April 13, 2011


Married priests defied church law

Two hundred years after the Roman Catholic Church said no to married priests, the clergy in 14th century Spain couldn't truthfully sing, "Ain't misbehavin'; saving my love for God."

Instead, evidence abounds that their lifestyle didn't match the Church's wishes.

Michelle Armstrong-Partida found a cache of evidence that "marriage, despite canon law," is continuing in the 14th century, which she shared at the Vann Seminar in Pre-Modern History on April 8.

Armstrong-Partida is an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in Emory's Department of History.

She discussed a chapter, "Proof of Manhood: Priests as Husbands and Fathers," of her forthcoming book, "Misbehaving Clerics: Sexuality, Violence, and Clerical Masculinity in Fourteenth-Century Catalunya."

Studying early records in rural Catalunya, Spain, Armstrong-Partida uncovered evidence of common law marriages, and what she considers a "very conservative" number of children as a result.

Despite the risk of being fined for breaking church law, these unions, many of which she found to be "very stable, very long-term unions," persisted. She also found a "high rate practicing ‘self-divorce'."

Since visits from the church hierarchy did not happen every year, the risk seemed worth taking.  And when the episcopal visitor did come, punishment depended on "how interested he is in documenting the behavior," she said. "It was not really on the front burner for the bishops."

Armstrong-Partida also noted that Spain was far from the papal seat of Rome, thus the "Spanish clergy were kind of dancing to their own tune..."

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