- Greek: lepo, peel
A chronic disease of an infectious nature, caused by the germ bacillus leprae, which produces bodily deformations and mutilations, including destruction of tissue, and bodily decomposition, motor paralysis, anaesthesia, etc. It is fatal in the majority of cases although various methods of treatment, including the application of chaulmoogra oil which has met with appreciable success, have reduced the mortality. Bad nutrition and insanitary conditions are favorable to its generation and propagation, and it is endemic in certain localities, as parts of Africa, Arabia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Spain, etc.; it is also found in the United States, particularly in Louisiana and California. It was carried to the Western world from Egypt where it was believed to be contagious and hereditary (2 Kings 29) and entailed exclusion from the community, the afflicted being shunned as “unclean.” The New Testament contains references to the miraculous cure of lepers by Our Lord, notably the healing of ten at one time (Luke 17). In the early Christian era it was prevalent throughout Europe and strict regulations regarding lepers were adopted; they were prohibited from public meeting places and churches, although in some of the latter they were permitted to watch services celebrated on the main altar by means of a hagioscope, or small opening in the chancel wall of the church. They were obliged to carry wooden clappers to signal their approach, and were gradually segregated in leper houses or “Lazaries,” under the administration of religious communities, each of which had its own churchyard, chapel, and ecclesiastics. The view that leprosy is due to the consumption of fish and that hence the Church is responsible for much of the disease is exploded by the fact that it is not as prevalent in Catholic as in other localities, and Catholics, though obliged to abstain from meat, are not obliged to eat fish. The Church which from very early times has promoted the spiritual and temporal welfare of the leper continues the work in various leper colonies, including Carville, Louisiana, where the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul minister to them, and Molokai, scene of the heroic labors of Father Damien and “Brother” Joseph Dutton.