A reader writes:

I found this on the web with no mention of its original source, but it seems to indicate that there were problems with child abuse as far back as the third century:

Saint Basil of Caesarea, the fourth century Church Father who wrote the principal rule of the monks of the East, establishes this: “The cleric or monk who molests youths or boys or is caught kissing or committing some turpitude, let him be whipped in public, deprived of his crown [tonsure] and, after having his head shaved, let his face be covered with spittle; and [let him be] bound in iron chains, condemned to six months in prison, reduced to eating rye bread once a day in the evening three times per week. After these six months living in a separate cell under the custody of a wise elder with great spiritual experience, let him be subjected to prayers, vigils and manual work, always under the guard of two spiritual brothers, without being allowed to have any relationship . . . with young people."

The punishment was old school, to say the least, but it also had the commonsense clause that the offender be kept away from young people thereafter.

Also, I recommend checking out The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism by Mark D. Jordan (University of Chicago Press, 2000), which explores the history of homosexuality in the church (as well as pederasty - the two have been conflated by the church so I suppose the study couldn't separate them). It's full of historical details like this:

In 1570, a canon of the shrine of Loreto was named as a sexual partner by a choirboy. The boy's testimony was confirmed by multiple interrogations and by torture. (p. 122)

Avoiding scandal seems to have been more important than prosecuting offenders. Cases we do discover in the archives are often cases with aggravating circumstances, such as violence or public outcry. A Capuchin was burned publicly in Paris in 1783 for killing a boy who resisted being raped. (p. 123)

One Minim friar, Pedro Pizarro, dubbed "La Pizarra," maintained a well-supplied "playroom" on the monastery grounds in Valencia until his arrest in 1572. He would invite boys into the monastery on the pretext of doing paid work, ply them with food and wine, then couple with them in various combinations, often with the assistance of other friars. (p. 127)

In his Trifles, the twelfth-century priest and poet Walter Map repeats a familiar joke about St. Bernard, the second founder of the Cistercian monastic order. Two Cistercian monks are talking piously about an incident in which Bernard tried to bring a young man back from the dead by stretching out on top of the corpse. Bernard did not succeed. Another clergyman, an anti-Cistercian, interrupts the pious story with feigned astonishment. He had often heard of monks throwing themselves on top of boys, but usually both the monk and the boy got up afterward. (p. 132)

Jordan also details the way in which clerical courts were historically less likely to prosecute sodomy than civil courts, and that their punishments were less severe, and that they were harder on laypeople than clergy.

Plus ca change. I am, of course, aware of Mark Jordan's ground-breaking book. I wrote a review-essay on it in 2003, which can be read here.

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