CHATER NINE

 Priests-Their Wives and Concubines

in the Age of Faith

 Many of the pronouncements of the Church on sex are scientifically false and physiologically absurd.  The faithful observance of the rigid sexual code is furthermore morally and emotionally impossible for most normal human beings.  The force of nature that has perpetuated and multiplied the race against the ravages of the Age, desert heat, famine, floods and war cannot be stifled by the decree of a Church council or the edict of a Pope.

Sex is like a modern air-conditioning system in which no exhausts or returns are provided: built-up pressure crushes the doors and breaks the windows.  It is like the mighty Colorado River when mankind dams it: the water bursts over the top.  It is like old Faithful Geyser if an attempt were made to plug it: sky-high it would blow!

The official teachings of sex and the unenforceable law of celibacy have throughout Roman Catholic history been the most direct and the greatest single cause of immorality and crime among the clergy.

 Young boys and girls in seminaries and convents are taught that celibacy and chastity (the terms are used almost interchangeably) are not only possible, but they are told that throughout the history of the Church, with relatively few aberrations, this restrictive way of life has generally been observed by monks, priests and nuns.

In his detailed and exhaustive Historical Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, Lea proves that celibacy was never accepted or practiced by the bulk of the Roman Catholic clergy or their nuns from the founding of the Church up until 1907, when the book was last revised.'

 Furthermore, the author contends that many leaders of Roman Catholicism, particularly the popes, used the law of celibacy as a source of revenue by selling dispensations to priests who married and by gathering harems of concubines in the papal palaces.  All Catholics admit that Pope Alexander VI was a disgrace to the Church.  History shows that Alexander was only one of a long list of the11 successors of St. Peter" who ignored the fulminations and regulations of other popes and Church councils in regulating their own lives and in guiding the priests of the Roman Communion

Some examples of the startling historical facts unearthed by Lea will illustrate the tremendous importance of this study for those priests or laymen who, in the light of the growing power and influence of Roman Catholicism in America , are concerned about its history.

In the early centuries ecclesiastical councils issued contradictory decrees regarding celibacy.  Some endorsed marriage of the clergy.  Some condemned it.  The severity of penalties of councils opposing clerical marriage indicated the prevalence of violations.

In 381 the council of Saragossa recognized such abuse of celibacy that "virgins" were forbidden to take vows under the age of forty.2 In 385 Pope Siricius ordered priests, monks and nuns guilty of unchastity thrown in prison?  In spite of all decrees, even those of Pope Gregory the Great toward the dawn of the seventh century, the priests and nuns were admittedly uncontrollable.  In 748 St. Boniface moaned that sacrilegious and unchaste priests were more numerous in the Church than those who conformed to the law of celibacy."

So strong were the temptations, so widespread the violations, that in the ninth century St. Theodore Studita forbade even female animals on monastery property 1

In 836 the council of Aix-la-Chapelle complained that many nunneries were brothels rather than houses of God, and it decreed that fornication was so prevalent among nuns that all nunneries built should have "no dark corners in which scandals may be perpetrated out of view."'

The Chancellor of Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over a large part of Christendom, stated that the licentiousness of nuns was exceeded only by one other crime.  Driven to destruction of the fruits of their violations, the nuns committed the serious crime of infanticide.'

In the tenth century celibacy and chastity seem almost to have been forgotten.  Pope Sergius III died in the year 911, and left a bastard son by his wife's daughter.  This son, who later ascended the throne, became John XI, under whom the sacred palace of the Lateran was turned into a brothel.  In 952 St. Ulric of Augsburg, arguing for the recognition of priestly marriage, wrote that celibacy produced greater crimes than clerical marriage, and that those who sought to enforce celibacy by the Bible strained ,, the breast of Scripture until it yielded blood in place of milk."'

A bishop of the period for thirty-three years, Segenfried of Le Mans, took a wife named Hildeberga, who stripped the church for the benefit of their son Alberic, the survivor of their numerous progeny.'

After A.D. 1000 the scandals did not lessen.  One Rainbaldo, Bishop of Fiesole, had numerous concubines plus a wife.  With their children, they became a widespread and powerful family." The good bishop was also gifted with the power of working miracles.

Desiderius (Pope Victor 111) stated that many bishops and priests were publicly married, particularly in the holiest of cities, Rome itself."' Another contemporary writer asserted that this laxity covered all Christendom to such an extent that the marriage of priests was no longer punished as unlawful, and in fact was scarcely reprehended.

Albert the Magnificent, Archbishop of Hamburg, exhorted his clergy "si non caste, tamen caute" (if you can't be chaste, at least be careful),

In France during this period conditions were the same as elsewhere.  One of the most learned writers of the period described the nuns of his time as abandoned to the most hideous licentiousness, "those who were good looking prostituting themselves for hire, those who were not so fortunate hiring men to gratify their passions, while the older ones, who had passed the age of lust, acted as procuresses."

The romance of the priest Abelard and Helise (later a nun) is mentioned even in some Roman Catholic textbooks.  But it is dismissed, as is the marriage of priests now, as one of the rare scandals of the Church’s history.  The truth is that their "affair" was typical of what occurred during many centuries of priestly life.  It is better known than others because both the romance and the ensuing tragedy (the castration of Abelard by tools of He'loise's uncle, himself a priest) have been immortalized in literature.

Will Durant, in his Age of Faith, has not only confirmed the findings of Lea but treats the story of Abelard and He'l6ise in much more detail."' Although he was a priest, the couple were married in the Church.  After his torture

49  all Paris , including the clergy, sympathized with him; his students Rocked to comfort him." 1-2

Their love letters are classics and as passionate as anything since the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.  Abelard wrote: "We were united, first in the dwelling that sheltered our love, and then in the hearts that burned within us.  Under the pretext of study, we spent our hours in the happiness of love.  Our kisses outnumbered our reasoned words; our hands sought less the book than each other's bosoms; love drew our eyes together."

At the suggestion of Abelard, He'loise became a nun.  From the convent, she wrote letters of passion:

 Thou knowest what I have lost in thee.  Obeying thy command, I changed both my habit and my heart, that I might show thee to be the possessor of both my body and my

mind.... If the name of wife appears more sacred and valid, sweeter to me is ever the word "friend," or if you be not ashamed "concubine" or "whore." . . . What wife, what maiden did not yearn for thee in the thine absence, nor burn in thy presence?  What queen or powerful lady did not envy me my joys and my bed? 13

 In Spain about the year 1400 the children of priests were notoriously abundant.  Priests were threatened with

excommunication and prison if they lived with women.  The women were also to be excommunicated during life, and even after death would receive the burial of asses.  The threats and penalties failed to stem the passions.

Priest's wives in Germany became so daring in activity and so secure in their position that they assisted their husbands in the ceremony of the Mass.   Convent discipline sank to such a low estate that nuns postponed taking their formal vows until old age had exhausted their sexual desires.

Pope Gregory X, in dismissing the second council of Lyons , told the cardinals and bishops that because of their immorality "they were the ruin of the world."

Before the council of Trent in the sixteenth century the fulminations of popes and councils against the marriage and concubinage of priests were nullified by the easy dispensations granted by the Vatican itself."

Roman Catholics are wont to ridicule the plural marriage of the early Mormons.  They don't know their own Church history.  The Bishop of Liege at one time had 65 children-not all from the same wife." Cardinal PierLeone was elevated to the papacy (in a disputed election) in spite of his children by his own sister Tropea and the fact that he took his concubine along when he traveled as a papal legate.16

When the popes were at Avignon , Petrach described the papal courts as a "third Babylon ":

 That hell upon earth, which could furnish no Noah, no Deucalion to survive the deluge that alone could cleanse its filth... Chastity was a reproach and licentiousness a virtue.  The aged prelates surpassed their younger brethren in wickedness as in years, apparently considering that age conferred upon them the license to do that from which even youthful libertines shrank; while the vilest crimes were the pastime of pontifical case.

 Historians of the Church, as quoted by Lea, described celibacy as almost nonexistent in the fifteenth century.  'The Church sank deeper into the mire of corruption, and its struggles to extricate itself grew feebler and more hopeless," wrote one commentator.  Cardinal Peter d'Ailly said he dared not describe the immorality of nunneries.  "Taking the veir 'was simply another mode of becoming a public prostitute.

The bishops of Scandinavia took their concubines along on pastoral visitations and punished parish priests who did not have concubines.  The concubines took precedence in church over the wives of the gentry.

Pope Nicholas V forbade members of the clergy from keeping concubines unless they had previously obtained letters of indulgence from the Holy See.  Since these letters were not given without monetary compensation, they provided a fine source of revenue for the Vatican .

A Spanish priest and canon law doctor, a contemporary of Luther, fell in love with several young nuns at once,

and sought to convince them that since he and they were alike spouses of Christ, sexual intercourse between them

was their duty.

Lea points out that in Luther's day concubinage among the Catholic clergy was so common that in many dioceses the sale of licenses forgiving priests took the form of an annual tax imposed on all the clergy by the bishop.

During the famous council of Trent August Baumgartner told the assembled cardinals and bishops that ninety-six per cent of all priests were either married or had concubines.

Lea stresses the important point that throughout the early centuries and the middle Ages, while marriage of the clergy was perennially or sporadically condemned as sinful, it was still considered valid.  There was no basic doctrinal conflict between the sacrament of marriage and the sacrament of holy orders.  Nevertheless, the Church maintains that it has never changed its principles on "faith and morals."

Roman Catholics are taught that the council of Trent in the sixteenth century was the Church's answer to the Protestant revolt.  They are taught that the Pope summoned the council into being, that it was attended by cardinals and bishops from all Christendom, that they diligently and enthusiastically summarized and re-emphasized Catholic doctrine and morals, and that they adopted legislation designed to cure whatever evils were plaguing the Church.  Condemned by the council, one is taught, were simony (the buying and selling of bishoprics and other ecclesiastical prerogatives), nepotism (the placing of relatives in high clerical positions) and, far down the agenda in importance, the concubinage of the clergy.

 This picture is not historically accurate.  The council was called by Pope Paul III only after years of pressure from the most powerful princes of Christendom.  Those who were protesting, such as Martin Luther and others, did not want to leave the Roman Church.  Luther waited for twenty years after his debate with Johann Tetzel, hoping for reform within the Church."

The civic leaders wanted the Church to abolish celibacy and permit priests to marry.  They were beset by their subjects' constant complaint of the immorality of the clergy, their seduction of young women to the point that Catholic men feared for the safety and virtue of their wives and daughters.  The situation was universal.

The papacy resisted until it could withstand the pressure no longer.  Finally the pope made an empty gesture by calling the council in Mantua , Italy in 1537.  Christian leaders objected to the location.  It was in papal territory and the reformers were afraid to go there.  After the third summons in 1545 only twenty bishops and a few ambassadors came.  Nothing was done in the way of reform.  The council was transferred to Bologna in 1547 and to Trent in 1551.  Ten years went by with nothing done.

The emperor of Germany and other rulers, including Henry VIII of England , had previously been insisting that the reform of the Church could come only by stabilization of the priesthood through marriage.  For many reasons, idealistic as well as realistic (such as the danger of losing money from dispensations), the Vatican-controlled prelates refused to listen.

They took the opposite approach and made celibacy a matter of doctrine.  Before Trent some popes had declared the marriage of priests invalid, but there was no universal action.  In the council of Trent , with the approbation of the pope, all the Catholic people, priests, bishops and popes who had accepted clerical marriages as valid, were declared to be heretics.  Canon 9 of the twenty-fourth session of the council in 1563 states:

 If anyone says that clerics constituted in sacred orders or regulars who have made solemn profession of chastity can contract marriage, and that the one contracted is valid notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law or the vow, and that the contrary is nothing else than a condemnation of marriage, and that all who feel that they have not the gift of chastity, even though they have made such a vow, can contract marriage, let him be anathema, since God does not refuse that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does he suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.-

 Lea traces the history of violations of sexual restrictions of the clergy from the council of Trent (which Catholics are taught eliminated abuses within the Church) down to his own time.

The violations of celibacy plagued the early councils of Latin America as they had those of the Old World .  Many of the -early Spanish missionaries brought their concubines with them, under the guise of relatives.  Others kept native Indian slaves as concubines.

As late as 1899, Lea reports, in the plenary council of Latin America held in Rome , statistics were submitted to the effect that of 18,000 priests, 3,000 were married, 4,000 were in concubinage with their so-called housekeepers, and 1,500 others in relationship with other women of dubious reputation.

These are merely a few highlights in the story of the futility of the efforts of the Church, from its rather hazy

historical beginnings up to the twentieth century, to enforce the ideal and later the law of celibacy.  During these centuries many Church leaders, including popes, themselves openly disregarded celibacy and encouraged its violation throughout Christendom.  Some popes gave lip service to the law but encouraged its violation by freely granting dispensations and forgiveness-for a price.  Other popes and prelates struggled sincerely to enforce the law.

Catholics are taught that celibacy and its attendant self-sacrifices are spiritual in motive.  The abstinence from sexual intercourse is said to place priests and nuns on the level with angels who have no carnal desires or relationship.  It is also the following of Jesus and Mary, both of whom are alleged to have been virgins.  They are taught that Christ meant chastity as well as poverty when he told the young man, "Go, sell what thou hast, give it to the poor and come follow me." They are reminded that John was the "beloved disciple" because he was chaste.  The point is not emphasized that the other apostles were married-in a ratio of eleven to one.

Celibacy, it is also taught, frees the spirit from the distractions of the flesh and the time-consuming problems of a wife and family.  Priests can concentrate on things spiritual, on the salvation of souls.

No impartial observer can deny, however, that the most cogent reasons against marriage of priests are financial and political.  Such marriages are forbidden in order to preserve and increase the Church's wealth and property.  When priests were permitted to marry, it was only natural that they should share their revenue with their wives and spend it on their children.  On their deaths, it was natural that they should will their personal wealth and as much of the wealth of the Church as they could corral to spouse and offspring.  The decrees of repeated councils of all European countries and of the popes forbade priests from bequeathing any Church property or money to their children, legitimate or illegitimate.  The frequency and stringency of these regulations indicate the widespread prevalence of the custom.

The issue of celibacy persisted through subsequent centuries.  Many of the clergy hoped that the problem might be taken up in the Vatican council in 1870.  It was not even permitted on the agenda.  The evasion of this problem, as vexing in the nineteenth century as it had been a thousand years earlier, disgusted so many priests that they broke away and organized national Catholic churches which are still flourishing today.

Of all material in this book, this chapter will be condemned most vigorously and dismissed most superficially by Catholic columnists and reviewers, and especially by priests.  They will call it bigoted, on the one hand, and historically untrue, on the other.  Unfortunately, the priest wants to believe that this is all bigotry, lies, and distortion, or that it existed only in a buried past.  For if it be otherwise, each celibate priest must see himself as a rather benighted fool, sacrificing his years and his manhood at the altar of a dead horse-or rather a horse that never lived.

As he reads the truth about a way of life that he believed was observed by the great majority of his spiritual ancestors in the Roman Catholic priesthood-when, if he is a Franciscan, he recalls the exhortation of St. Francis, "Great things have we promised, greater still are promised to us"-when he thinks of the normal sexual expression and the physical and mental companionship of legitimate marriage and family life which he has willingly sacrificed -when he realizes in its historical fullness how he has been ruthlessly deceived and has been an indoctrinated puppet of a power-hungry and money-seeking clique then the words of his sacred vows taste like ashes in his mouth.  His youthful ideals and the image of a privileged eternity crumble into dust like a once beautiful but now decaying body.

that they should will their personal wealth and as much of the wealth of the Church as they could corral to spouse and offspring.  The decrees of repeated councils of all European countries and of the popes forbade priests from bequeathing any Church property or money to their children, legitimate or illegitimate.  The frequency and stringency of these regulations indicate the widespread prevalence of the custom.

The issue of celibacy persisted through subsequent centuries.  Many of the clergy hoped that the problem might be taken up in the Vatican council in 1870.  It was not even permitted on the agenda.  The evasion of this problem, as vexing in the nineteenth century as it had been a thousand years earlier, disgusted so many priests that they broke away and organized national Catholic churches which are still flourishing today.

Of all material in this book, this chapter will be condemned most vigorously and dismissed most superficially by Catholic columnists and reviewers, and especially by priests.  They will call it bigoted, on the one hand, and historically untrue, on the other.  Unfortunately, the priest wants to believe that this is all bigotry, lies, and distortion, or that it existed only in a buried past.  For if it be otherwise, each celibate priest must see himself as a rather benighted fool, sacrificing his years and his manhood at the altar of a dead horse-or rather a horse that never lived.

As he reads the truth about a way of Me that he believed was observed by the great majority of his spiritual ancestors in the Roman Catholic priesthood-when, if he is a Franciscan, he recalls the exhortation of St. Francis, "Great things have we promised, greater still are promised to us"-when he thinks of the normal sexual expression and the physical and mental companionship of legitimate marriage and family life which he has willingly sacrificed -when he realizes in its historical fullness how he has been ruthlessly deceived and has been an indoctrinated puppet of a power-hungry and money-seeking cliquethen the words of his sacred vows taste like ashes in his mouth.  His youthful ideals and the image of a privileged eternity crumble into dust like a once beautiful but now decaying body.