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Church apologizes for slave trade

The Church of England apologizes to the descendents, some of them Indian, for the slave trade.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 11:14 IST

Almost 200 years after slave trade was abolished, the Church of England has admitted its complicity in the trade and apologised to the descendants of the slaves, some of whom also hailed from India.

The church profited from the trade - it owned a slave plantation in the West Indies while several bishops had owned hundreds of slaves.

The General Synod of the church admitted its complicity in the trade at a meeting on Wednesday.

During an emotional debate, the General Synod voted unanimously to tender an apology to descendants of the slaves. The slave trade included people from eastern Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, urged the Church to share the "shame and sinfulness of our predecessors".

The Church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation in the Barbados island and slaves had the word "Society" branded on their chests with a red-hot iron.

One archbishop, the Most Rev Thomas Secker, wrote to a fellow bishop in 1760: "I have long wondered and lamented that the Negroes in our plantation decrease and new supplies become necessary continually.

"Surely this proceeds from some defect, both of humanity and even of good policy. But we must take things as they are at present."

According to The Telegraph, the bishop of Exeter and three business colleagues were paid nearly 13,000 pounds to compensate them for the loss of 665 slaves in 1833.

The Rev Simon Bessant, of Blackburn, told the Synod: "We were at the heart of it; we were directly responsible for what happened." He said that, despite the efforts of Anglican reformers such as William Wilberforce, the Church was "part of the problem as well as part of the solution".

Bessant amended a motion by the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Tom Butler, urging the Church to mark the bicentennial next year of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Bishop Butler said that a Synod apology could result in the Church becoming the "national scapegoat" for slavery when the whole country should share the guilt.

But the amendment was supported by speaker after speaker, including Williams and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. Williams said the apology was not political correctness but "necessary".

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 11:14 IST