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 are the letters of St Joseph Calasanz and his associates in the order and the archive of Fr Vincenzo Berro. 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.
… While I can recommend Fallen Order – it was an illuminating story well told – I found myself wondering about Liebreich’s last chapter itemizing the abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic hierarchy in America, England and Ireland in the last 20 years.
Though it was an interesting essay, it felt like an afterthought put in to increase the length of the book and attract a generation of readers fascinated by the topic of child abuse. It is a polemic against the present-day Church that undermines the analysis of what went wrong with the Piarists in the 17th century by overemphasizing the child abuse issue and underestimating the role of the Inquisition and the Jesuits in their downfall.
The attack on the Catholic Church’s record on child abuse is in many respects valid: the more that the secular world remonstrates with the sacerdotal world that the care of souls and the defence of the faith are not served well by secrecy and a callous attitude to the anguish of victims, the sooner the penny will drop. But the opinionated sloppiness of Liebreich’s tone detracts from the scholarly craftsmanship of the rest of the book.