New Book on Priestly Abuses in 17th Century a Timely Topic for Today

Religion News Service
September 23, 2004

FALLEN ORDER, Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio

"This brilliantly accessible book could not be more timely. . . . Without bias or oversimplified polemic, Karen Liebreich’s meticulous scholarship brings the whole sorry episode to light, step by step, in a piece of investigative writing that is relentless in its search for the truth."
—Karen Armstrong

"A brilliant book…Karen Liebreich has unearthed these events from the archives and she has told the story of the rise and fall of this group of priests with scholarly precision and enormous verve. FALLEN ORDER is great history, as compelling as a detective story."
—Anthony Pagden

"A sordid tale of pederast priests and blind-eye bishops: a headline fit for today, that is, 350-odd years old."
—Kirkus Reviews

Karen Liebreich’s scholarly new book, "FALLEN ORDER, Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio," provides a brilliant portrait of seventeenth-century Rome and the politics, personal rivalries and Byzantine workings of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Set against the backdrop of Italy in this period of plagues, political corruption, wars, discoveries by Galileo and a rich cultural life, "FALLEN ORDER" is the stunning story of how the sexual abuse of children, practiced by some of the leading priests in the Piarist Order, led to the Order’s collapse.

For hundreds of years, the Piarist Order of priests has been known for its history of important contributions to education, science and culture. Throughout Italy, Spain and central Europe, the Order’s schools evolved from shelters created to educate poor children into exclusive private academies. Thousands of children were educated at Piarist schools, including Mozart, Goya, Schubert, Victor Hugo, Johann Mendel and a host of astronomers, kings, emperors, presidents, even a pope. Yet in 1646, the Piarist Order was abruptly abolished by Pope Innocent X, an unprecedented step not seen since the Knights Templar were suppressed for heresy in the fourteenth century.

Liebreich spent several years researching in the Order’s archives and in the Vatican Secret Archive, and discovered how the founder of the Piarist Order, Father José de Calasanz (later honored as the patron saint of Catholic schools) knew of the scandal and tried to keep it a secret. Cardinals and bishops actively participated in the cover-up in an effort to protect the reputation of an important cleric with influential family connections. The complicity of abuse went as far as the pontiff himself, when Pope Innocent X appointed a man known to be a prolific child abuser in charge of an order dedicated to the education of children.

"FALLEN ORDER" is an explosive account of a history of cover-ups, deception and shuttling known abuser priests from school to school that is frighteningly similar to the Catholic Church’s response to child abuse in the priesthood today.

It should be noted that the Piarist Order was re-instated several decades after its collapse. In Italy today Piarist schools are attended by the elite. The Order comprises nearly 1,500 priests, spread over 19 provinces, with the bulk of its houses in Spain, followed by Italy, Mexico and Argentina. There is no scandal attached to them.

The author Karen Liebreich received a doctorate in history from Cambridge University and a research diploma from the European University Institute in Florence. She has been a television documentary researcher and producer for the BBC and the History Channel.


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