GLBT Western History
Part 3 of 3 (Part 1, Part 2)
In 1233 Pope Gregory IX set up the Papal Inquisition. From here, it’s a bit confusing as to who was a condemned homosexual and who was a condemned heretic; homosexuality had been tied so tight to being a heretic that the same word was often used for both. But in 1255 the Head of the Dominican order began aiming particularly for “sodomites”, a word that now meant what most think today, and in 1260 Bologna’s laws made the Dominicans officially responsible for hunting down homosexuals.
In 1252 Innocent IV okayed torture in inquisition trials, but it was not to be done by clerics; a layman must dirty their hands. In 1256 though, Alexander IV allowed clergy inquisitors to absolve each other for their acts of torture. Convenient, huh? They believed, sans doubt, and were thusly able to justify the horrible things they or their leaders did.
In the 14th century, we have the Templars, a monastic order of knights, under allegiance to the Pope. It’s debatable if even an abnormal number of them were gay men, or heretics, or simply on the wrong end of politics, but homosexuality and apostasy were the crimes of which Philip IV accused them, playing on popular rumors in what appears to be an attempt to gain power over the church. Pope Clement V (1264 1314 AD), under coercion and not wanting to be treated by Philip as his predecessor, Boniface VIII, had been, acquiesced and instructed the bishops and inquisitors to interrogate the Templars. Most of the “confessions” gained were eventually retracted, but many knights were quickly burned anyway and the Pope got rid of the Templars, in part for “the execrable outrage of sodomy”. Execrable…
The use of homosexuality against political obstacles is clearly realized by now.
While it is the state carrying out most all these sentences, and that does give some absolution to the RCC, the church and state can’t be separated here. The church would extract a sodomite’s confession and then, as they referred to it, “relax” him into the custody of the state executioner. Ostensibly they love the sodomite and are only doing what’s best for him, familiar sentiment. They were “helping” him get a far better chance at heaven, absolved and then quickly killed, and as a great example to others so afflicted. And if their faith was right it could be seen as moral: an infinitely tiny sliver of torment for an eternity of heaven. Who wouldn’t make that trade?
But good loving intentions about the supernatural don’t cut it. The church knew what the effects of their judgments would be and the laws of the state were clearly based in doctrine. In the Netherlands, for example, the punishment for “breaking the law of Octavianus [referring to the Lex Julia of Augustus criminalizing male relations] and Moses and the whole world” could be either 1. being burned 2. buried alive or 3. self-castration. In the Etablissements de Saint Louis (book 1 ch 90), it states “if anyone is suspected of bougrerie [homosexuality] the magistrate shall apprehend him and send him to the bishop; and if it is proved he shall be burned; and all his goods shall go to the baron.” The same fate is then given for heretics.
Also, again, “all his goods go to the baron.” Finding a “sodomite” (gay or not) meant a good deal of money at times, and it was used.
There are also the victims of incitement to mob violence that should be considered. In 1519 Luis Castelloli, a Franciscan Friar, in a fierce sermon, attributed a plague to homosexuality. The Friar did such a job that a mob formed. They burned 4 of 5 suspects alive (one was a member of the clergy and was initially given leniency, but was eventually strangled, then burned).
Then we get into the always-unexpected Spanish inquisition (1478 AD). The rights of secular bodies to do such things as burn homosexuals based on Papal claims were spelled out in the Directorium Inquisitorum, by Nicolas Eymeric. Here the church is said to be able to punish even the heathens violating “natural law”; the proof given is the now fully transformed Sodom story. It concludes, “the judgments of God are our example! Consequently, why should the Pope not proceed, if he has means, as God proceeds!” Why indeed? There is a strength in faith, but anyone can have it, feel its potency without doubt, and do horrible things with it.
In 1524 Pope Clement VII gave license to three tribunals set up to specifically try “sodomites” in the Spanish Inquisition, claiming “among the children of the infidels [the Moors] the horrendous and detestable crime of sodomy has begun to spread and that if these debased kinds of men are not isolated they can drag down the faithful into this corruption.” This of course was another useful political maneuver. Does it sound familiar? :-)
To his credit, Pope Clement VII did specify that typical inquisition rules did not apply to the edict, and thus local laws allowing for confrontation of witnesses and the forbiddance of torture were in play. But torture was still used and when objection to it was finally made in 1593, it was excused as “custom”.
By the end of the Spanish Inquisition it’s estimated 100 men were put to death for homosexuality, and on top of that are those tortured and receiving lesser punishments (only an estimated 1/5 were put to death). Also, that doesn’t count those put to death in secular courts for sodomy, which is estimated to be about 100 as well for the same period, placing the total around the number of protestant heretics killed (No, probably not as many as the reputation of the Spanish Inquisitions brings to the imagination, but enough to my mind to give the period its bad name).
The religious pageantry of the autos showcasing these punishments is a terrifying thing, if you can find a description. On top of those victims one must consider the countless others in secret fear for their lives, in the audience.
Briefly, in the new world, we’re told by the letters of Spanish explorers and missionaries that "sodomy", was common and far from unacceptable among the natives (pottery seems to back this up in part). Hernan Cortes (1485-1547 AD) reported to Charls V "we have learnt and been informed for sure that they [Vera Cruz natives] are all sodomites..." This was one of the justifications for their murder. We have depictions of the torture of such natives who had the misfortune of having their alleged "sodomy" come to the attentions of the Spanish conquerors. It’s, of course, another example of a political use.
I don’t want to take this too far into modern times, and so I’ll end with a record of same-sex marriages performed in Rome, in 1578. The Venetian Ambassador reported,
“Eleven Portuguese and Spaniards have been captured. They had assembled in a church near Saint John Lateran where they had performed some ceremonies of horrible wickedness which sullied the sacred name of matrimony, marrying each other and being joined as husbands and wife. Twenty-seven or more, it is said, were discovered altogether on another occasion, but they were not able to capture more than eleven, who were given to the fire as they deserved.”
These are humans wanting to marry each other, but ended up burning to a horrific death. They were burned alive, as so many others, and with so much callousness and with as much respect for their humanity as one would have for a stick on the fire. They may not of been too unlike R and me, and I can’t shake the fear and nausea of the idea.
On the upside, I think that pretty much sums up the difference in the times and points out how much the Christian faiths have evolved. Merely a religious ceremony of gay marriage meant being burned alive and you had much theological opinion backing up, inspiring, and encouraging the authorities. The world is changing; we should all, gay or straight, Christian or not, be grateful.