Articles and Book Chapters

“Priests Behaving Badly: The Problem of Scandal in the Early Modern Catholic Church,” The Journal of Modern History 96.1 (2024): 47-77.

In the twentieth century, many Catholic authorities prioritized the suppression of scandal over the punishment of criminal priests, and the church now faces an even greater scandal as the extent of this coverup becomes known. While the specific situation may be new, the church’s aversion to scandal is not. This article connects the contemporary situation to the struggles faced by the Counter-Reformation Church regarding scandal. Applying sociological and anthropological theories of scandal, it argues that an institution whose authority is threatened (like the church in both eras) will almost inevitably become scandal averse. Building on the work of Dyan Elliott using theology and legal history, it argues that in Reformation Europe, the church had a particular need to suppress scandal, using methods Elliott demonstrates had been developed over centuries. Finally, using social historical methods it examines the disciplinary strategies of Gregorio Barbarigo, bishop of Padua from 1664 to 1697, chosen because of his unusually lengthy tenure, devotion to reform, extraordinarily detailed records, and sainthood. By examining over a thousand investigations undertaken by Barbarigo, analyzing his responses to a wide range of abuses, and presenting four case studies of repeat offenders, the article demonstrates both the rationale for and the weaknesses of the Catholic Church’s preferred disciplinary strategy. From a historical perspective, this demonstrates that scandal and its management was yet another obstacle to early modern Catholic Reform. Connecting this to the contemporary church can help us better understand the complex motivations and moral ambiguities of institutions like the Catholic Church.

“Dangerous Liaisons, or Strategies for Family Management in Eighteenth-Century Venice,” The History of the Family 28.4(2023): 740-759.

In 1745, a lengthy and unusual case was brought before the Venetian Executors against Blasphemy, a secular court with jurisdiction over a wide range of crimes that violated standards of morality. The parents of two young women from the Venetian mainland state were accused of pimping their two eldest daughters to Jewish men from the Venetian Ghetto in return for financial support, helping them to support their ten children. But the story became much more complicated as the court investigated the young women’s relationships; one of the daughters did seem to have a relationship with a married Jew who had promised to convert and marry her, while the other was actually a nobleman’s courtesan, supported by the same patrician who served as a guardian to a young Giacomo Casanova. Although to the patricians who served as judges, any exploitation of a young woman’s sexuality was deemed criminal, ordinary eighteenth-century Venetians saw things differently. Large families were difficult to support, and all members contributed as they were able. Typically we think of apprenticeships, domestic service, and piecework as the key strategies for supporting a family and training children for their future lives. For women, historians have long acknowledged that service carried risks of sexual exploitation, as well. But what has not been recognised as a strategy is the encouragement of premarital relations or of sex work as alternatives to domestic service and piecework. Through a microhistorical approach, this article argues that the case of the Zambelli family shows us a wider range of morally ambiguous options for supporting a large family and setting up daughters to leave the family home, many of which included threats of sexual exploitation, damaged honour, and unwanted pregnancies.

“Schism in the stato da mar: The Bishop of Padua and Missions in Southeastern Europe,” Historični Seminar 14 (2021): 29-46.

The dedicated reforming bishop of the landlocked Italian diocese of Padua, Gregorio Barbarigo (1664-1697), looked beyond his borders to help missionary efforts, primarily in Southeastern Europe. This article argues that although the Council of Trent ignored Catholic missions, many reforming bishops saw spreading the faith as crucial to Catholic Reform.

 “Molding the Model Bishop from Trent to Vatican II,” Church History 88, (2019): 58-86. 

The creation of new saints often has a political edge; the Catholic Church molds the lives of the saints to fit its needs, and individual popes have particular priorities in saint-making. In the early modern Church, this was particularly important after the Council of Trent. The Tridentine Decrees (1563) instructed bishops to reform the Church but provided few practical suggestions for how to do this. One solution was to hold up exemplary post-Tridentine bishops through beatification and canonization as models. Historians have noted the use of model bishops, but have not fully considered the process and its implication for the histories of Catholic Reform and of canonization. The case of Bishop Gregorio Barbarigo of Padua (bp. 1664-1697) tells a complicated and interesting story about the intersection of Catholic Reform and canonization. Barbarigo was beatified in 1761 during the Catholic Enlightenment and was finally canonized in 1960, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. Examining the construction of his image from 1699-1960, this article argues that the Catholic Church in both the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries molded Barbarigo into the model bishop needed at those particular times, in response to the issues facing contemporary bishops and clergy.

 “What the People Want: Popular Support for Catholic Reform in the Veneto,” Catholic Historical Review 102 (2016): 65-89. 

Through examination of the unusually rich sources produced by a late seventeenth-century bishop of Padua, this article argues that investigating voluntary devotional practices can demonstrate the spiritual priorities of early modern laypeople.  Seventeenth-century rural Paduan parishes experienced both an increase in interest in various devotions and a shift in their focus that reflect the priorities of Catholic Reform.  Parishioners eagerly participated in the catechism schools promoted by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and enthusiastically adopted saints promoted by the post-Tridentine Church, demonstrated by their pious bequests, dedication of altars, and membership in confraternities.  At the same time, traditional devotions also flourished.  While gauging lay interest in reforms in general is difficult and contentious, this article demonstrates that at least when it came to their voluntary practices, rural Paduans were engaged in Catholic Reform and supported a vibrant Catholic culture.

Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer (1640-1650)

 “Conceptualizing the Priest: Lay and Episcopal Expectations of Clerical Reform in Late 17th-Century Padua,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 104 (2013): 297-320. 
Carlo Crivelli, St. Bartholomew (1473)

Priests occupied a contested space during the post-Tridentine era. Reforming bishops like Gregorio Barbarigo of Padua (bp. 1664-1697) wanted to fashion their clergy into leaders capable of instructing and guiding their parishioners. The ideal cleric would be seminary educated, have a true vocation, and would contentedly live a contemplative and incorrupt life. Some clergy managed to fit this image, but inevitably many fell short. While this was disappointing to the reforming bishop and detrimental to his overall reform plans, on a local level a given priest’s shortcomings were not always cause for lament. The laity had developed a more forgiving understanding of the priesthood. Parishioners expected their priest to fulfill all clerical obligations but cared little if he had a calling, and most saw the priest’s personal pastimes as acceptable unless they interfered with his ability to serve the parish or transgressed community norms. For most rural laity in the seventeenth century, the priesthood was an occupation more than a status. This article examines the differences between episcopal and lay conceptions of the priesthood and argues that through the reform attempts of post-Tridentine bishops like Barbarigo, laity were introduced to the concept of the priesthood as vocation and began to internalize some of the church’s priorities with regards to clerical comportment.

“Confraternities and Rural Devotion in the Veneto,” in Rituals of Politics and Culture in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honour of Edward Muir, eds. Mark Jurdjevic and Rolf Strom-Olsen, 309-336. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2016.

Traditional historical narratives about the Council of Trent and Catholic Reform frequently assert that many reforms pushed laypeople further from their preferred, long-standing devotional practices. The push to reform certain practices and groups, most notably confraternities, is seen as antithetical to lay priorities and desires and blamed for alienating the common laity. Looking at lay participation and reactions to reform allows historians to gauge lay interest in reform, but many of these works look only at the initial impact of reforms in the mid-late sixteenth century. Truly gauging the effects of reform requires a longer scope – even if those initially confronted with change resented the imposition of new practices, over time laypeople had different reactions. In the diocese of Padua, reform had an overall positive effect on lay participation by the late 17th century. By the 1660s, participation in and enthusiasm for several of the confraternities supported or pushed by the Catholic Church, particularly the Holy Sacrament and Rosary, rose astronomically. This chapter argues that rather than turning laity off from confraternities, the reforms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the diocese of Padua revitalized religiosity, and that the rise of these confraternities demonstrates the laity’s engagement in, acceptance of, and in many cases enthusiasm for certain elements of reform. While the initial reaction of laypeople whose traditional practices were disrupted may have been negative, when the reforms were given time to settle, they ultimately brought laypeople into the fold with greater enthusiasm than before. At the same time, laypeople did not blindly accept all of the Church’s promoted devotions in Padua and did maintain some of their traditional preferences. From this, we can see both what the rural Paduans accepted and rejected in the Church’s plan, and gain a better understanding of the process of negotiation between bishop and parishioners at every step of reform.

“Extending the Boundaries of the Sacred in Seventeenth-Century Padua,” in The Sacralization of Space and Behavior in the Early Modern World, ed. Jennifer Mara De Silva, 215-232. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015. 

One of the primary reform goals of the early modern Catholic Church was to delineate between sacred and secular spaces and ensure proper behavior in the former. This was hindered by the fact that the two categories often blurred together in the minds of parochial clergy and laypeople. Bishops like Gregorio Barbarigo of Padua (bp. 1664-97) were tasked with bringing parochial understandings of sacred space in line with official Church expectations. Barbarigo discovered that certain aspects of this larger goal were easier than others. The majority of his laypeople were already comporting themselves honestly during church services, though he did find a few problems. Most also agreed that the parish church and other structures were to be protected from scandal and used in certain ways. In these instances, Barbarigo provided laity with a way to implement or enforce reforms they desired. But when it came to extending the boundaries of the sacred to include the cemetery, traditionally a communal space, Barbarigo faced a much greater challenge. It was in these final stages of reconciling parochial and episcopal ideas about sacred space that bishops like Barbarigo found themselves in conflict with the laity and parochial clergy. Although this was only one small part of the Catholic Church’s reform program, the Church’s inability to gain the cooperation of its flock on issues of the appropriate use of and behavior in sacred space demonstrates one of the greatest challenges to the Catholic Church’s reform program as a whole.

“Challenges to Episcopal Authority in Seventeenth-Century Padua,” in Episcopal Reform and Politics in Early Modern Europe, ed. Jennifer Mara DeSilva, 173-193. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2012. 

The Decrees of the Council of Trent expanded episcopal authority to ensure bishops would have sufficient power to enact and enforce reforms. Bishops with large dioceses, however, found it difficult to maintain consistent control over all their parishes, which significantly hindered the progress of reform. Like many of his contemporaries, Cardinal-Bishop Gregorio Barbarigo of Padua (bp. 1664-1697) attempted to overcome this challenge through a combination of bureaucratic organization and pastoral visitations, which proved insufficient. Although episcopal authority was theoretically extended over the diocese through his network of vicari foranei, in reality many vicars were inefficient administrators and the lower clergy and laity tended to respect episcopal authority only as embodied in the bishop himself. Barbarigo maintained control when physically present in a parish, but found his authority subverted when he was away, thwarting the progress of reform in Padua. Some of his vicars were simply negligent administrators, but even those who assiduously performed their duties found that Barbarigo’s flock understood episcopal power as personal power, rendering it impossible for him to extend his authority through an abstract bureaucracy.

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