FALLEN ORDER

Fallen Order tells the story of the vicissitudes of the first quarter century of the Piarist order, or the Scolope as they are known in Italy. The particular quality that makes this book a compulsive page turner is its overwhelming reliance on primary sources in creating the narrative. These are the letters of St. 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. Ms. Liebreich has organised this into a compelling gothic tale in which evil triumphs over virtue. St. Calasanz was elevated to the status of "Celestial Patron before God of all popular Christian schools in the world" by Pope Pius XII in 1948. He deserves the title. At the end of the 16th century while the Jesuits were setting up schools for the nobility, Fr Jose de Calasanz arriving in Rome from Spain perceived the need for Free schools to teach the three Rs, grammar, manners and doctrine to those too poor to afford the fees of the existing charity schools. Relying on donations and free labour both secular and clerical, he set about organising one in Rome .The idea quickly caught on and by 1621 His schools, which he called pious schools, were widespread and admired enough to be confirmed as an Order by Pope Gregory XV: Ordo Clericorum Regularium Pauperum Matris Dei Scholarum Piarum. The Piarists were expected "to teach free and for the love of God without any wage". They were forbidden to go about shod, and were expected to darn their own cassocks. The rules governing relations with their pupils were also very strict. They were not allowed to touch them nor make eye contact nor keep them back after school, not even to sweep out the classrooms, without the permission of a superior. The curriculum was revolutionary in that it was taught in the vernacular, and was specifically tailored for the needs of the poor laity. This attracted talented and remarkable men who were open to the theories of Galileo, at the time regarded as heretical by the church. In this lay the seeds of the Piarists` suppression and humiliation in the 1640s. Unlike the Jesuits who worked well with the inquisition and stayed close to the pope, the Piarists relied on accepting diversity to keep their manpower , and when it came to imposing discipline on the more unruly members of the order, Fr. Calasanz preferred to remove them, often by promotion, and hope that they behaved better in the next posting. His comeuppance came with cases of the lustful Fr. Stephano Cherubini, and the gluttonous Fr. Mario Sozzi. Fr. Stefano came from an influential Roman family and , though capable , soon caused concern when he was headmaster of a school in Naples. He allowed the boys to play football in the refectory and the picture of the Madonna was frequently hit by the ball, but then there were rumours that he was hanging around with the boys too much and abusing them. There were also complaints that he had his cassock cut inappropriately high at the front, and that he sang falsetto in the choir. Fr. Calasanz promoted him to the role of school inspector for the area, and later to visitor general. Meanwhile greedy Fr. Mario having been caught with food , sweets and women’s clothing in his room in Florence, in a fit of pique, started informing the inquisition on his more intellectual peers for espousing the heretical ideas of Galileo . This was the point at which the order got into real trouble because Sozzi made friends with the inquisitor in Florence and, consequently, of the highly influential Assessor for the Inquisition in Rome, the corrupt Monsignor Francesco Albizzi. An unholy alliance sprang up in the 1740s between Albizzi, Cherubini, and Sozzi,. Albizzi got Calasanz suspended and replaced him with Sozzi, as governor of the piarists, with Cherubini as his right hand man and successor. The order erupted in accusations and counter accusations which eventually annoyed the papal authorities so much that they suppressed it and left the schools to be run locally in their various principalities. Cardinal Barberini said of it "This is an order that grew and spread by always disobeying", and Innocent the tenth said "It is a badly organised order and not much good" . Fortunately the order was allowed to reconstitute itself in the 1670s and now thrives in Italy, Spain and Argentina. While I can wholeheartedly recommend this book: it was a fascinating and illuminating story well told, I found myself wondering about Liebreich`s last chapter itemizing the child abuse scandals that have rocked the catholic hierarchy in America, England and Ireland in the last twenty 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. There is an opinionated sloppiness about it which demeans the scholastic craftsmanship of the rest of the book. She introduces the topic saying "While the modern Piarists have remained above scandal, perhaps having learned from their seventeenth century experiences, the same cannot be said for the rest of the catholic church." If it were true that the Piarists have remained above scandal, then she should be telling us how this teaching order has managed to do so, but this is just unsubstantiated opinion. Similarly to include the whole of the "rest of the catholic church" in the scandals of the episcopal hierarchy is a bit sweeping. The last essay is a polemic against the present day catholic church, and the attempt to link it to the failure of Father Calasanz to deal with Fr. Cherubino appropriately undermines the analysis of what went wrong with the Piarists in the seventeenth century by overemphasizing the child abuse issue and detracting from the role in their downfall of the Inquisition, the Jesuits, Heresy and Freedom of Thought. Her attack on the Catholic Church’s record on child abuse is worthwhile: the more that the secular world remonstrates with the sacerdotal world that the care of the eternal soul of the sinner, and the defence of the reputation of the true faith are not served well by secrecy and a callous attitude to the anguish of the victims, the sooner the penny will drop. It just undermines the scholarship of this book.

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