Catholic Church encouraged prostitution?

A protestant friend of mine recently approached me regarding his interest in the Catholic church. His most recent question regarded prostitution (see below) I have good basic understanding of Catholic teaching but this was a curve ball Prior to this statement (see below) I was telling him about the authority needed to understand scripture and the historical teaching of faith/morals of the Church are without error for 2000 years. Thank you for any response you can provide.

(email I received from protestant friend)
I, briefly, surfed the internet to find out about “medieval prostitution” – here’s what I found. I didn’t have time to completely verify that this information is NOT coming from a cuckoo source. I just typed in a few things and it pulled up a lot of information. Here are a few of the things I found:

Ruth Karras, author of Common Women: prostitution and sexuality in medieval England, discusses how some bishops ran and owned brothels in England during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. “Ecclesiastical institutions and individuals owned brothels . . . Several individual clerics also managed brothels in London and Westminster.”[4] [10] She mentions also that they were not only owners, but many were clients as well.[5] [11] Karras is not the only one to show that the clergy were clients of prostitutes. “. . . in the cases of procuration and brawling in the brothel or the bathhouse, members of the clergy are listed as present, named and given as residents of the city . . . clergy still made up twenty per cent of the clientele of the bathhouses and the private bordellos of Dijon.”[6] [12]

Not only was the Church involved in ownership, but in France during the mid thirteenth century, they accepted alms from prostitutes.[7] [13] “In accepting the prostitute’s alms, the Church recognized that she had acted out of necessity.”[8] [14] The Church supported this institution because they believed it to be a necessity. They owned and ran brothels, accepted money from prostitutes, and used Mary Magdalene as an example of a prostitute who redeemed herself by repenting. Many were tolerant of prostitutes by acknowledging them as a future Mary Magdalene.[9] [15]

The church followed the philosophy regarding prostitution as a “necessary evil” and often participated in it, since it had been justified. The medieval public followed the same philosophy. They kept and welcomed prostitution into their communities.

Professor where I found one account :

. . . .In medieval Europe, the Catholic Church not only condoned prostitution, but allowed it to be run out of the monasteries and convents. The phrase, “get thee to a nunnery” had nothing to do with a convent of “nuns” but rather the “nunnery” was a brothel. The exhortation was given to young men to keep them from trying to corrupt the virgin daughters of the townspeople.

In 1254, King Louis IX of France, decreed that all prostitutes be regarded as outlaws after it was discovered that a Parisian prostitute sat next to the queen of France in Church, and the queen, as was her custom, bestowed a kiss on her.When the identity of the woman reached the ears of the king, he decided that the only way to prevent future incidents was to outlaw prostitution throughout his kingdom. . . .

"Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History " Vern&Bonnie Bullough/ Crown Books 1978

History Channel website: In the Middle Ages the Christian church, which valued chastity, attempted to convert or rehabilitate individual prostitutes but refrained from campaigning against the institution itself. In so doing the church followed the teaching of St. Augustine, who held that the elimination of prostitution would breed even worse forms of immorality and perversion, because men would continue to seek sexual contact outside marriage. By the late Middle Ages, prostitution had reached a high point in Western history. Licensed brothels flourished throughout Europe, yielding enormous revenues to government officials and corrupt churchmen. . . .During the 16th century prostitution declined sharply in Europe, largely as the result of stern reprisals by Protestants and Roman Catholics. They condemned the immorality of brothels and their inmates, but they were also motivated by the perception of a connection between prostitution and an outbreak of syphilis, a previously unknown disease. Brothels in many cities were closed by the authorities. Under a typical ordinance, enacted in Paris in 1635, prostitutes were flogged, shaved bald, and exiled for life without formal trial.

Thanks for the laugh! This is a new one on me!

Did some bishops and priests go to brothels? Undoubtedly. Did some popes? I wouldn’t hold it past a few of them. But to claim that the church actively taught something such as this is laughable.

The Church has always taught that the state can tolerate certain evils for the common good–this is why not every sin is always against the law. There have been some individuals who, while always teaching prostitution to be a grave sin for all parties involved, saw it as a sin that should be tolerated by the state to maintain a peaceful order in society.

Well, prostitution is legal in Nevada and has been condoned or tolerated elsewhere for a long time.

It was legal in Germany when I was in the Army back in the day, and probably still is. In other parts of Europe as well (Amsterdam).

To go so far as to say that the Church actively ran brothels seems really far fetched (and the cited “proof” only refers to small portions of the Church.)

This is all over the board, from the Church actively running brothels, to merely “accepting alms” from Prostitutes, to ministering to prostitutes, to apparently not flogging them…all of which is supposed to show support of prostitution…"**in Paris in 1635, prostitutes were flogged, shaved bald, and exiled for life without formal trial"…**is this what your guy wants?

I think it right to have sympathy for prostitutes in general, as many women, probably especially back then, faced economic harship if she lost or did not have a husband.

Your statements have tagged for references but I can not find the references? ( 6-15 ) Where are they. The link refers to a professor yet nothing on her website is supportive of this. I have never heard such statements, frankly if sounds like over embellishment. Also it is interesting you site England which split away from the church during the mentioned time for (what was it?) trading sex partners? The King wanted divorce-

BTW there is no reason to believe Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

Sounds like a case of loving the sinner and treating them humanely, rather than truly condoning the sin.

And I can only repeat that if corrupt or sinful clergymen invalidated a church or denomination then all branches of Protestantism have to plead equally guilty.

The fact that she is called Mary of Magdala rather than Mary the wife of Joe suggests that she wasn’t married. She seems to have had money, and so for the time this was highly unusual, unless she was the mistress of a rich man. She probably wouldn’t have been a hooker.

What about Martha? She isn’t named as anyone’s wife either. I did hear that the family (Mary, Martha and Lazarus) were all wealthy, and that it was in fact a bit of a joke against Lazarus that Jesus gave the poor beggar in the parable the same name as him :smiley:

(Among what has already been posted)

While the phrase “get thee to a nunnery” may have had such sense at one time or another (and I have no desire nor expertise to perform its etymology), it is most famously a citation from *Hamlet *act III scene i, not as an exhortation to young men, but from Hamlet to Ophelia.

I have heard instructors put forth this same proposition, that Hamlet meant for her to become a prostitute in a brothel, but I’ve no idea how context bears that out? *“Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” *Why would prostitution not breed sinners? Dunno, I didn’t pay that much attention in English Lit.

Is your friend particularly surprised or concerned that the Church is and always has been composed of sinners? Or does he believe only the Catholic Church is so composed?

Perhaps he has similar questions about the US government? Oh, it’s changed its stance now, but once upon a time it legitimately counted slaves (slaves! yeah, it condoned slavery!) as only 3/5 of a man. Or pick something else – There are plenty of beliefs and behaviors for which we with our hindsight might condemn out forefathers, but it is rarely fair to do so.

And I wonder what our children’s children’s children will say about us someday…?


I think it is an assumption made about her, since the woman caught in adultery was never named, and several times it says of Magdalene that seven demons had gone out of her. Don’t demons cause prostitution? :smiley:

That would be the second most obscure joke I’ve seen in the Bible.

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