In 1232 A.D., the Catholic Church established a court known as the Inquisition. The Inquisition was charged with the responsibility of seeking out and punishing heretics. This court was given substantial authority in order to allow them to fulfill their charge.
Often individuals were charged with heresy with little or no proof. The courts would then torture these individuals in order to acquire a confession from them. If these individuals would confess and repent, they would be forgiven. If they would not, then they would be punished.
Punishments included imprisonment, loss of land and property, loss of titles, and even death. The Inquisition lasted for hundreds of years.