Sexual Scandal and the Medieval Clergy


ACLS Fellowship Program




In a Christian context, to scandalize is to occasion sin in another. In the Middle Ages, church law and custom argued for concealing clerical misdemeanors that gave rise to scandal, especially sexual ones. This study examines the impact of the church’s scandal-averse policies on medieval clerical culture through the lenses of gender and sexuality. From a theological standpoint, same-sex sexual relations were considered especially heinous, but relations between males were not as disruptive to ecclesiastical culture as were heterosexual encounters. As a result, evidence for same-sex relationships was likely to be suppressed and the perpetrators were rarely persecuted. The unremitting discipline of clerical celibacy, in conjunction with the longue durée of canon law, has continued to foster the coercive culture of pederasty and has permitted these conditions to persist into the present.