Spanish Inquisition in Latin America Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

" Although a similar situation regarding sexual deviance, sex between males was deemed a far more serious crime than mere masturbation. In fact, many states in the United States still have laws on the books that make sodomy, of any kind, illegal. This demonstrates that the traditions of colonial America and religious beliefs have continued to be passed down to this day, even in fully developed nations. Yet, the case involving Damian de Morales helps to bring to light another aspect of the Spanish Inquisition: it could be employed as a tool to eliminate potential rivals.

In the era following the Council of Trent (1545-63), when instilling sexual discipline became an important part of the Catholic world's response to the threat posed by the Protestant Reformation, the pecado nefando and the other sins of lust took on a particular importance for secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Yet given the gravity of the offense and the nature of the crime, the abominable sin could also be used to serve district, more local and often interpersonal political ends -- a well-placed accusation could defame and adversary and ensnare him in a lengthy and potentially deadly legal process."

This was the functional nature of the Spanish Inquisition: its reliance on hearsay and the brutal sentences it dealt made it a vehicle for slander, pain, and murder. Children were encouraged by the Church to saving their own souls by turning in their parents, relatives, or anyone they suspected of committing grievous sins against God. Still, even if the accusations regarding sexual taboos possessed truth, there was often no physical evidence to substantiate the accuser's claim -- but none was needed.

The allegations against Morales consisted, primarily, of a slave man claiming that Morales approached him with sexual intentions. The record of the slave's testimony reads,

And Damian de Morales said to him, 'Anton, let's be friends,' and he put his hand through his breeches, pocket, saying, 'You are plump Anton,' and he moved his hand over his buttocks, feeling him, and then moved [his hands] to the front to touch what was his (lo suyo)."

The nature of this crime today might possibly be termed sexual harassment, and the legal foundation for it centers on the notion that these sexual advances were unwanted and threatening. However, the nature of this crime in colonial Latin America had nothing to do with the consent of the individual involved, but rather its position as a sin in the view of the Church. In the end, the Inquisition deemed that Morales should be imprisoned for the perpetration of his sins. Of course, the entire case relied upon the testimony of those who may have had ample cause to tarnish his name, and once again, no physical evidence linked Morales to any supposed crime.

Another common offense routinely investigated by the Spanish Inquisition was charges of witchcraft. "Commissioners of the Guatemalan Inquisition head complaints of religious deviance, including witchcraft and sorcery, pacts with the devil, blasphemy, concubinage, solicitations in the confessional, and possession of prohibited books." In the case of Michaela de Molina, she is accused of being the source of the ailments experienced by her "enemy." From the Inquisitor's perspective, the existence of Candelaria's illness and the knowledge that she has no other known enemies is sufficient evidence to suggest that Molina is the guilty party. Doubtlessly, this form of faulty reasoning dominated the courts of the Spanish Inquisition. Common local beliefs in magic and curses resulted in formal retribution from the state and from the state's arm -- the Inquisition. The record of the Investigation reads:

Dona Rafaela] said she did not know nor had she heard it said that Maria de la Condelaria was enemies with another person other that the mulata Michaela de Molina [nor] if she uses or knows how to use hechizos."

This fact, in combination with Molina's apology, sufficed as evidence for the act of witchcraft. Overall, the same problems faced the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America as they tried to combat this crime, as was faced by courts in the British colonies: witchcraft and sorcery were, by their nature, crimes that produced no physical evidence and could only be backed by individual testimony; often this testimony consisted of events or experiences that no one else could see or feel. Nevertheless, the firm believe in their existence, coupled with their apparent threat to Christianity demanded that they be prosecuted and cleansed from society. The most glaring American analogy between this aspect of the Inquisition and their Protestant counterparts is evidenced by the Salem witch trials. Guilt, in both cases, was determined entirely upon speculation and trust in the validity of the charges brought. Unfortunately, inhumane and tortuous deaths often resulted from this deeply flawed understanding of the world.

Contrary to the theme of the Inquisition condemning individuals who would today be considered innocent -- or at least, free of any legal entanglements -- sometimes cases absolved individuals who were guilty of what would presently constitute unforgivable crimes. Gespar de Peralta, for example, was exonerated after admitting to the murder of his own wife for the reason that she was damaging his honor. His defense consisted of his suspicions and eventual confirmation that his wife was committing adultery with another man. "Peralta laid a trap with the help of his trusted slave, pretending to leave town on business but secretly returning after dark. He caught the lovers together, killing his wife's lover in the bedroom, and after chasing his wife into the garden, killing her in the latrine," and this was a convincing defense because, "Indeed, the law allowed a man to kill his wife with impunity when honor was at stake, in particular, when cuckolding parties were caught'in flagrate delicto.'"

Unquestionably, the condemnation of murder from a Christian perspective is explicit; after all, it is one of the Ten Commandments. Although it could be argued that the situation in which Peralta found himself constituted a loophole, in that two of the commandments apparently came into conflict, this is a weak argument. A more convincing explanation of why the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America would condone murder in specific situations is that it upheld the existing social order. Explicitly, killing one's wife served the purpose of maintaining an individual's honor, and honor was the means by which members of colonial society obtained and held positions of power. Therefore, Peralta was dismissed by the Inquisition because he acted in accordance with the very social norms that they were working to uphold.

Alvarado attempts an analogous defense by justifying his heinous act by accusing his victim of blemishing his honor:

Finally, I saw how my honor, and that of my children and kinsmen and relatives, was lost, stolen by one of His Majesty's ministers. He should rather have served as a defensive wall against the commission of crimes; his obligation was to maintain decorum and defend my honor, not to offend it. So, unable to get satisfaction with the prosecutor, I killed Beatriz Gonzales, my wife. Now I formally accuse her, and the doctor don Geronimo de Tovar y Montalvo, as guilty of the crime of adultery."

The problem that the Inquisition faced with crimes and countercharges such as these was that it had already been established by the Church that adultery was a crime punishable by death. Accordingly, if adultery had been perpetrated and honor destroyed, then murder was, perhaps, a justifiable consequence. Once again, however, the defendant could be absolved only if the act of adultery could be proven; and as with the other Inquisition cases, the testimony "proving" this offense consisted, primarily, of hearsay and rumor.

A similarity between the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America and that in Europe was the occasional investigation into clerical officials. In Europe, historically, this centered around two situations; either sexual misconduct or rumors of high heresy. In the colonies, these accusations centered around the former. The charges brought up against Parish Priest Mexia exemplify this trend:

This is the truth. When he hears the confession of women, he says then, 'If you don't give yourself to me, I won't confess you.' This is how he abuses the women; he does not hear a woman's confession unless she comes to him; until they recompense him with their sins, he does not hear the women's confession."

Not surprisingly, this is another accusation of sexual misconduct that falls to the hands of the Spanish Inquisition to remedy. It was fundamentally important for the governmental and ecclesiastical orders in Latin America to uphold the sexual arrangement of colonial society. This was not merely a matter of maintaining purity in the eyes of God, but men were genuinely concerned about the monogamy of their wives and chastity of their daughters. Since loss of honor could result in the loss of social status, it became increasingly necessary for the Inquisition to institute penalties to the disruption of tranquility.

The Spanish Inquisition in Latin America was less concerned and…

Sources Used in Document:


Abercrombie, Thomas a. 1995. "Affairs of the Courtroom." Colonial Lives. New York: Library of Congress.

Bokenkotter, Thomas. 2004. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday.

Few, Martha. 1995. "On Her Deathbed, Maria de la Canderlaria Accuses Michaela de Molina of Casting Spells." Colonial Lives. New York: Library of Congress.

Holler, Jacqueline. 1999. "The Spiritual and Physical Ecstasies of a Sixteenth-Century Beata." Colonial Lives. New York: Library of Congress.

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