Cross-Generational Abuse

Priests, Parishioners, and the Catholic Church in New Spain

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Zeb Tortorici New York University, USA

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This article analyzes the influence of confessional manuals on Catholic priests who solicited sexual favors from parishioners during confession throughout colonial New Spain. It proposes that we think about centuries of sexual encounters between priests and parishioners through the concept of cross-generational abuse, which describes intersecting forms of priestly exploitation based on chronological age differentials, allegorical power relations based on the rhetoric of spiritual kinship, and priests’ own abilities to profess redemption years after conviction and thereby regain positions of authority over parishioners. The plurality of these forms of abuse move beyond the usual associations of cross-generational sex solely with the question of age. It opens up the category of cross-generational sex and enlarges its potential to be a topic for historical reflection.

Contributor Notes

Zeb Tortorici is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures at New York University. His monograph, Sins against Nature: Sex and Archives in Colonial New Spain (2018), received several awards including the 2019 John Boswell Award from the American Historical Association's Committee on LGBT History. He has edited or coedited several books including Centering Animals in Latin American History (2013); Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America (2016); Ethnopornography: Sexuality, Colonialism, and Archival Knowledge (2020); and Baptism Through Incision: The Postmortem Cesarean Operation in the Spanish Empire (2020). Email:

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