The Church Sex Scandal: Medieval Blueprint for Disaster
By Dyan Elliott
Lecture given on March 10, 2009, at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University.
Christian doctrine has always been divided between intolerance for the hidden sin and apprehension over scandalizing the faithful through its publication. The rise of clerical celibacy would tilt the scales in favor of the secret sin, and a systematic concealment of sexual infractions ensued. Certain doctrinal developments, particularly the evolution of sacramental confession, put a seal of sanctity on this tacit policy, paving the way for the sex scandals of the present day church.
Dyan Elliott is a historian of western Europe in the Middle Ages. Her interests center around gender, spirituality, and sexuality and the way these three variables interact. She is especially intrigued by how the margins help to define the center of a given society. Elliott’s publications include Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (1993); Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages (1999); and Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (2004). This latter work was the winner of the 2006 Otto Gründler Award for outstanding contribution to the field of medieval studies. Current projects include a study of the tangible consequences of medieval nuptial imagery and an examination of the crisis of authenticity resulting from Latin Christendom’s encounter with the dualist Cathars.