The Piarists were suppressed during the lifetime of the founder because of pederasty by the head of the order. It is the closest parallel I know of in Church history to the Legion. Joseph Calasanctius founded the Piarists, and made a fatal and culpable error of tolerating a child abuser who had high political connections.

Until recently, the difficulties that the Piarists had were explained in this fashion:

Calasanz’s success, however, continued to bother the local parish schoolmasters, as well as other rivals within the Church. It has also been suggested that the wealthy classes were alarmed by free education for the poor, fearing that their own superior positions in society would be threatened. Thus, a Fr. Mario Sozzi, who had entered the order in Naples in 1630, contrived to take power away from Calasanz. In 1639, he used his connections at the Vatican to become head of the order in Tuscany. He used this position to slander Calasanz and stain his reputation, denouncing him as too old and doddering to run the order. Legal battles, involving Calasanz’s defender Cardinal Cesarini, resulted in Sozzi having Calasanz arrested and carried through the streets as a felon. Intervention by Cesarini saved the 82-year-old from prison, but Sozzi was unpunished. Sozzi was finally successful, having Calasanz suspended from the generalate and taking control of the order later that same year.

Calasanz was subjected to humiliating and insulting treatment during Sozzi’s reign. In 1643, Sozzi died and was succeeded by Fr. Cherubini, who continued this policy. Calasanz bore this treatment with patience and meekness, urging the order to obey his persecutors as the authority, and one time protecting Cherubini from an angry mob of young priests, who were enraged by his behavior. The Vatican, meanwhile, was investigating the matter, and in 1645, at age 88, Calasanz was reinstated as general of the order. This victory was short-lived, however. In 1646, Calasanz’s enemies, with the help of a relative of the Pope, convinced Pope Innocent X to turn the control of the order over to local bishops. In effect, the order was dissolved. Calasanz was reported to have said, upon hearing this news, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The job of reorganizing the schools fell to Fr. Cherubini, but his maladministration in other jobs resulted in his removal and disgrace. Calasanz was reconciled to him on Cherubini’s death bed in 1648. A few months later, Calasanz himself died a few days before his 92nd birthday. His order was reconstitued in 1656, and restored as a religious order in 1669.

This was the officially propagated story.

On 13 August 1948, Pius XII proclaimed Saint Joseph Calasanctius “Heavenly patron of. all Christian working-class schools in the world.”

Here is the review of Karen Liebreich’s Fallen Order from the Times of Acadiana in Lafayette, Louisiana (26 August 2004) (for other reviews):

It is a story drearily familiar from the headlines: priests abuse children, the bishops and cardinals in charge of the priests know it and “solve” the problem by moving the priests around to other locations, and finally the story breaks and causes embarrassment and disruption within the church. It is news, but it is not new; the same thing was happening in the seventeenth century. In Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio (Grove Press), Karen Liebreich has found a scandal of priestly pedophilia that ruined and eventually closed a Catholic teaching order, the Piarists. The order was eventually restarted, and still exists. It is justifiably proud of making contributions to education (Mozart, Mendel, and Goya, to name just a few, were products of Piarist schools). It is proud of its founder, Father José de Calasanz, who was eventually beatified and became the patron saint of Catholic schools. It is quiet about the scandal that caused the suppression of the order, however, and Liebreich only stumbled upon the story in an ancient Florentine archive when she was doing a doctorate on public education. Looking through the thousands of letters from Calasanz (she grimly notes that there are no jokes and no lightness within them), she came across a euphemism: il vitio pessimo, “the worst sin.” Her curiosity up, she went through difficult searches at the Vatican Secret Archive; the Inquisition Archive only opened six years ago, and she thereupon hunted there, too. There is much more to the story than pedophilic priests and a cover up, but sadly, the patron saint of Catholic schools quite clearly performed the same sort of cover-up that has brought disgrace to his contemporary equivalents.

St. Joseph Calasanz had wanted to be a priest since his youth. Ordained in Spain in 1575, he left for Rome in 1592, trying to network and make a place for himself. For years, he had little success, and he may have been offended at the luxurious way in which his peers lived. He saw a particular need for education of the poor; the rich had no problems educating their children, and orders such as the Jesuits offered catechism and higher education, but the poor had trouble getting a start. He began teaching children from poverty himself, and founded a school supported by grants from the city and the Pope. He founded the Piarist Order in 1592, and there was an immediate contrast to the way the Jesuits taught. Piarists taught boys for free. They taught in the vernacular, not Latin. They taught arithmetic that merchants might use, not philosophical mathematics. Calasanz was preparing them to work in banks, warehouses, and shops. Although there is no evidence that he knew Galileo, his priests in the Piarist school in Florence espoused Galilean teachings; when Galileo was persecuted for such teachings as the Earth going around the Sun, this was an eventual liability for the order. Calasanz favored discomfort for himself, the sort of hair-shirt masochism that seems exceedingly strange to us today. He would eat his meals with one foot in the air, so that he could suffer even as he ate, or he would lie in the corridor leading to the refectory and make the other members of the order walk on him as they went in. He ruled that his Piarists had to live austere lives, dressing simply, wearing sandals in the winter, eating bad food and little of it. The rules included that they could not swim, play games, play guitar, or kiss even their mothers. Despite the austerity, the movement rapidly grew into new schools all through Italy.

The rules were broken with zeal by Father Stefano Cherubini, originally headmaster of the school in Naples. He is the main villain in the book, because he liked eating well, he wore a specially cut clerical jacket that was indecently short, he wore shoes against the cold, and even socks, instead of sandals, he didn’t get to all the mandatory prayer sessions, he traveled in a carriage and he sang in a falsetto voice. He also enjoyed sodomizing the pupils. Father Stefano made no secret about at least some of his transgressions, and Calasanz came to know of them. Unfortunately for Calasanz as administrator of the order, Father Stefano was the son and the brother of powerful papal lawyers; no one wanted to offend the Cherubini family. Father Stefano pointed out that if allegations of his abuse of his boys became public, actions would be taken to destroy the Piarists. Calasanz therefore promoted Father Stefano, to get him away from the scene of the crime, citing only his luxurious diet and failure to attend prayers. However, he knew what Cherubini had really been up to, and he wrote that the sole aim of the plan “… is to cover up this great shame in order that it does not come to the notice of our superiors.”

Superiors in Rome found out, of course, but bowed to the same family ties that had bound Calasanz. Cherubini became visitor-general for the Piarists, able to conduct himself just as he wanted in any school he visited. The Piarists became entangled in church politics, and partially because they were associated with Galileo, were opposed by the Jesuits, who were more orthodox in astronomy. (Galileo’s views also involved atomism, and were thought to be heretical regarding transubstantiation.) The support for Cherubini was broad enough that in 1643, he was made head of the order and the elderly Calasanz was pushed aside. Upon this appointment, Calasanz publicly documented Cherubini’s long pattern of child molestation, a pattern that he had known about for years. Even this did not block Cherubini’s appointment, but other members of the order were indignant about it, although they may have objected to Cherubini’s more overt shortcomings. With such dissention, the Vatican took the easy course of suppressing the order.

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