CNN Series Gets It Wrong On The Crusades – OpEd


CNN has aired its first installment of CNN’s six-part series, “Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History.” Its treatment of the rise of the papacy through the centuries was mostly even-handed—until it got to the Crusades.

To be sure, the show featured some cogent observations from St. Louis University professor Thomas Madden. He pointed out that “the Crusades were, first and foremost, an act of piety,” undertaken to stop Islamic invaders who were violently attacking nuns, clergy, and pilgrims; the Christians also sought to liberate the holy city of Jerusalem from its Muslim conquerors.

But Madden’s observations were drowned out by the overriding theme of this segment: that the Crusades were little more than a power grab by Pope Urban II.

We are told that Pope Urban II saw the Crusades as “an opportunity to reunite Christians and restore the reign of the Roman Catholic Church”; that he “called for violence in the name of one world under one Catholic Church”; that the Crusades, while “partly motivated by religious zeal,” were also “partly motivated by a simple desire for conquest”; and that as a result, Pope Francis “is today trying to heal wounds his predecessor inflicted almost a thousand years ago.”

Such assertions are nothing new. Princeton’s Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s most noted historians, has written, “At the present time, the Crusades are often depicted as an early experiment in expansionist imperialism.” Yet, “To the people of the time, both Muslim and Christian, they were no such thing.”

Rather, Lewis explains, “The Crusade was a delayed response to the jihad, the holy war for Islam, and its purpose was to recover by war what had been lost by war—to free the holy places of Christendom and open them once again, without impediment, to Christian pilgrimage.”

Just as important, as Madden has pointed out many times before, “All the Crusades met all the criteria of a just war.” But one would never know this by watching this episode on CNN. There is no question that the uninformed viewer was presented with a jaundiced view of the Crusades.

William Donohue

William Donohue is the current president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the United States, and has held that position since 1993.

5 thoughts on “CNN Series Gets It Wrong On The Crusades – OpEd

  • March 14, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    How true, the Crusades were made to free Christians from severe oppression, torture and death. Peter, the hermit, led a rag-tag group to their final demise. He had no authority from the Pope so it was not considered an organized Crusade, the First Crusade didn’t occur until a year later. Peter, the hermit, group ran afoul and committed many atrocities including killing Jews in Germany and destroying Jewish villages, they never made to the Holy Land.

    • March 15, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Good post. Thank you.

  • March 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    The first Crusade was in response to a letter sent to the Pope by the Byzantine Emperor asking for assistance in attempting to defend his empire against Muslims. The Crusades were tactically offensive but strategically defensive.

  • March 16, 2018 at 1:55 am

    The uninformed viewer was presented with a jaundiced view of the Crusades?
    Well, so were the informed viewers, surely. Rewrite required!

  • March 16, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    As I historian who’s also written on related matters, I can’t really quarrel with Mr. Donohue’s data here. In fact, given that, don’t the same considerations justify us, in yet another just war — because surely we can’t have too many of them — in invading the Middle East, again, but this time to free yet more Christian holy sites from those darned Muslims? Can’t see why not.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *