowing that edifice to be destroyed by those who oppose Church doctrine is hardly the actions of the informed, enlightened, or those living in reality.
Note: Hannam has a physics degree from Oxford and a Phd in History of Science from Oxford. He is not a Catholic.