Cases of clergy sexual assault continue to wrack the Catholic Church, and when accusations involve notable Church figures, the scandals unfold in full view of the public.
Slovenian priest Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, gained wide acclaim for his beautiful sacred art. His mosaics adorn the walls of many churches and chapels, including prominent holy sites like Lourdes, Fatima, and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.
His art has also been commissioned for various Vatican projects, including the logo for the Year of Mercy, and his art is often featured on the covers of missalettes and other Catholic publications.
In recent months, however, Rupnik has been publicly accused of sexually and spiritually abusing dozens of women. Nine consecrated women belonging to the Loyola Community — a Slovenian religious order that Rupnik cofounded in the 1990s — accused him of “spiritual and psychological abuse and sexual misconduct” in December of 2022. That same month, the Jesuit order invited other victims to come forward, and 15 new accusations were made against Rupnik in the following months.
In response to these allegations, the Jesuit order implemented stricter restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry in 2022, prohibiting the priest from engaging in any “public ministerial and sacramental activity,” barring him from public communication, and prohibiting him from leaving the Lazio region of Italy.
But the Italian paper Domani reported on March 5 that Rupnik concelebrated a public Mass that day at the Basilica of Santa Prassede in Rome. When asked about this incident, Fr. Johan Verscheuren, Rupnik’s superior in the Society of Jesus, told reporters that Rupnik remains free to concelebrate Masses within the context of his community.
Though members of Rupnik’s community were present at the Mass, it was open to the public, leading some commentators to ask how loosely the Jesuits are interpreting the restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry. The order has previously restricted Rupnik’s ministry and handled prior allegations against him internally. But now that Rupnik has been publicly accused of assault, the order’s management of his case is under public scrutiny.
In 2019, Rupnik was accused of attempting to “sacramentally absolve a sexual partner,” which is one of the most serious crimes in the Church’s canon law and “incurs the ipso facto penalty of excommunication,” explains the Pillar, a Catholic news site. Rupnik was formally excommunicated in May of 2020 for this violation of canon law, but the excommunication was remitted soon after due to Rupnik’s stated contrition.
Rupnik’s ministry was first restricted by the Society of Jesus in June 2019 and was later restricted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in May 2020 following his excommunication. News of Rupnik’s excommunication and the restrictions placed on him remained private until December 2022, when more recent abuse allegations were leveled at Rupnik.
Verschueren explained that the restrictions placed in 2019 meant that Rupnik was told to “avoid private, in-depth spiritual contacts with persons, forbidden to confess women, and to give spiritual direction to women specifically in the context of Centro Aletti,” where he has served as director of the Atelier of Spiritual art and dean of the Theology Atelier since 1995. Rupnik was allowed to continue certain public activities, though his restrictions were “widened geographically to include anywhere” in 2020, Verschueren said. That year, Pope Francis invited Rupnik to preach that year’s Lenten homilies at the Vatican.
Less than a year after his excommunication, Rupnik received a commission from the Jesuit order to install mosaics in the Sanctuary of the Cave in Manresa, Spain. The location has great significance for the order because St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, composed his famous Spiritual Exercises at the site. On July 31, 2021, Rupnik joined Sosa in Manresa for a joint celebration of the Mass and the dedication of the new mosaics.
Prior to the dedication of the mosaics, the Jesuits were informed of additional allegations against Rupnik from consecrated women who claimed that he had spiritually and sexually abused them. Sosa had initiated a preliminary investigation into the allegations in July 2021, and he “has subsequently claimed Rupnik was on restricted ministry at the time of both the mosaics’ installation and their dedication,” reports the Pillar.
Pope Francis gave Rupnik a private audience at the beginning of 2022.
Despite the restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry, he continued to guide retreats, including two in 2022. The National Catholic Register reported: “Both retreats took place after the Jesuits say the restrictions were imposed, so it seems likely the allegations against him were known at the time by Pope Francis and other senior Jesuits.”
On Feb. 21, 2023, Verscheuren announced that the Society of Jesus would begin an internal procedure against Rupnik that could result in his dismissal from the order. This announcement came five years after the Jesuits learned of sexual misconduct allegations against Rupnik in 2019. Now, with 15 accusations of “with a ‘very high’ degree of credibility,” as determined by the Jesuits, proceedings against Rupnik will begin in the coming months.
“This is a procedure that takes several steps (and time), and the acts of disobedience must occur several times in succession before it can lead to a removal,” Verscheuren told ACI Prensa.
The prolonged timeline and lax management of Rupnik’s high-profile case raise questions about the Church’s ongoing response to the sexual abuse crisis. But things move slowly in the Church, and sometimes the cause of justice can seem to creep along at an unjust pace. Nevertheless, “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) — even if the Jesuits drag their feet.
Mary Frances Myler is a postgraduate fellow with Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government. Her writing has been published in the American Conservative, National Catholic Register, Law and Liberty, and the Federalist.
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