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The Corrupter of Boys

Dyan Elliott demonstrates how scandal-averse policies in conjunction with the requirement of clerical celibacy resulted in the widespread sexual abuse of boys from late antiquity through the later Middle Ages, and argues that the same clerical prerogatives and strategies for the cover-up of abuse remain in place today.

The Corrupter of Boys
Sodomy, Scandal, and the Medieval Clergy

Dyan Elliott

2020 | 448 pages | Cloth $45.00
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Table of Contents


Part I
Chapter 1. The Scandal of Clerical Sin
Chapter 2. The Trouble with Boys
Chapter 3. The Problem with Women
Chapter 4. Sodomy on the Cusp of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries
Chapter 5. Confession, Scandal, and the "Sin Not Fit to be Named"

Part II
Chapter 6. The Monastery
Chapter 7. The Choir
Chapter 8. The Schools
Chapter 9. The Episcopal Curia


List of Abbreviations

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid "scandal." That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered. . . . Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It's like a playbook for concealing the truth.
—Pennsylvania grand jury report, August 2018

I suspect most historians have moments when the past becomes overly present—so much so that it seems more than mere coincidence; it seems uncanny. In May 2002, the news broke that Catholic priests in Boston were guilty of multiple incidents of child abuse. As if this was not horrific enough, it turned out that the ecclesiastical authorities were aware of this abuse but did nothing to punish the offenders. Instead they kept silent about these offenses, coercing the victims and their families into doing likewise, and simply moved the offending clerics to different parishes. I remembered that a similar solution had been anticipated by the thirteenth-century scholastic Henry of Ghent, who raised the question of what a superior should do in the event that he learns through confession that one of his subordinates is a threat to his parishioners. The answer: keep silent and, when the opportunity arises, move him. I began to wonder if this degree of ecclesiastical subterfuge in concealing clerical vice had been in place long before the multiple scandals that rocked the Boston church and the world. This was the uncanny moment that led to the writing of this book.

As I was completing my research, more and more instances of abuse came to light, and the members of the public were aghast. Catholics and non-Catholics alike kept asking what could have gone so horribly wrong, or, as a recent editorial in the New York Times put it: "How have so many pedophiles been allowed into the priesthood? How could bishops have so consistently looked the other way?" The editor was responding to the recent report of the grand jury convened to investigate the clerical abuse of minors in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. The ecclesiastical archives revealed that church authorities had concealed the fact that three hundred priests were responsible for abusing around one thousand children. The jurors were convinced that there were many more such cases of abuse that would never come to light. The editorial in the Times presumed that the multiple tragedies detailed in this report were simply failings of the contemporary church, which, of course, they were. But by this point, my research had convinced me that the questions raised in the editorial were not apposite. The irresponsible manner in which the church hierarchy handled these cases of child abuse was not the exception, but the rule. The report from Pennsylvania had only helped to confirm my dark premise: what we are witnessing in the contemporary church is no aberration but a continuation of a practice that spanned centuries.

This might seem like an unlikely position to maintain given the decentralization of premodern religious structures. There was no monolithic "church," as there is now. Rather there were many disparate interest groups manifesting rivalry and contestation throughout the church hierarchy. Parish priests did their best to keep themselves and their parishes under the radar of their suffragan bishop, even as suffragans strove to guard their diocese from interference by the archbishop. Monastic orders struggled to resist episcopal oversight. The growing power of the papacy instigated a new set of rivalries throughout the high and later Middle Ages. The mendicant orders, responsible to the pope alone, were bitterly resented by the secular clergy for their incursions into the parochial system and especially feared and hated for their roles as inquisitors of heresy. For their own part, members of the different mendicant orders roundly despised one another. Meanwhile, the rising national monarchs resisted papal power, and their bishops rallied around them.

And yet, the clergy was united in certain salient ways that would ultimately foster an enduring culture of ecclesiastical subterfuge. In the fourth century, clerics began to distinguish themselves from members of the laity by virtue of augmented claims to holiness. Because clerical celibacy was key to this distinction, religious authorities of all stripes—patristic authors, popes, theologians, canonists, monastic founders, and commentators—became progressively sensitive to sexual scandals that involved the clergy and developed sophisticated tactics for concealing or dispelling embarrassing lapses. The fear of scandal dictated certain lines of action and inaction, the consequences of which are painfully apparent today. This book discusses how the scandal-averse policies, which existed at every conceivable level of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in conjunction with the requirement of clerical celibacy, resulted in the widespread sexual abuse of boys and male adolescents.

This is a difficult topic that religious authorities were loath to acknowledge, then as now. In the Middle Ages, when clerical activists like Odo of Cluny (d. 942), Peter Damian (d. 1072), and Ivo of Chartres (d. 1115) attempted to alert the authorities to this problem, they were ignored or, as in Damian's case, even chastised for their indiscretion. This conspiracy of silence is still in effect. Not only do contemporary religious authorities resist prosecuting members of the clergy, but attempts to sanitize these crimes are embedded in the extant records. For instance, in the findings of Pennsylvania's grand jury, the crime of rape is consistently characterized by church authorities as "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues." It is noteworthy that the modern church's pattern of concealment and prohibition even pertains to clerical sins committed centuries before. In 1995, Filippo Tamburini, a priest and former archivist at the Vatican, edited a collection of premodern cases from the papal penitentiary (a tribunal for grievous sins reserved for the papacy) under the sensational title Santi e peccatori (Saints and sinners). Tamburini was chastised and threatened with a number of censures by Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, "minister of the interior" of the Holy See. The inclusion of incidents of clerical sodomy was deemed particularly objectionable. This manner of response is of long standing and, as discussed in Chapter 5, finds eloquent expression in a euphemism that arises in the high Middle Ages: "the sin not fit to be named."

The widespread suppression of clerical scandal at every level of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was not based solely on self-interest; there was an altruistic side to this taboo. The term "scandal" is derived from a Greek word meaning "to cause another to stumble." If an individual's actions somehow occasioned sin in another, even if whatever they said or did was not sinful in and of itself, the perpetrator was nevertheless guilty of scandal. This perspective was not simply grounded in ecclesiastical expediency but had strong scriptural support. Christ had famously set a child in the midst of the apostles and said, "unless you be converted and become as little children [sicut parvuli], you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. . . . But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones [unum de pusillis istis] that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:2-3, 6). Over time, canonists and theologians would determine that the more influential the person, whether by virtue of rank or reputation, the greater his ability to scandalize, and the greater the culpability he would accrue for occasioning scandal. As the clergy's moral authority grew over time, it was progressively invested with a heightened capacity to scandalize. This meant that the suppression of clerical sins was not simply pragmatic, but praiseworthy. As early as the seventh century, a cleric who hid his sin and hypocritically posed as a holy man was widely believed to be less sinful and, to most religious authorities, such behavior was considered infinitely preferable to the cleric who sinned openly.

These same authorities were much more inclined to conceal the clergy's sexual relations with other males over their involvement with females and for good reason. From a theoretical standpoint, same-sex relations in any form were considered much more sinful, and hence more scandalous, and this would justify a salubrious concealment for the public good. In practical terms, however, relations between two males, especially between two members of the clergy, were easier to conceal and, from this perspective, less scandalous than would be a priest's relationship with a woman. From an institutional standpoint, the clergy's relations with other males posed much less of a threat than comparable relations with females, since wives or concubines and their offspring not only represented an economic drain on ecclesiastical property but also tended to divide the clergy's loyalties. During the eleventh-century papal reform and its aftermath, it was the married clergy who were persecuted, while clerical same-sex relations were tacitly tolerated and, in some circles, celebrated. We shall see that it was very rare for a cleric to be charged with same-sex relations before an ecclesiastical tribunal during the period under consideration. In fact, most of our knowledge of same-sex relations in premodern Europe is drawn from secular criminal tribunals. For although members of the clergy were exempt from secular jurisdiction, clerics were nevertheless periodically apprehended for sodomy by secular authorities.

The evidence of these tribunals overwhelmingly indicates that same-sex relations in the premodern world paralleled the model of classical pederasty in which the active party (i.e., the penetrator) was older and more powerful. These sources, in conjunction with scattered literary representations and rare instances of prosecution by ecclesiastical tribunals, suggest that the model of pederasty pertained to both clerical and secular society. The church's ongoing toleration of clerical pederasty may seem at odds with Christianity's reputation as defender of children, evident in its condemnation of classical same-sex relations through the introduction of concepts like paidopthoria (violation of children) or corruptor puerorum (corrupter of boys). I would contend, however, that the prime motivation behind such sanctions was never the welfare of children. What was really being condemned was same-sex relations. Pederasty just happened to be the form that such relations assumed, and these condemnations would have been issued regardless of whether they benefited children. This might seem like a shocking contention—especially for premodern historians of childhood, who are still resisting Philippe Ariès's argument that the premodern world had no conception of childhood. Some of this scholarly resistance is legitimate; there is little doubt that medieval society was aware of childhood as a unique stage of development. But I also think this resistance has overemphasized the positive attitudes toward children over the negative. For the perception of childhood was deeply riven—especially when it came to church authorities.

This bifurcation can be projected backward onto Christ's comments on scandal and children, in which he used different terms to symbolize two discrete but related conceptions of childhood. The child whom Christ upheld as a model citizen for the kingdom of heaven is described as the sinless parvulus; the one who is in danger of being scandalized is the corruptible pusillus. Different authorities often chose to emphasize one of these aspects of childhood over the other. For John Chrysostom (d. 407), childhood was a time of sexual innocence, which he associated with the angelic life. The child's easy access to salvation was because "the soul of the little child is pure from all the passions. He does not bear a grudge against those who have hurt him, but approaches them as friends as if nothing had happened." This accorded with the fond remembrances of Gregory of Tours (d. 594), who grew up in the household of his maternal great-uncle, Bishop Nicetius of Lyon (d. 573). Not only does Gregory present the child himself as presexual, but he refuses to entertain the possibility that a child could be the object of sexual desire.

I remember in my youth, when I was beginning to learn how to read, and was in my eighth year, that [the bishop] ordered my unworthy self to come to his bed, where he took me in his arms with the sweetness of paternal affection; holding his fingers on the edges of his garment he covered himself with it so well that my body was never touched by his blessed limbs. Consider, I beg you, and note well the precaution of this man of God, who abstained thus from touching a child's body, in which he could not have had the least glimmer of concupiscence nor the least incitement to impurity. And when there might be a real suspicion of impurity, how much more did he avoid temptation!

Gregory's representation is deeply invested in a vision of childhood innocence, not to mention the purported respect that such innocence should inspire in adults. Yet in the tug-of-war between the innocent parvulus and the corruptible pusillus, it is the latter that often wins out in ecclesiastical discourse—especially in the West. For the flip side of childhood innocence is the child's undisciplined mind, which rendered him especially susceptible to sin. This grim view is epitomized by Augustine (d. 430), who maintained that no one was without sin: "not even the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth." Far from being immune to the passions, Augustine points to the inchoate rage and jealousy that infants experience, arguing that "in the weakness of the infant's limbs, and not its will, lies its innocency."

This apprehension of childhood finds expression in different discourses throughout Latin Christendom. In the Life of St. Anthony by Athanasius (d. 373), for example, the boy's first sign of sanctity was his deliberate avoidance of other children. Evidence for the duration of this view is ubiquitous. In a twelfth-century otherworldly vision, allegedly visited on the ten-year-old Alberic of Settefrati (b. ca. 1100), the angelic guide gives an Augustinian-inflected explanation of the babies being tortured in hell: "There are many who think that infants and little children have no sin, nor do they imagine that when they die they will suffer any punishment, but this is not the case because even an infant of one day is not without sin and such children cannot be entirely without sin, often saddening the mother or hitting her in the face." The waywardness of children could even provoke divine retribution. In the early 1360s, when the second visitation of the bubonic plague was believed to target children especially, an anonymous treatise on the Ten Commandments construed this susceptibility as punishment for the disrespectful treatment of parents. It is possible that this widespread clerical view of a child's innate propensity to evil blunted the clergy's sense of tragedy over his premature sexual initiation.

Although predatory clerics had easier access to boys, clearly underaged females did not escape unscathed. The sources make it difficult to discern the sexual abuse of girls, however. As we shall see, the ecclesiastical authorities showed considerable ambivalence to boys but at least paid attention to their perversity: penitentials penalized them for their sexual (same-sex and masturbatory) "games"; adolescents were stigmatized by church councils, Carolingian capitularies, canon law, and later pastoral theologians for their lewdness; and monastic communities showed intermittent awareness of the sexual victimization of younger boys by their seniors. Girls do not occasion parallel concern. I have found no indication that girl-children were considered at risk of molestation in female communities, although there is occasional uneasiness over same-sex relations. The monastic rule for nuns by Donatus of Besançon (d. after 658), for example, contains the following indictment: "It is forbidden that any take the hand of another for affection whether they stand or walk around or sit together. She who does so, will be improved with twelve blows. And any who is called 'little girl' [juvencula] or who call one another 'little girl,' forty blows if they so transgress." The appellation "little girl" is clearly a term of endearment versus a reference to age.

In the above example, the question of age deflects analysis, and this is true of many ecclesiastical sources. The penitentials epitomize this problem, despite the fact that sins are hierarchically determined in terms of gender and rank. The term puella (girl) is entirely deracinated from age and used to designate any unmarried woman. The Penitential of Finnian, for example, warns that any cleric at one time married who returns to his wife and begets more children is every bit as sinful as someone who had been a cleric from his teenage years and fornicated with a "foreign girl" (cum puella aliena). Finnian also maintains that a layman who defiles a nun (puella Dei) is punished more harshly if he begets a child with her than if he does not. According to the Chapters of Theodore, a puella already betrothed to someone cannot be married to another. The Penitential of Theodore regards the sin of fornication by a widow or puella of equal severity and deserving of the same penance, which is uniformly less than what would be meted out to a woman who has a husband. Theodore also accords a puella of fourteen years with power over her own body, while at the same time maintaining that she is under her parents' control and cannot independently become a nun until she is sixteen or seventeen. In the Penitential of Bede, a youth (adulescens) who has sex with a puella is punished less harshly if he is under the age of twenty. The Penitential of Hubert adopts a sliding scale of penance for a cleric touching the breast or the filth (turpitudinem) of a puella or mulier, which waxes in proportion to the perpetrator's rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Even in questions of incest, an area in which girl-children would seem especially prone to victimization, age is rarely a factor. One of the few instances of incestuous abuse of a child in penitentials, arising in the Penitential of Bede, assigns penance to a mother who simulates intercourse with an infant son. There are, however, no parallel age markers for the abuse of prepubescent girls by relatives. If we widen our purview to include spiritual incest (sex between a godparent and godchild), there is a memorable exemplum from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (d. 604) in which a godfather died soon after seducing his goddaughter (described as a "certain young daughter," juvencula quaedam filia), and flames are seen issuing from his tomb. Gregory tells the story to prove the existence of hellfire, however, while later canonists will mobilize it against the evils of spiritual incest. It is not used to decry the abuse of an underage female, however, which seems to fall well below the legalistic consideration of Christian disciplinarians. As a result, the sexual objects/victims discussed in the course of this analysis are almost exclusively boys and adolescents.

This book is divided into two parts. Part I consists of five chapters demonstrating how the tacit toleration of clerical sodomy evolved from late antiquity until the late thirteenth century. Chapter 1 addresses the problem of clerical sin in the early church. Through an examination of conciliar legislation, patristic letters, and penitential culture, it argues that the ban against a cleric doing public penance, although originally intended to hold a cleric to a higher moral standard, ultimately ushers in a culture of secret sin and concealment. The second chapter addresses boys as sexual objects in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages: first in classical pederasty and then in clerical culture. As we shall see, many church authorities are clearly cognizant of the sexual temptation afforded by boys and youths. But the very temptation that boys afford aligns them with women with similar results: the boys themselves are often blamed for their inadvertent seductiveness. The first two chapters are written with a view to establishing precedent, which means that I occasionally depart from a strict chronological movement in favor of a topical approach. The chapters do not engage changes in secular or ecclesiastical society at any length.

Chapter 3 examines the eleventh-century papal reform—particularly the dynamics between the papal reformers, consistently accused of sodomy and the unreformed married clergy. It is in this context that Peter Damian's polemic on clerical purity for the clergy is considered: how his initial attack on the culture of clerical sodomy, significantly centered on the abuse of sacraments rather than individuals, is eventually abandoned for the more politic attack on clerical wives. Chapter 4 sets the ecclesiastical authorities' tacit toleration of clerical same-sex relations alongside clerical chroniclers' efforts to direct suspicions of sodomy away from the clergy. It begins with the clergy's flagrantly homoerotic poetic culture at the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century and some very rare instances of resistance. It then turns to contemporaneous ecclesiastical chroniclers who project accusations of sodomy onto secular rulers hostile to church reform in the Anglo-Norman milieu. Chapter 5 addresses the reluctant acknowledgment in various clerical sources that same-sex relations had, indeed, become a problem among the clergy. Beginning with the rise of oblique visionary critiques, it then turns to the twelfth-century milieu of Peter the Chanter and his cohort, engaging their heightened concern about clerical sodomy and their deliberate measures to ensure its eradication. The Chanter's efforts to curb clerical sexual vice were defeated by new theological developments, however, some of which were generated by his own initiative. An examination of some of the pastoral theologians in the Chanter's circle, as well as some prominent thirteenth-century scholastics, demonstrates how the growing emphasis on the seal of confession, compounded by a new sensitivity to scandal, made it increasingly difficult to bring a corrupt cleric to justice.

Part II begins with a brief prologue addressing the eventual admission of the prevalence of clerical same-sex relations by religious authorities over the course of the thirteenth century and, despite the best efforts at obfuscation by many of these same authorities, among the laity. Even though there was a burgeoning of church tribunals, however, evidence for the prosecution of clerical same-sex offenses is sparse, bespeaking ecclesiastical reluctance. The exculpatory mind-set that sustains this reluctance is illuminated by a foray into alternative tribunals, such as the papal penitentiary. This forum provides a disturbing window into clerical familiarity with pederasty, suggesting a tolerance for this offense among members of the clergy that contrasts sharply with the often vigorous resistance of their sexual targets as well as the extreme antipathy to such relations among the laity. The prologue is followed by a final four chapters examining a series of exemplary cases from the high and later Middle Ages in which same-sex relations between an older male (generally the aggressor) and a younger male were subjected to some kind of judgment in an external tribunal. These occur in milieus in which boys and adolescents would have been especially at risk: the monastery (Chapter 6), the choir (Chapter 7), the schools (Chapter 8), and the episcopal court (Chapter 9). In each of these venues I have attempted to emphasize aspects of the culture that could be turned to the advantage of a sexual predator, such as hierarchical considerations, living arrangements, and especially the prevalence of corporal punishment.

The different chapters of Part II are united by the unusual circumstances under which reluctant church officials were pressured into prosecuting clerical offenders. As we shall see, such cases are few and far between. The reader should thus be forewarned that the nature of the evidence requires some geographical and chronological leaps. Hence the final chapters address cases from France, Germany, England, and Italy. The fragmentary nature of the records from episcopal registers and courts prior to the fourteenth century also means that a number of the cases discussed are quite late. Indeed, the last chapter addresses an extended disciplinary case from early sixteenth-century Italy. Admittedly, so capacious a net is hardly ideal, but the subject itself is elusive, which has determined this challenging scope. And yet, while these chapters seek to examine concrete cases, innuendo and euphemism are intrinsic to most medieval discussions of sodomy. As a result, my interpretation of some of the materials in these chapters must necessarily remain speculative.

Most scholars will agree that the study of sexual practices in the premodern world has become something of a semiotic minefield. John Boswell learned this the hard way in the course of the reception of his seminal work Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe. Although an instant best seller, the book was almost immediately criticized for the employment of the anachronistic term "gay" in its subtitle, which was widely perceived as projecting a dangerous culture of sameness across the ages. The designation "gay" was also thought to imply that the subjects of Boswell's narrative had a fixed sexual orientation. In our post-Foucauldian world of social construction, this latter premise has been largely rejected, even as there is a widespread recognition that the very categories "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are modern constructs. These are crucial distinctions. Today many, if not most, people believe that a married man who engages in same-sex practices is "in the closet," repressing his true sexual preferences, yet such an assumption is quintessentially modern. The evidence suggests that premodern individuals did not identify themselves by sexual orientation but were more inclined to focus on the act, especially who did what to whom: who was the active subject (the penetrator) and who was the passive object (the one being penetrated)? For the present study in particular, it is especially important to reject any presupposition of sexual orientation. The males I will be discussing are, for the most part, professional celibates, many of whom live in communities of men with little or no access to women. We can only suppose that much of their sexual initiative is contingent on their environment. In this sense, clerical predators are similar to the inmates of modern prisons in which many men who consider themselves heterosexual nevertheless engage in homosexual practices. For the Middle Ages, however, in recognition of the fact that terms like "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are anachronistic, I have tried to avoid them in favor of more neutral expressions like "same-sex activity" and "male-female relations"—although, admittedly, no such descriptors existed at the time.

The term "sodomy," though widely used throughout the premodern period, is also rife with ambiguity. Although by the later Middle Ages, this will become the preferred way to describe male same-sex relations, especially in a legal context, the term was nevertheless applied to any number of prohibited sexual acts—same-sex and male-female alike—throughout the Middle Ages. When I use the term "sodomy" or the adjective "sodomitical," it will refer to same-sex relations between males, unless otherwise specified. By the same token, there are a number of favored euphemisms like "the sin against nature" and "the sin not fit to be named" that were routinely employed when alluding to same-sex relations. Although such innuendoes effectively project an aura of prohibition, they remain inadequate conduits for stable meaning and do not express precisely what activity is being censured. But despite such ambiguities, this is the only historical vocabulary of record at my disposal. I have attempted to choose the terms that best reflect the usage of my various sources, clarifying what actually is being condemned whenever possible.

I recognize that this study goes against the grain of contemporary historical narrative or literary analyses of sexual relations between men in the Middle Ages, which have often been celebratory or defiantly eulogistic. John Boswell pointed to the undeniable clerical homoerotic subculture of the high Middle Ages as evidence that same-sex relations were once tolerated in a number of ecclesiastical venues. The existence of this widespread toleration is impossible to contest. Yet where Boswell saw the "Triumph of Ganymede," I tend to see the "Triumph of Jupiter"—that Ganymede was not a youth whose abduction by a god allowed him to realize his sexual potential in his role as celestial cupbearer, but a boy who was dominated by an older and more powerful entity and forced into sexual servitude.

Boswell also posits a secular correlative for this clerical efflorescence of same-sex culture in his matter-of-fact assertion of a love affair between the English king Richard Coeur de Lion and the French king Philip Augustus. Some scholars, like William Burgwinkle, likewise accept this relationship unquestioningly and even attribute a conspiratorial denial among historians for refusing to give Richard a place in history as one of the first medieval kings who overtly had a sexual relationship with another male. But I remain skeptical. The description of their passionate attachment is, after all, based on a single source. But more to the point, the possibility of a sexual relationship between Richard and Philip seems just as implausible as the putative relations between Philip I, the king of France, and the youthful bishop of Orléans, which I discuss (and, I hope, debunk) in Chapter 4. While there is considerable evidence in Mediterranean regions that same-sex practices between males continued to be relatively common after the fall of Rome, in the secular north, charges of sodomy were politically lethal. Ecclesiastical authors chose to impugn select monarchs with such charges precisely because of the laity's aversion to such relations. Furthermore, the evidence for Richard and Philip's love affair is thin. There is only one brief account of their allegedly impassioned relations, describing how the two men ate at the same table by day and occupied the same bed by night. The larger context for this revelation, however, was the bewilderment of Henry II, Richard's father, at the attachment between the two younger men. I am inclined to agree with Stephen Jaeger's view that Henry was astonished at (and concerned by) his son's affection for the French monarch, given the rivalry between England and France. But even if this report of the monarchs' behavior did constitute a wry insinuation of same-sex relations, it was based entirely on clerical innuendo and could be construed as a less explicit version of the sodomitical allegations that we will see were lobbed against Richard's much less popular forebear William Rufus by monastic chroniclers in an attempt to disparage him. It is also worth noting that the supposedly amorous relationship between the two princes was remarked upon in 1187, when Richard and Philip were both grown men—Richard being around age thirty and Philip twenty-two. Practically all the evidence for same-sex relations between males in the Middle Ages, north and south, adheres to the model of classical pederasty, which involves a mature man and a beardless youth. The idea of two adult males consensually having sex would have been considered a highly unusual, and possibly revolting, prospect. If the public believed that Richard Coeur de Lion was implicated in such a relationship, he may well have met with the same terrible fate as Edward II, whose trials a number of scholars attribute to his same-sex proclivities.

The model of pederasty that shapes same-sex relations in the Middle Ages does not constitute the kind of usable past that historians of sexuality, including myself, were hoping for. This is not to deny that there may have been many instances of caring and committed relations between mature men and their youthful lovers in the premodern world. Mathew Kuefler has further contested the presumption that pederast relations were necessarily abusive, pointing to cultures that foster and even institutionalize relations between adults and pubescent or even prepubescent boys, anticipating potential social benefits. Of course, some of the relations I discuss may have been consensual, even if during a period when boys could marry at fourteen and girls at twelve, the criteria of consent are distinct from our own. But social historians who have written in the wake of Boswell—scholars such as Guido Ruggiero, Michael Rocke, and Christian Berco, to name but a few—have examined alternative sources to those enlisted by Boswell, particularly court proceedings. What has emerged is a very different picture of same-sex relations in the premodern world—one that is steeped in violence. Nor was Boswell unaware of this somber potentiality. When exploring Dante's decision to put some sodomites in purgatory and others in hell, Boswell reasons that the ones consigned to hell were guilty of rape.

The association of clerical same-sex activity with violence, or at best coercion, is present throughout the Middle Ages. In the early Middle Ages, monastic and penitential sources make frequent references to the sexual abuse of boys. In the thirteenth century, the Dominican canonist Paul of Hungary referred to the sin of sodomy as "the sin of homicide just as is said of Cain in Genesis: the voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the earth [Gen. 4:10]. It is the sin of oppressors—that is, of those who oppress others. We shall see that the fourteenth-century constitutions of Cluny project a parallel violence on same-sex relations, stigmatizing "whoever imposes the sin against nature through malice on his brother." Finally, there is the lurid case of Donato Piermaria Bocco, vicar-general to the bishop of Pistoia and subject of Chapter 9, who by his own admission raped the younger clerics of his household with impunity, sometimes inflicting unspeakable damage. Thus, while I empathize with Mark Jordan's desire to place the clerical sodomite in the same quasi-martyred position as the witch or the heretic, I would argue that this realignment would in many, if not most, instances be inappropriate.

The persistence of a climate of clerical sexual abuse over centuries was fostered by canon law, which tended to minimize clerical same-sex relations while maximizing the dangers of clerical scandal. Gratian's twelfth-century Decretum and key supplemental texts (the so-called new law) continued to be authoritative until 1917. At this point the Code of Canon Law was introduced as a compendium of past law. In both the original code and its 1983 revision, the concern over scandal continues to intrude on the subject of clerical discipline. I believe that the same clerical prerogatives and privileges that were formulated in late antiquity and the medieval era are still at the center of what it is to be a member of the clergy today, as well as the impetus to protect these privileges. Such a contention will doubtless cause some readers to approach this book with a certain apprehension. As connoisseurs of change, historians are understandably suspicious of any claims of continuity that span more than a millennium. The profession has also overwhelmingly turned against books that attempt to analyze multiple centuries—concerned that such an undertaking flattens out historical difference en route to the creation of some specious master narrative. Contemporary trends favor studies that focus on a single century or less and depend primarily upon one set of sources. Such historical tastes are certainly a contributing factor in the rise of microhistory. But the problem that I want to analyze requires a wider terrain. Interestingly, the scope of John Boswell's seminal book and his formidable range of sources provided inspiration in this respect. Despite our fundamental differences in approach and conclusions, I have found the very existence of such a book enabling. It is embedded in the conviction that there are certain patterns of continuity and change that can only be discerned through a wide-angle lens.

I also recognize that my acknowledgment of the very contemporary events that led to the writing of this book renders me susceptible to charges of undue bias and "presentism," which could, in turn, prejudice the reader against the book. From this perspective, it would certainly have been wiser to remain silent: to present the evidence and allow readers to draw their own conclusions about possible connections between past and present. This was the modus operandi recommended by the press's two anonymous readers. But while undoubtedly a less contentious approach, the idea of obscuring the reasons behind why I wrote this book struck me as rather spineless. I also think that challenging the efficacy of a historical work because it was prompted by current events is parallel to questioning whether the past can shed light on the present. It is precisely the reluctance of historians to point to the resonance between past and present that is fast rendering our discipline irrelevant. So this book unabashedly posits a tragic continuity between the clerical sexual abuse that was tacitly tolerated in the medieval church, protected by theologians and canonists alike, and the abuse we are now witnessing in the contemporary Catholic Church.

There are some who might point out that the Catholic clergy's history of sexual abuse is by no means singular, drawing attention to other recent instances in which people in a position of trust have likewise preyed upon the weak and vulnerable. The scandal regarding Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky is just one of the more prominent in a long series of revelations about the endemic abuse of minors in the world of sports. In many of these secular contexts, people in positions of authority were prepared to look the other way and tolerate the behavior of these culprits. Even though this might seem like the same basic situation that we find in the contemporary Catholic Church, there are two significant differences. First, clerical abusers had the advantage over their secular counterparts by virtue of an ancient and hallowed system that was created to protect them in order to protect the reputation of the clergy at large. Second, no secular abuser has the personal cover of the sexually predatory priest, who, over time, became imbued with an aura of holiness that helped to obscure any personal deficiencies. He alone could administer the sacraments deemed so essential to the salvation of the faithful. He alone had access to the secret lives of not just potential victims, but their entire families, by virtue of the sacrament of penance. And he alone stood in the place of Christ—an entity who was not just credited with founding a religion but was believed to be God incarnate.

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