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Lecture on modern Catholicism to tackle tough questions

MIDDLEBURY — Robert A. Orsi, a distinguished historian of American Catholicism, will give a lecture, “Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned: Children, the Sacrament of Penance, and the Making of 20th-Century Catholicism,” at Middlebury College on Thursday, February 28. The lecture will be held at McCardell Bicentennial Hall 216, from 12:30-1:30 p.m., and the public is invited to attend. Feel free to bring your lunch.
Orsi’s lecture will focus on confession, the practice of speaking one’s sins to a priest, as an important part of Catholic childhoods in the United States in the 20th century including its role in the ongoing crisis of child sexual abuse by priests and the resulting cover-up by church administrators. Orsi will address such questions as, “What was children’s experience of confession? How were children taught to comprehend the realities of sin and of their own guilt? And how did the practice of childhood confession shape the kinds of adults American Catholic children grew up to be?”  The practice of children’s confession, he will suggest, was central to the making of modern U.S. Catholicism.
Orsi is the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University. He previously taught at Fordham University, Indiana University and Harvard. His books include “The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950,” the third edition of which was published in 2010; “Thank You, Saint Jude: Women’s Devotions to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes” (1996), and “Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them” (2005).  Most recently he edited “The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies.” Orsi is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. His current project focuses on the religious lives of adults who were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests and is supported by the Social Science Research Council.

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