Pope Francis asks evangelical denomination's forgiveness for centuries of persecution

Pope Francis visited a Waldensian church during his two-day pastoral visit in Turin.Reuters

Pope Francis has used his visit to Turin to ask forgiveness from an evangelical Christian denomination which was persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.

The Waldensian Church was founded in the 1170s as a spiritual renewal movement and later became part of the Protestant Reformation. Several popes attempted to exterminate the movement, whose were treated appallingly by Catholic forces. Their treatment at the hands of the Duke of Savoy in 1655, when his forces conducted a campaign of torture, rape and murder against them, prompted John Milton's famous poem On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.

Pope Francis visited the denomination's Turin community and asked pardon on behalf of all Catholics, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He said that Catholics "cannot but grieve" in view of the violence committed in the name of the faith.

"On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask you forgiveness for the non-Christian, even non-human, attitudes and behaviours that, in history, we have had against you.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!"

Before the Pope's address, the pastor of the Waldensian community in Turin, Pastor Eugenio Bernardini, asked: "What was the sin of the Waldensians? It was being a movement of popular evangelization, carried out by lay people."

He referred to modern ecumenical relations between Catholics and Waldensians, referencing Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which Francis called on Christians to live together in "reconciled diversity".

"Every Church has need of the other to realise its own vocation," said Bernardini. "We cannot be Christians alone."