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The Inquisition is a group of institutions within the judicial system of the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. It started in 12th-century France to combat religious sectarianism, in particular the Cathars and the Waldensians. Other groups which were investigated later include the Spiritual Franciscans, the Husites (followers of Jan Hus) and Beguines. Beginning in the 1250s, inquisitors were generally chosen from members of the Dominican Order, to replace the earlier practice of using local clergy as judges. The term Medieval Inquisition covers these courts up to mid-15th century.
In the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the concept and scope of the Inquisition was significantly expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Its geographic scope was expanded to other European countries, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition. Those two kingdoms in particular operated inquisitorial courts throughout their respective empires (Spanish and Portuguese) in the Americas (resulting in the Peruvian Inquisition and Mexican Inquisition), Asia, and Africa. One particular focus of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions was the issue of Jewish anusim and Muslim converts to Catholicism, partly because these minority groups were more numerous in Spain and Portugal than in many other parts of Europe, and partly because they were often considered suspect due to the assumption that they had secretly reverted to their previous religions.
Except within the Papal States, the institution of the Inquisition was abolished in the early 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and after the Spanish American wars of independence in the Americas. The institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, but in 1904 was given the new name of "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". In 1965 it became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.