Sexual abuse by priests is investigated in Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio. Researching for my doctorate in the archives of the Vatican and a religious Order I came across a treasure trove of interesting documents. Several years later the archive of the Inquisition was partially opened to researchers. Using these documents I was able to piece together a shocking tale of sexual abuse by priests.

Throughout Italy, Spain and central Europe the Piarist Order ran schools initially dedicated to the education of poor children that later became exclusive private academies. Thousands of children were educated at their schools, including Mozart, Goya, Schubert, Victor Hugo and a host of astronomers, kings, presidents, even a pope. Piarist scientists helped Galileo with his experiments in Florence. 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 14th century. What had led to this crisis?

Piecing together shreds of documentary evidence, I discovered how the founder of the Piarist Order, Father José de Calasanz, knew of the scandal and tried to keep it secret. Cardinals and bishops actively participated in the cover-up. The complicity of sexual abuse by catholic priests went as far as the pontiff himself, when the main child abuser was nominated to be head of the order.

Twenty years after the suppression the Order was re-established, the scandal buried, the founder sanctified and made patron saint of Catholic education. Covering up scandal – from the early history of the church to this day – seems still to be a top priority for the Catholic church authorities.


As racy and full of machinations as The Name of the Rose… meticulously researched and beautifully written

Fallen Order focuses on sexual abuse within a religious order in 17th-century Italy, and the attempts to cover it up…. The story that Liebreich can now unravel is as racy and full of machinations as The Name of the Rose…. Fallen Order is meticulously researched and beautifully written, with some splendid vignettes of life in 17th-century Italy, at the time of the plague, and of Galileo’s discoveries. Read More

Miranda France The Guardian, 22 May 2004

Saint who covered up for child abusers

The Roman Catholic church’s mishandling of paedophile scandals among its clergy is not a modern phenomenon but has been going on for hundreds of years, a new book, published today, reveals. It describes how the priest who is the patron saint of Catholic schools covered up sex abuse. Read More

The Guardian 15 April 2004

A very Catholic cover-up

Karen Liebreich has spent several years poring over documents in the archives of the Piarist Order and the Vatican, and has traced the shameful story of how an idealistic enterprise was torn apart by administrative incompetence and what she calls “a destablising secret at the heart of the order”…

One reads Liebreich’s vigorous account of the order’s downward spiral with mounting disbelief, though with immense admiration for her calm sense of perspective. Read More

Christopher Sylvester Sunday Times, 18 April 2004

The 350-year cover-up

This is the astonishing story of the suppression of a Catholic teaching order – the Piarists – in the 17th century. It has never been told properly before, because many of the documents containing the juiciest information were heavily classified by the Vatican until six years ago. In the process of extracting the juice, Karen Liebreich has resisted the temptation to sensationalise, though it would have been easy to do so… Liebreich’s sources are as rich in incriminating detail as the Watergate tapes…

Karen Liebreich has pulled off a difficult trick with this engrossing book… [her] conclusion is the more powerful for its restraint. Read More

Damian Thompson Sunday Telegraph, 18 April 2004

Priest who developed the art of cover-up

Liebreich, in a compelling investigation, unearths letters and records that prove how a number of Piarists were accused by schoolboys’ parents and even by local authorities of molesting their charges… Karen Liebreich believes that if the patron saint of free Christian education had been more honest, his successors would have been better equipped to deal with the cases of child abuse that emerged in the 1990s among Catholic orders in America, Ireland, Britain and elsewhere. Read More

Christina Odone Evening Standard & Scotsman, 19 & 20 April 2004

This scholarly yet brilliantly accessible book could not be more timely…relentless in its search for the truth.

Karen Armstrong

Saint in the dock

The particular quality that makes it a compulsive page turner is its overwhelming reliance on primary sources in creating the narrative… These testimonies, written in literate and vivid language, build a wonderful patchwork picture of the order and its times.

Dr Liebreich has organized this into a compelling gothic tale in which evil triumphs over virtue. Read More

Septimus Waugh Catholic Herald, 28 May 2004

This book is sexy

Liebreich is a superb story-teller; yet the way in which her narrative expands to provide contextual details and historical analysis marks this as a serious work of scholarship. Read More

Church Times October 2004

Four-hundred-year-old travesty

The work painfully establishes the inability of the Roman Catholic Church to put its children before itself; even today, the reforms of the Church are hardly impressive. Read More

The Brooklyn Rail October 2004

Misguided clerics and their cover ups

Liebreich’s landmark study is very well-written… This is an important and cautionary account of the disasters that befell a well-meaning but misguided religious order. Read More

Catholic Times 1 August 2004

Travails of the Scolopi

Amid the murk, and to the delight of the media, [Liebreich] has uncovered sexual abuse of their pupils by a handful of the early Piarist fathers, and Joseph Calasanz’s efforts to cover up the abuse and avoid scandal by moving offenders to other posts. Read More

The Tablet 15 May 2004

Scandal in the Piarist Order

“Paedophile priest protected by Catholic hierarchy.” It is the oldest story, and the newest. Why is this?

Karen Liebreich has waded though boxes of previously unavailable archives to tell the story of the Piarist Order, founded in Rome in 1622 by a Spaniard, Father José de Calasanz, who had opened one school in a Roman slum and was eager to open more. By 1646, when the order was suppressed by Pope Innocent X, there were 40 Piarist schools all over Europe. Read More

Claudia FitzHerbert Saturday Telegraph Arts Supplement, 5 May 2004

A Catholic cover-up

After the initial success of the [Piarist] order… it was banned by order of Pope Innocent X in 1646. The given reason was internal dissent but, as Liebreich carefully unravels, underpinning the dissent was the activity of paedophile priests in its ranks. [Jose de Calasanz, the order’s founder] summed up his method in a note sent to a lieutenant who feared one of the abused boy’s fathers would cause a scandal: “One should first assure oneself of the truth with all secrecy, which in such cases should be dissimulated and covered up, so it does not appear true even if it is.” These, remember, are the words of the saint to whom Catholicism has entrusted the care of schoolchildren.

Liebreich tells her story well and for the most part leaves readers to draw their own modern-day comparisons. Read More

Independent 25 April 2004

A must for any Protestant bookshelf

Her exposé Fallen Order is a must for any Protestant bookshelf. Read More

Ian Paisley

Fallen Order is great history, as compelling as a detective story.

Anthony Pagden Professor of History and Political Science, UCLA

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