Knights Templar seek papal apology for 700 years of persecution

Seven hundred years after they were denounced as heretics and condemned to torture and death, the Knights Templar are calling for a public apology from the Roman Catholic Church.

The secretive organisation which was formed at the time of the Crusades has written to Pope John Paul II requesting that the Vatican officially atone for the persecution of the order.

The formal request for reconciliation to the Vatican has come from an English-based sept and is signed by the "Council of Chaplains, for and on behalf of the acting Grand Master". The letter asks for "an apology from the Vatican for the persecution of our brothers of the Knights Templar and the torture and murder of our leadership, under Pope Clement V during the 14th century AD".

The Hertfordshire-based group, one of thousands of Templar lodges around the world, is hopeful of a satisfactory outcome. "There have been some unofficial responses over the telephone and we have received certain indications from officials within the church that leaves us hopeful that an apology might be forthcoming," said a member of the order.

The Knights Templar order was formed in 1118 at the end of the First Crusade to protect Christian pilgrims en route to the Holy Land. The organisation built up vast riches from booty it pillaged while fighting in the Holy Lands. Within two centuries the order, which enjoyed the backing of the Holy See and European monarchies, had become powerful enough to defy all but the Pope. By 1307 it had fallen foul of Philip IV of France who needed funds for his war against England. With the blessing of Pope Clement V, the king moved against the Templars on Friday 13 October of that year and had them all arrested for heresy. More than 2,000 Templars were tortured and forced to confess to crimes of homosexuality and sodomy; spitting and trampling on the cross; and devil worshipping. As a result King Philip was able to seize their money and assets and by 1314 when the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake they had ceased to officially exist.

Some of the Templars fled to Scotland, where they are reputed to have helped Robert the Bruce defeat the English at Bannockburn, and under his protection many of their rituals survived. Today many groups from Freemasons to the Cult of the Solar Temple claim the Templars as ancestors and the modern order still includes numerous influential members.

Now, with the 700th anniversary of its persecution approaching, sources within the Knights Templar claim the order wants to improve relations with the Catholic Church and win some sort of acknowledgement for the suffering inflicted.

There were signs last year that the relationship between the Templars and the Vatican was improving when, in a church behind the Colosseum, a Catholic priest presided over the first Knights Templar ceremony in Rome for 522 years.

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