Category Archives: 30 Queer Church History / Saints

Gay Bishops: John of Tours (promiscuous, gay) and Ralph of Tours

In  1098!

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

gay bishops

Gay Bishops in Church History

One story is particularly striking.  At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John  – who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Orleans, of the king himself, and of several other prominent men.   This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph.  (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.)  Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene.  Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, based in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph.  Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous  others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.

An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month.  Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Faustinus are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.  What the CE does not remind us, is that Pulinus ans Faustinus were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse.  Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations.  Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives.  Many clearly did not.

In England, there was Bishop Longchamps, the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent. The well-knonwn line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.

Gay Saints in Church History

Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not. Among many examples from Church history, some of the better known are:

Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);

St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);

SS Sergius & Bacchus( Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs)

St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)

Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)

Same Sex Unions in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  “adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  “brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

See also on “Queering the Church“:

From the “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available on-line:

Burials in Greek Macedonia (Valerie Abrahamsen)
Books:

  • Donald Boisvert:  Sanctity and Male Desire – a Gay Reading of Saints
  • John Boswell:  Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality
  • Jon Boswell: Same Sex Unions in Pre-Mopdern Europe
  • Matthew Kuefler (ed): The Boswell Thesis
  • Bernadette Brooten:
    Love Between Women  -Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism
  • Alan Bray:  The Friend
  • Andrew Harvey: The Essential Gay Mystics

Gay Popes: The Embarrassing Death of Paul II

I’ve been reading Martin Duberman’s anthology, “Hidden From History”, and in particular James Saslow on Homosexuality in the Renaissance. One of Saslow’s key points is that at this time, men who had sex with men were not exclusive – in modern terms, they w0uld more likely be described as “bisexual”. In a passage about how the rich and powerful freely made sexual use of their subordinates, I came across this throwaway reference:

Similar patterns prevailed among the clergy and educated humanists. Charges against Paul II and Julius II centred around their seduction of much younger men; Cellini’s autobiography records a beautiful and talented youth, Luigi Pulci, who made a career out of service to Roman bishops.
Now, I knew about Julius II  – and for that matter, Julius III – but this was the first sexual gossip I have come across concerning Paul II, so I explored further.  This is what I found: it seems he died while being sodomized by  a page boy.
Paul II died, on July 26, 1471 of a stroke, allegedly whilst being sodomized by a page boy. After his death, one of his successors suggested that he should rather have been called Maria Pietissima, “Our Lady of Pity”, because he was inclined to break into tears at times of crisis. Some historians have suggested the nickname was rather due either to Paul propensity to enjoy dressing up in sumptuous ecclesiastical finery, or his likely homosexuality.

Nor was he the only cleric who enjoyed some male company.  Here’s Saslow again:

The intimate living arrangements of the all-male clerical world and the opportunities that educational and religious duties afforded for privacy and empiotional intimacy, while not themselves “causes” of of homosexuality, may have contributed circumstantially to their expression.  Priests in fifteenth century Venice and Stuart Sussex were convicted of sex with young parishioners, unpublished records of church trials in Loreto, Italy, in the 1570’s detail the activities of a choirboy who slept successively with various older monks……

Remember, while Paul II was enjoying his adventures with co-operative pages, elsewhere in Italy and the rest of Europe, “sodomites” were being burned at the stake for their “sin”.

Nor was it only Paul’s interest in boys that got my attention.  On his election as pope back 1464, the cardinals tried to rein in papal power (and thus to increase their own), by imposing s range of tight conditions, which:

  • bound the future pope to continue the Turkish war;
  • forbade him to journey outside Rome without the consent of the cardinals;
  • limited the number of cardinals to a maximum of twenty-four,
  • all creations of new cardinals were to be made only with the consent of the College of Cardinals.
  • Upon taking office, Paul II was to convene an ecumenical council within three years.

Alas, for the best laid plans of mice and men……

Paul II simply ignored these requirements, declaring  that election “capitulations”, which cardinals had long been in the habit of affirming as rules of conduct for future popes, could affect a new pope only as counsels, not as binding obligations. He then created a whole slew of new cardinals from his own loyalists.

Now, a half a millenium and more later, why does all this sound so familiar?
(Among his “achievements”, he was friendly to Christian scholars; he restored many ancient monuments; made a magnificent collection of antiquities and works of art; built the Palazzo di St. Marco, now the Palazzo di Venezia; and probably first introduced printing into Rome. Paul embellished the costume of the cardinals, and collected jewels for his own adornment.)

Pope Julius III

In his early career in the Church Julius established a reputation as an effective and trustworthy diplomat, and was elected to the Papacy as a compromise candidate when the Papal Conclave found itself deadlocked between the rival French and German factions. As Pope he lost, or failed to show, any of the qualities which had distinguished his previous career, devoting himself instead to a life of personal pleasure and indolence.  His lasting fame, or notoriety, rests rather on his relationship with the 17 year old boy whom he raised to the position of Cardinal-Nephew, and, it was said at the time, with whom he shared his bed
Julius_III
At the start of his reign Julius had desired seriously to bring about a reform of the Catholic Church and to reconvene the Council of Trent, but very little was actually achieved during his five years in office; apologists ascribe the inactivity of his last three years to severe gout.
In 1551, at the request of the Emperor Charles V, he consented to the reopening of the council of Trent and entered into a league against the duke of Parma and Henry II of France (1547–59), but soon afterwards made terms with his enemies and suspended the meetings of the council (1553). (For the history of papal conflicts with councils, see conciliar movement).
The Innocenzo scandal
Julius’s particular failures were around his nepotism and favouritism. One notable scandal surrounded his adoptive nephew, Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, a 13 or 14-year old beggar-boy whom the future Pope had picked up on the streets of Parma some years earlier and with whom he had allegedly fallen in love.On being elected to the Papacy Julius raised the now 17-year old but still uncouth and quasi-illiterate Innocenzo to the cardinalate, appointed him cardinal-nephew, and showering the boy with benefices

Artistic legacy

Julius spent the bulk of his time, and a great deal of Papal money, on entertainments at the Villa Giulia, created for him by Vignola. Julius extended his patronage to the great Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whom he brought to Rome as his maestro di cappella, Giorgio Vasari, who supervised the design of the Villa Giulia, and to Michelangelo, who worked there.

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to .    and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the Templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

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