Sacramental Power and Sacramental Intimacy: Solicited Women and Their Confessors in Colonial Mexico

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:20 AM
America's Cup B (Hyatt)
Jessica L. Delgado , Smith College, Northampton, MA
This paper looks at cases of sexual solicitation between priests and their female penitents in 17th and 18th century Mexico for what they reveal about these women’s relationship to priests and the sacraments of confession and communion.  Through an examination of over 100 Inquisition cases, it analyzes the phenomenon of solicitation, the circumstances and strategies of women testifying against priests for this crime, and the diverse relationships of gendered power, sexualized violence, religious intimacy, and even love that such situations represented.

Solicitation was a crime with which the Inquisition was increasingly and varyingly concerned in the time period under study, but its policing efforts were intended to regulate priests’ misuse of the sacraments, not their relationships with women.  The Inquisition appeared unconcerned about the sacramental, economic, and social power soliciting priests could wield over women and the spiritual health of a penitent thus abused.  Nor was it particularly concerned about the blurring of sexual and spiritual intimacy that sometimes occurred in less coercive situations nonetheless productive of moments of solicitation.  Sexual contact between priest and penitent was only solicitation if it occurred during confession, in the confessional, or using the sacrament of confession as a pretext.  Nonetheless, solicitation trials and investigation reveal a much wider range of sexual, spiritual, emotional, and even economic relationships, interactions, and arrangements.  These relationships are the focus of this paper.