In 1642, Father Stefano Cherubini (Father Stefano), the original headmaster of the Piarist school in Naples, Italy was accused of sexually abusing school pupils in his care. The Piarist Order was established as a Roman Catholic religious order in 1621 by Pope Gregory XV. The founder of the order Father Joseph Calasanz (Father Joseph) died in 1648, was beatified in 1748 and canonized in 1767. He was declared the “Universal Patron of all the Christian Popular Schools” in 1948 by Pope Pius the XII.
Saint Joseph preached and lived the educational ideal of providing academic instruction for all children, including the underprivileged. Father Stefano Cherubini (Father Stefano) lived the child molesters dream of superior power over a captive audience. He did not hide his activities. He did not have to. He was the brother of a powerful papal lawyer from a powerful family which threatened to destroy the Piarists as an Order if Father Stefano’s actions were revealed to the public. Rather, Father Stefano was relocated because of “his luxurious diet and his failure to attend prayers.” He was subsequently promoted by the heads of the church in Rome to the position of visitor-general for the Piarists. As visitor-general he could”visit” any Piarist school he wished and do whatever he wanted. In 1643, Father Joseph was removed from his position as head of the Order and Father Stefano assumed control.
In 1984, on a school night, my ten year old son, Jack, sat at the kitchen table, books out, pencil in hand staring at a blank piece of white, lined composition paper. I had just entered the kitchen after a day’s work in the office and could see that he was struggling with something related to school work. He fidgeted and shifted in his seat while I began to barbecue some pork chops for dinner for his brother, him and me. He would put his pencil to the paper, write a word or two and then flip his pencil over and quickly erase the word or two he had just written. I curiously watched him struggle for ten minutes while I was cooking. Finally, I asked sensing the Cerberusan head of child rearing in my midst (refer to “Playing In the Toy Box“), “What’s wrong?”
“Dad, I was told I have to write an apology letter to Father Francis for something that happened at school today at recess.” “So write it,” I responded nonchalantly. “Dear Father Francis, I am sorry about what happened at recess today. Sincerely, Jack Ryan; then you’re done.” “I can’t do that , dad, I don’t think we did anything wrong, and I think he owes us an apology.” The plot thickens, self righteousness and “us.”
“So, what happened?” I asked. “Brian, Tommy, Seamus, and I were playing foot tag at recess.” Foot tag involves running around and tagging game participants with your foot by touching and/or stomping on their foot. “Father Francis walked over to our game and began tickling us and stepping on our feet to tag us.” “Okay, so?” I responded quizzically. “Well, he kept tickling and touching us and rubbing our backs; I stopped playing because I thought it was weird and that’s not how you play the game. Then Brian stepped on Father’s foot really hard and Father said Brian hurt his foot. Father told Sister Bernadette on us, and she said we have to write an apology to Father, and we didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t even playing anymore when Brian tagged Father hard. He owes us an apology; he ruined our game at recess.”
“So don’t apologize, write what you really feel about what happened and turn it in as your apology.” He wrote the following:
Dear Father Francis,
Sister Bernadette told me I had to write you an apology note for what happened at recess today. Brian, Seamus, Tommy and I were playing foot tag. You came and tried to join our game. You ruined our game. You don’t tickle, rub backs and touch kids in foot tag. You only tag with your feet. Then you got mad because Brian tagged you hard, and you said it hurt your foot. That’s how we play. Then you went and tattled to Sister Bernadette that your shoes got dirty and your foot hurt. We don’t tattle on each other. You played the game wrong, ruined our game, and then you squealed to Sister. You tricked us into thinking you wanted to play foot tag with us. I think you owe us an apology.
The next evening my phone rang at home and I answered. “Mr. Ryan,” Is this you?” “Yes, it is; with whom am I speaking?” “This is Sister Bernadette from the school.” “Yes, Sister, what can I do for you?” “Your son, Jack, was supposed to write an apology letter to Father Francis for abusing and mistreating him at recess. That group of little hoodlums your son pals around with hurt Father’s foot and scuffed up his good black shoes. Very bad behavior. Then he brings in this poorly written note which is not even an apology. It is disgraceful, Mr. Ryan.”
“Sister, Jack’s note to Father Francis was in a sealed envelope with Father Francis’ name on it, wasn’t it?” “Yes, it was.” Why did you open the note; it was not meant for you?” “To read it before I gave it to Father Francis in case of some child like yours. The note was poorly written; the grammar was atrocious.” “Sister, I have an MA in English from Villanova University. I proof read Jack’s note, and although not perfect; the punctuation is more than adequate and it expresses Jack’s fair thoughts on the event.” “Well,” she continued indignantly, “You are going to have to talk to Father!!!” “Oh no, not Father,” I exclaimed. “Yes, Father, he will handle this with you and your son.” “Should I call Father, Sister?” “No, he is a very busy man; I will show him the note, and he will phone you. Father will set you straight, Mr. Ryan.” I’m sure he’s not interested in setting me straight, Sister, perhaps my son though.” She slammed the phone down.
Two days later Father Francis called. “Mr. Ryan, I understand you want to speak with me.” “Actually, Father, I don’t care if I ever speak with you, but did you read Jack’s note to you regarding the recess incident?” “Yes, I did, Mr. Ryan; it was rude, and perhaps if I spent a little time with Jack, I could teach him how to interact appropriately with adults. He is struggling. I know you and your wife are very busy working and raising two boys. You are also studying, and you can’t always be home. I will gladly help where I can. I like Jack, and I have a special place in my heart for struggling boys.” “Father, I don’t think Jack is struggling that much, and I certainly neither need nor want your help raising my boys. I believe you acted inappropriately at recess with the boys with all the tickling, touching and back rubbing I’m hearing about.” “Mr. Ryan, Jack is exaggerating; oh, the imaginations of little boys, ha ha ha.” “Let me be more clear Father; you touch my son again and I will come to that rectory and kick your fucking ass. Am I clear?”
“Mr. Ryan, I don’t think threats are necessary.” “You don’t, Father, how about I don’t give a fuck what you think; call the police if you like, but stay away from my son.” No call to the police was ever made by Father Francis.
Father was transferred by the Arch Diocese to the school Jack was attending because he sexually assaulted two boys attending a Catholic school three miles from Jack’s school where he had been transferred for the same reason. Father had taken those boys away for the weekend with parental consent (How wonderful Father Francis wants to spend time with our sons) to the Poconos to look at a house he allegedly wanted to buy and then to ski. He instead took the boys to a motel where he spent the night with them in the same bed fondling their penises and trying to insert his penis in their rectums. The boys did not go skiing.
He was later transferred from Jack’s school for the same behavior and then transferred 7 times after that to other schools for continuing the same behavior! He was permitted to continue working with young boys and ultimately received a promotion from the Cardinal to the position of Vicar for a large school. Finally, in 2003, he was subpoenaed by the Grand Jury where he refused to respond to questions about his actions involving sexually assaulting minors. Then at last he was Laicized, 361 years after Father Stefano abused children in Italy and 236 years after Father Joseph was canonized. Father Francis like Father Stefano and Father Joseph never served time.