How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jesuit Sex Abuse?

In a recently published monograph, a Catholic historian reveals that the Jesuits have been intimately aware of the problems of clerical sex abuse by members of the Society of Jesus for centuries.

By Jules Gomes Published on March 13, 2024

Editor’s Note: While The Stream strives to avoid graphic content, from time to time it is necessary to do so in order to expose the evilness of evil. Please read the following with this in mind.

Historians remember the orgy-loving Borgia pope, Alexander VI, as the protagonist of the raunchiest soap opera in papal history. In 1501, on the Sunday before All Hallows, the pope’s bastard, Cardinal Cesare Borgia, hosted his scandalous “Banquet of Chestnuts.”

At the bacchanalia held in the Apostolic Palace, the 70-year-old pontiff and his clergy were entertained by 50 “honest whores” who were asked to disrobe and forage on the floor for the chestnuts as a prelude to what spoilsports today would label “clerical sex abuse.”

“Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the pope greatly admired virility and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity,” writes award-winning author William Manchester in his 1993 book A World Lit Only by Fire. “After everyone was exhausted, His Holiness distributed prizes.”

Renaissance chronicler Bishop Johann Burchard records in his Diarium Sive Rerum Urbanarum Commentarii how the winners were those “who made love with those courtesans the greatest number of times.”

Five hundred years later, Rodrigo Borgia’s Argentinian successor is presiding over another X-rated soap opera involving his friend and fellow Jesuit, Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik. In December 2022, Italian nun “Anna” revealed that during the 1990s the celebrity mosaic artist had forced nuns into a ménage à trois, claiming they were imitating the Holy Trinity.

Jesuit Wokeness

The Jesuits finally booted the Slovenian priest from their ranks in June 2023 not because he had violated his vow of chastity by sexually abusing approximately 25 nuns, or for that matter his vow of poverty (Rupnik was running a million-euro art company) — but because he broke his vow of obedience by infringing upon the travel restrictions his superiors had imposed on him.

The sordid details of Rupnik’s bedroom sexcapades with the religious sisters (including blasphemous acts of getting the nuns to drink his bodily fluids from a chalice) would make a Borgia pope blush, but the Jesuits and the Jesuit pope have managed to keep a straight face.

The Society of Jesus, lionized by wokesters for being woker than the wokest of all social justice wokepersons in the Catholic Church, seem weakest when rooting out the plague of clerical sex abuse in its own ranks.

While the Rupnik soap-opera has reached tragicomic heights, with even the Knights of Columbus wanting to hang on to his freakish art, last May another senior Jesuit was found to have sexually abused at least 85 young men, including many seminarians.

A Scandal Over the Centuries?

Only after the Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS published extracts from the diary of Bolivian Fr. Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, wherein the priest had meticulously catalogued his predations, did the Jesuits suspend eight former provincials for their part in protecting the pederast.

Pope Francis’ tertianship instructor, Fr. José Arroyo, and Fr. Marcos Recolons, assistant ad providentiam to Fr. Adolfo Nicolás (the Jesuit superior general from 2008 to 2016), were among those involved in the cover-up.

Radical traditionalist Catholics, who parrot Cardinal Newman’s maxim, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” are surprisingly shallow in history when it comes to clerical sex abuse. They blame the unholy trinity of priestly pederasty, sodomy, and concubinage on Vatican II and the Novus Ordo (the new rite of the Mass).

If only they would dig deep into history by reading Dyan Elliott’s 2020 academic tome titled The Corrupter of Boys: Sodomy, Scandal, and the Medieval Clergy, they would discover that “what we are witnessing in the contemporary church is no aberration but a continuation of a practice that spanned centuries.”

Rather, as Elliott observes:

During the eleventh-century papal reform and its aftermath, it was the married clergy who were persecuted, while clerical same-sex relations were tacitly tolerated and, in some circles, celebrated. … [I]n the early Middle Ages, monastic and penitential sources make frequent references to the [clerical] sexual abuse of boys.

An Explosive Scholarly Exposé

Now in a recently published monograph, the Catholic historian Ulrich L. Lehner reveals that the Jesuits were intimately aware of the problems of clerical sex abuse by members of the Society of Jesus in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Lehner admits he “felt dirty” while writing his explosive Inszenierte Keuschheit: Sexualdelikte in der Gesellschaft Jesu im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert (Enacted Chastity: Sexual offenses in the Society of Jesus in the 17th and 18th centuries), but did so because nobody else would.

The historian demonstrates how Jesuits perpetrated a significant amount of abuse in its schools, which prided themselves on offering the best education to boys.

The Jesuits liked to portray themselves as a particularly chaste order. This enactment worked because cases of sexual violence against students and order members were kept secret. Delinquents were simply deported to the secular clergy, even though this was against the order’s statutes. Prominent perpetrators, on the other hand, were left in the order and covered up.

“The range of sexual acts that these Jesuits performed ranged from forced intimacy, rape, oral and anal sex, mutual masturbation to sadistic flogging of the students,” Lehner notes. “The victims include students aged thirteen to seventeen, young Jesuits, girls and women, but also nuns.”

Lehner uncovers the case of Fr. Jakob Marell (Morell), the former provincial procurator, and other Jesuits who often targeted the sons of noble families because they knew the boys would not complain since “sexual abuse meant an enormous loss of honour.”

Marell was dismissed from the Society of Jesus in Ebersberg in 1699 but was accepted as a member of the Austrian province in Vienna the next year. There, he began the novitiate for a second time and took his vows again in 1701.

“The Jesuits liked to portray themselves as a particularly chaste order,” Lehner says. “This enactment worked because cases of sexual violence against students and order members were kept secret. Delinquents were simply deported to the secular clergy, even though this was against the order’s statutes. Prominent perpetrators, on the other hand, were left in the order and covered up.”

Anti-Marriage Reformers

Even though the Church today no longer sees victims as accomplices, as it did in previous generations because it was too eager to protect its own reputation, “the problem of how to deal with a consecrated delinquent remains,” Lehner concludes.

Historians who write on clerical sex abuse are now uncovering a fierce debate that erupted just before the Second Lateran Council in 1139 imposed universal clerical celibacy on the Latin-rite clergy of the Roman Church.

Documents from this period show “traditionalist” diocesan clergy arguing in favor of clerical marriage based on Scripture and apostolic tradition against pro-celibacy “reformist” monks who preferred God-abominated sex with men to the God-blessed love of a wife.

Around 1060 AD, the Italian bishop Ulric of Imola wrote a Rescript to Pope Nicolas II urging him not to prohibit marriage for clergy since the Bible explicitly required bishops, priests, and deacons to “be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).

Ulric warns that since not all men called to the priesthood have the gift of celibacy, some will seek sexual release by “forcing themselves on their fathers’ wives, not abhorring the embraces of other men or even of animals.”

A Treatise on Grace (ca. 1075 AD) predicts that by forbidding the “naturalness of marriage to one woman,” priests will be tempted to engage in “unnatural” (contra naturam) practices, including “cursed sodomitical fornication” (execrabilis sodomitica fornicatio).

Serlo of Bayeux’s Defensio pro filiis presbyterorum complains that the “men who live the shameful, obscene lives of sodomites” invent laws against clerical marriage.

A poem from the late eleventh century “lashes out at the perceived instigators” of mandatory celibacy — calling them “sodomite reformers.”

The “traditionalists” drawing their inspiration from the Apostle Paul, whose writings the Church considers inspired, infallible, and inerrant, ruled on the issue. In his pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, St. Paul insisted that bishops, priests, and deacons “should be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6). After all, Paul reasons, “if a man cannot manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”

God Permits, the Church Prohibits

In light of the global controversy over Pope Francis’s recent Fiducia supplicans permitting same-sex blessings in contravention of Scripture, Catholics need to revisit the question: Can the Church prohibit what God has permitted?

Because if the Church can prohibit what God has permitted, the Church can permit what God has prohibited — and rush down the slope of perdition like the Borgias, the Rupnik, and the Gadarene swine.


Dr. Jules Gomes (BA, BD, MTh, PhD) is a biblical scholar and a journalist based in Rome.

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