Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio


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 ...
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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. Fallen Order is the stunning story of how the sexual abuse of children, practiced by some of the leading priests in the order, led to the Piarists' collapse. Karen 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 Jose 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. Although the Piarist Order was suppressed when the scandal eventually became public, it was later revived and is still in existence today, its turbulent past ignored. A brilliant portrait of seventeenth-century Rome, and the politics, personal rivalries, and Byzantine workings of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, 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 chil
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Liebreich, a Cambridge-trained historian, recounts the riveting early decades of the Piarist Order. Founded in the 17th century, this teaching order of the Catholic Church had as its raison d' tre the education of poor boys, and Piarist priests were known for their strict religious rule. But in the 1640s, sexual scandal began to mar the Piarists' name. The scandal turned on one Stefano Cherubini, a priest from a prominent family. While serving as headmaster of a Piarist school in Naples, Cherubini not only flouted the Order's rule (eating food more sumptuous than was allowed and so forth), but also sexually abused students. Buckling under political pressure, the founder of the Order, Jose de Calasanz, more or less looked the other way. According to Liebreich, this gainsaying of sexual abuse planted the seeds of the Order's downfall, though it was eventually reinstated and went on to educate luminaries like Victor Hugo and Gregor Mendel. Although this book may be controversial and is certainly timely-a concluding chapter explicitly connects the 17th-century scandals with the recent pedophilia crisis in the Church-it is not sensationalistic. Liebreich's lucid, even-handed prose is marred only by her grating habit of ending chapters with self-conscious cliffhangers ("[T]hey swallowed their feelings and kept silent. For the time being"). Scholars and armchair history buffs alike will find this fast-paced history engrossing and informative. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Piarist Order of priests, founded in 1622 by Father Jos de Calasanz, revolutionized 17th-century education by providing the first free schools for poor boys to learn writing, Latin, and arithmetic skills that were usually confined to the noble class. Luminous former pupils include Mozart, Victor Hugo, Pope Pius IX, and Gregor Mendel. The popularity of the Piarist schools spread like wildfire, and by 1646, there were 40 schools throughout Europe. In this same year, Pope Innocent X abolished the order, which was not to resume for several decades. Liebreich, previously a television documentary researcher and a producer for the BBC and the History Channel, spent several years researching this unprecedented event with previously unavailable materials from the order's archives as well as from the Vatican Secret Archive. Her resulting discovery of sexual abuse perpetrated by high-ranking members of the order, shadowy political and personal intrigues surrounding the scandal, and the lack of action taken in response by papal authorities is stunning. Liebreich's narrative is unbiased in tone, even when making obvious parallels between the events leading up to the Piarist's fall to current sexual abuse claims within the Catholic Church today. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Mimi Davis, Broward Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Lauderdale Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sordid tale of pederast priests and blind-eye bishops: a headline fit for today, that is, 350-odd years old. BBC/History Channel researcher and producer Liebreich caught her first glimpse of the Counterreformation-era Order of the Clerics Regular of the Pious Schools, or Piarists, while conducting research in dusty archives in Rome and Florence. Founded by a Spanish priest, Jose de Calasanz, at the turn of the 17th century, the order was devoted to feeding, housing, and educating poor boys who might otherwise be tempted into Protestantism. Over the centuries, its beneficiaries included Victor Hugo and Mozart, and the order enjoyed influence in distant places such as Moravia and Poland. Notes Liebreich, though, the Catholic Encyclopedia "skips blithely from 1612, when the Roman school moved to larger premises, to 1748 when the founder was beatified." What happened in those intervening years? Plenty: while Calasanz, who would come to be regarded as the patron saint of public education, worked diligently to keep his schools running against all manner of intramural politicking in Rome, priests under his charge all over Europe used their proximity to and power over young boys to commit what was then called "the worst vice." As news of the scandals reached Rome, it was ignored, dismissed, and hushed up, while "the concern," writes Liebreich, "was always for the sinner, the priest, never for the victim, however young." Indeed, one of worst offenders was eventually booted upstairs, protected by the pope himself. Finally, however, the scandal could be hidden no longer, and the order was suppressed. Some of the priests entered other orders, but one took the initiative of murdering a little oldlady whose confession he had been hearing, loading up her riches, and sailing away: "The crime was not discovered for a few weeks, and the ex-Piarist was never heard from again."Liebreich's account shows not only that priestly abuse is an old problem, but also that cover-ups never work-a pointed moral with obvious, and timely, implications. Agency: Atlantic Books, London
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802142207
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/10/2005
  • Edition description: 1st Grove Press Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface : 'of great seriousness and commitment'
1 A patchwork city of strangers 1
2 Little beasts or untrained animals 15
3 If I had 10,000 priests now 28
4 A touch on his breeches 47
5 Be very careful in your dealings with the pupils 56
6 The worst vice 63
7 Prayer and penitence have been cast aside 81
8 This is really going to be a troublesome affair 95
9 How can the Holy Spirit be in such a house? 112
10 See that this business does not become public 121
11 Touching the shameless parts is not a sin 134
12 Just a case of brotherly persecution 141
13 Galileo is the most important man in the world 152
14 A sublime nothingness 158
15 You are prisoners of the Inquisition 165
16 A brief is to be prepared : but secretly 175
17 Do you know anything scandalous about your superiors? 183
18 Unworthy of such a position 206
19 Messing around with boys 215
20 We are in a most confused silence 233
21 I only wish that the knowledge that we have today had been available to us earlier 256
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