Eric Berkowitz
California Lawyer
More Legally Speaking

Eric Berkowitz

A conversation with attorney and author Eric Berkowitz on the history of judging desire.

September 2012

Reader Comments

Marcelo D'Asero - September 24, 2012
It isn't clear why examining editor Martin Lasden's full interview with attorney and author Eric Berkowitz should merit receipt of continuing legal education credits, especially since the limited back-and-forth between Lasden and Berkowitz excerpted in the magazine exhibits questionable statements of fact and unfounded reasoning. For example, it leaves the reader with the impression that incest and inbreeding were practiced by the general population in pre-Islamic Iran. That impression is, despite Berkowitz's "research," misleading because consanguineous marriage seems to have been restricted to the Persian monarchs, the Magian priests, and the nobility, according to Encyclopaedia Iranica. Lasden and Berkowitz also engage in the following remarkable exchange: Berkowitz: "For example, in the Middle Ages the [Catholic] Church went into the prostitution business, and the justifications for that are comical. But basically, the priests didn't like prostitution - except when they could make money from it." Lasden: "So when the Protestants came along and started to draw attention to this gap between theory and practice, did the Catholics have to sell off the brothels?" Berkowitz: "Yes. The Catholic Church retreated to what's called the Council of Trent - which, over the course of almost 20 years, tried to deal with the challenges posed by the Reformation - and rather than admit, adjust, and loosen up, what they did was double down." Given the references to comical justifications and the Council of Trent, this portion of the interview implies that Berkowitz believes the Catholic Church officially condoned and operated brothels in medieval Europe as a point of dogma. One would, therefore, expect that Berkowitz grounded his opinions on some conciliar document, encyclical, or papal bull. But no such evidence exists, for the simple reason that the Catholic Church has never condoned prostitution as a matter of doctrine. The only evidence Berkowitz could possibly appeal to in support of his prejudicial interview statements would be irrelevant and isolated historical instances of wayward bishops, clerics, or monks acting outside of the Church's teachings.
Eric Berkowitz - November 1, 2012
Thanks to Mr. D'Asero for his letter. In response to his assertion about pre-Islamic Persian "consanguineous marriage," my primary source in this regard was Bodil Hjerrild's Studies in Zoroastrian Family Law (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2003). Additionally, the Encyclopaedia Iranica states that "Consanguineous marriage, originally practiced by the nobility among many peoples, was later commonly contracted in all sections of the Iranian community, high and low." Mr. D'Asero also states that the printed interview "implies" that I "believe" that the medieval Catholic Church "officially condoned and operated brothels ... as a point of dogma." I made no such implication. Rather, officials of the Catholic Church were indeed involved in the prostitution business, regardless of official doctrine coming out of Rome. See, for example, the book by Fernando Henriques entitled Prostitution in Europe and the New World (MacGibbon & Kee, 1963), which notes, among other things, the fact that "Ecclesiastical sanction [was] very frequently given to such enterprises." The book also notes that the Archbishop of Mainz, in 1457, granted the right to run a brothel to a certain count, and, in 1309, "a bishop of Strasbourg built a house specially for prostitutes so that he might obtain an income from it." Henriques states that Pope Clement II issued a bull by which he "hoped to profit" from the "rife" prostitution in Rome. "As we have seen," Henriques concludes, "both lay and clerical life were involved with prostitution throughout the Middle Ages." See also Vern Bullough and James A. Brundage's Sexual Practices & the Medieval Church(Prometheus Books, 1982), which has many references to church-sanctioned brothels, including one operated under the "sponsorship" of Pope Clement VI, others operated in Rome itself, and a brothel owned by an English cardinal. Bullough's Sexual Attitudes: Myths and Realities (Prometheus Books, 1995) also covers this subject, as does Brundage's Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, (The University of Chicago Press, 1987).

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