From the numerous sexually active popes to cross-dressing lesbian nuns, the Catholic Church has had its fair share of monastic sex scandals. But nearly every one pales in comparison to what went on at Maria Agnese Firrao's convent.
The nuns in Rome's Sant'Ambrogio della Massima were subjected to sexual initiation rites, as well as threesomes. Even after the convent's founder, Maria Agnese Firrao, was kicked out, other nuns filled her shoes. By the 1850s, Mistress of Novices Maria Luisa was swapping bodily fluids with nuns, forging letters from the Virgin Mary, and plotting to poison anyone who questioned her methods. These scandalous truths, buried in the Vatican Archives for decades, only emerged when scholar Hubert Wolf cracked the case wide open in The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio. But the real shocker is how far the nuns went to hide their secrets.
The Mistress Of Novices Ordered Nuns To Have Sex With Her
In the 1850s, the convent of Sant'Ambrogio already had a track record. During the Inquisition, the convent's founder, Firrao, was stripped of her abbess title for encouraging other nuns to worship her as a false idol. Mistress of Novices Maria Luisa took over Firrao's role; she arranged nightly rendezvous with other nuns, just as Firrao had done.
One nun confessed, "[Maria Luisa] asked me to lie in a certain position, with my legs raised, while she 'entwined' herself with me... she then made movements and a sound such as I cannot express in words, as she instructed me to position myself so that I could receive her bodily fluids into me.” Maria Luisa claimed that her bodily fluids could cure illnesses. She also asked the novices to “lay face-to-face and breast-to-breast" with her as part of their initiation ritual.
The Convent's Founder Had A Threesome With A Priest And A Nun
The convent's founder, Maria Agnese Firrao, was involved in several sex scandals during the early 19th century. Although she had been a spiritual advisor to Pope Leo XII, Firrao found herself in serious trouble when her sexual misdeeds became public.
Maria Agnese not only had an affair with her confessor, but she also engaged in a threesome with her confessor and another nun. She performed false miracles and had two abortions when she became pregnant by clerical officials. Miraculously, Maria Agnese's convent wasn't shut down by the Inquisition in 1816 when she was stripped of her title as abbess. Instead, the sexual activity continued behind closed doors.
Forged Letters From The Virgin Mary Encouraged The Sexual Assault
Mistress of Novices Maria Luisa wasn't just having sex with the other nuns: she was also carrying on with one of the convent's Jesuit confessors. When the two met up at night, they shook off suspicion by saying it was for religious communing.
In fact, crafty Maria Luisa managed to con the confessor into bed using forged letters from the Virgin Mary. Maria Luisa asked a novice, Maria Francesca, to write the holy letters because of her beautiful handwriting, and soon everyone in the convent was following the "holy orders"—including the confessor who jumped into bed with Maria Luisa.
The Confessor Claimed The Sex Was Spiritual Rather Than Lustful
One of the confessors at Sant'Ambrogio had a secret: he was living under an assumed name. He was actually Joseph Kleutgen, an advisor to the pope and a leading theologian. In 1848, Kleutgen began an affair with one of the nuns, and during the Inquisition trial, the confessor admitted that he had multiple sexual encounters with Maria Luisa.
Kleutgen tried to defended himself. The sex, he insisted, was purely spiritual. It was not about lust at all, Kleutgen claimed, but about religion. Even though he confessed, Kleutgen faced only mild punishment. The Inquisition ordered him confined to a Jesuit house for two years, and was stripped of any role in hearing confessions.