Were choirboys castrated?

Recently my wife, who is finishing up a degree in fine arts at a local college, confronted a fellow student on an accusation she made in class. This student is well known for making off-the-wall remarks and accusations about the Catholic Church in class without any proof or resources to support them.

Her resent accusation is about choirboys of the Middle Ages, who were castrated in order to retain their high soprano voices). The student further indicted the Church for condoning of these actions of mutilating the body. My wife asked if the student could produce any proof, but the professor also gave her support to the student and her accusation.

My wife and I are not aware of such practices of the Middle Ages (we doubt it), however we are sure the Catholic Church itself would not allow such practices to be permitted in light of the Church’s teaching on the the theology of the body.

Can you supply any resources to help support the contention that this practice didn’t take place and/or if the did the Church didn’t condone such practices?

Surprisingly enough, there was indeed a tradition in Europe centuries ago of castrating young boys to preserve their sopranic singing voices. The boys were known as the *castrati. *Basically, it was a secular custom invented to work around ancient Church disciplinary restrictions against women singing in church. Although castrati did perform in churches, there is no evidence that the Church itself invented the custom or condoned it. At worst, individual churchmen tolerated a secular custom; at best, it is possible that there was localized condemnation of the practice of which current historical research is unaware. In any event, the custom ended in the nineteenth century when it was outlawed in Italy, the last country to allow the practice.

Although the theology of the body is a development of Pope John Paul II, it is true that the universal Church has never approved of the deliberate mutilation of the human body, and it would be this student’s and professor’s burden to prove that it ever did. Although individuals or societies may at times ignore Church doctrine on matters of faith or morals, this does not mean that the Church itself condones the behavior of fallible human beings.

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