The Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) was a list of those books that the Catholic Church considered immoral or theologically erroneous.  Over the centuries, from 1559 to 1948, twenty editions of the Index were prepared until, on 14 June 1966, Pope Paul VI officially abolished the Index.

Still, today, any works that address the teachings of the Catholic Church are submitted to a local Ordinary, an officer of the Church who has ordinary power to execute Church laws.  The Ordinary submits the work to an expert who evaluates the work and, finding nothing objectionable, the expert provides a nihil obstat, meaning “nothing forbids”.  The local Ordinary then grants an imprimatur, meaning “let it be printed”.

Books have been subject to censorship for almost as long as books have existed.  If an authority discovered something in a book to which he objected, he might have the book destroyed and the author punished.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum included a large number of works that expressed views that those charged with its compilation thought were in conflict with the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church.  From 1571-1917, the duty of compiling the Index was assigned to the Sacred Congregation of the Index.  From 1917-1966, the duty fell to The Holy Office.  In 1966, with the abolishment of the Index itself, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that, while the Index provided moral guidance for Catholics, it no longer had the force of ecclesiastical positive law and its penalties.

The Index included such books as the Muslim Koran, the Hebrew Talmud, and any works by Protestant theologians Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Philipp Melancthon.  Works by astronomers Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei who advocated the theory of heliocentrism were entered into the Index.  Works by Francis Bacon who devised what has become known as The Scientific Method, as well as those of Blaise Pascal who stated that scientific theories were characterized by their falsifiability were also added to the list.  Surprisingly, Charles Darwin never made the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Some of the books on the Index were later removed.  The Poem of the Man-God by Maria Valtorta reportedly received verbal approval from Pope Pius XII in 1948, but was condemned by Pope John XXII in 1959.  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) upheld the condemnation in 1985.  However, in 2001, Catholic Bishop Roman Danylak stated that The Poem of the Man-God was “in perfect consonance with the canonical Gospels, with the traditions and magisterium of the Catholic Church”.  The Poem of the Man-God has now received the imprimature of both Bishop Roman Danylak and Archbishop Soosa Pakiam.

The works of Maria Faustina Kowalska were placed on the Index by Pope John XXIII in 1959, despite the fact that Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani at the Holy Office had previously failed to convince Pope Pius XII to do so.  In 1965, Archbishop Karol Józef Wojtyła (later to become Pope John Paul II) opened the case for the beatification of Maria Faustina Kowalska.  Maria Faustina Kowalska was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000.  Even though her works had once been placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, Maria Faustina Kowalska became the first saint in the 21st century.

Today, September 24, 2011, marks the beginning of Banned Books Week sponsored by American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN American Center.

Banned Books Week is a celebration of the freedom to read.  The books on the list of frequently challenged books include such notables as:

  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
  • Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
  • In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
  • The Witches, by Roald Dahl
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
  • A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein

Click on the image below to view a reading from A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out.  You can watch other readings from banned books at the Banned Books You Tube Channel.

Visit the American Library Association’s website to more information about banned books and lists of the most frequently challenged books.

If you write a blog, this week would be a good time to list your favorite banned books.  If you don’t have a blog, just leave a comment here, instead.  And, have a happy Banned Books Week!