A new scandal of unprecedented proportions has just struck the Catholic Church, this time involving the Society of Jesus, the congregation from which Pope Francis comes. The offenses, which involve the Slovenian priest and mosaic artist Fr. Rupnik, are especially grave because they concern multiple levels of criminal transgression: the repeated sexual abuse of nuns, deviation from the sacrament of confession, and complicities in the highest places from which Fr. Rupnik benefited to cover up his crimes.
Since the beginning of December 2022, revelations have followed one another, bringing Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik down from his pedestal. A renowned mosaicist, he has been decorating a multitude of churches around the world for decades, including major shrines such as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Lourdes and the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican. The 68-year-old priest is a personal friend of Pope Francis, but also the founder of a Jesuit-inspired community in Slovenia, the Loyola community. He is now accused of multiple sexual assaults of a rare perversity on nuns of this community. Two cases have been referred to by the Church’s justice system; seven others could follow. One of his accusers has mentioned the possible number of twenty victims.
The alert was given by three Italian news sites between December 1st and 4th. Notably, as Vaticanist Jean-Marie Guénois, from Le Figaro, points out, the revelations came from sources representing different political and liturgical sensibilities: a left-wing general information site, Left, and two conservative sites specializing in religious information, Silere non possum, and Messa in Latino.
Two weeks later, on Sunday, December 18th, the left-wing newspaper Domani picked up the story and gave it even greater prominence, publishing the chilling testimony of one of Fr. Rupnik’s victimized nuns, using the name of ‘Anna.’ The degree of precision of the testimony, although anonymous, leaves little doubt as to the veracity of the crimes Rupnik is accused of. The young woman had dealings with Rupnik when she was a student in Rome. She draws a manipulative profile of the Father, who forced her into sexual acts after confession under the pretext of ‘mystical union.’ The sexual acts were then followed by a new confession. The scandal lies in the repeated use of a ‘double confession’ (confession before and after the sin is committed, by both the priest and the faithful). It is a most serious sin in the Catholic Church, called ‘absolution of the accomplice,’ which normally results in automatic excommunication. Father Rupnik also used aggressive threats and blackmail against her. He went so far as to force her at times “to watch pornographic films” and to have sexual relations with “another nun” in his presence, under the pretext of a ‘Trinitarian’ union.
But the scandal, sufficiently horrific in itself, does not stop there. As in recent cases—one can think, for example, of the Ricard or Santier affairs, which shook the French episcopate a few weeks ago—in this case also it is the deliberate silence and lies of the ecclesiastical authorities that redouble the horror of the crimes. Each time ‘Anna’ wanted to denounce the actions of Fr. Rupnik, the nun met with a wall. “No one will believe you, I will make you look mad,” he had warned her.
This is precisely what happened. Neither the mother superior of the congregation, nor the bishop, nor the superior of the Jesuits lent an attentive ear to her ordeal. “He was protected by all,” the so-called Anna concludes today. Only the association with another nun, also abused, finally allowed her to break through the wall of silence. She has since been interviewed by the dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, but her letters to the Society of Jesus have remained unanswered.
Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, deliberately lied to cover up the seriousness of the accusations against Father Rupnik before contradicting himself a few days later. During the first days of the storm, the Vatican preferred to remain silent. But it seems rather clear that Father Rupnik had been protected in high places for quite a while, as the Italian website Il Sismografo, which specializes in Vatican affairs, analyzed in its December 23rd publication.
The scandal that is now making headlines began over three years ago. Back in January 2020, the canonical trial against Fr. Rupnik, conducted in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had unanimously ascertained Rupnik’s guilt. Yet, in March of the same year, this guilty verdict did not prevent him from preaching the Lenten retreat at the Vatican, before the pope. In May 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an excommunication against him, which was lifted the same month—through the personal intervention of Pope Francis, who has the sole legitimate authority to decide in this matter, as Il Sismografo recalls.
Father Arturo Sosa’s (Rupnik’s superior general) first move was to hide this excommunication. But on 14 December 2022, as the scandal began drawing public media attention, Sosa explained that the lifting of the excommunication was justified because Father Rupnik had acknowledged the facts and had formally repented of them—two indispensable conditions for obtaining the lifting. Canonist Fr. Gerald Murray, interviewed by vaticanist Diane Montagna, believes that the canonical conditions for lifting the excommunication had probably not been formally met—especially since Fr. Rupnik clearly never intended to ‘make amends’ for his fault.
The priest’s misdeeds were allowed to continue for years while Fr. Rupnik was being paid more than enough to decorate churches and chapels at the rate of international designers. He was paid no less than €1.7 million for the ornamentation of a Roman chapel, and is said to be at the head of a truly “economic empire.”
In the past few decades, the Jesuits have been afflicted by the sexual abuse crisis in a particularly serious way. According to sociologist Marco Mazano, author of the polemical book The Chaste Caste, published in early 2022, the case is clear: “Jesuit bishops and leaders knew all about Rupnik’s vices since the 1990s: they did nothing.” The question of Pope Francis’ personal role in this sinister affair is obviously raised. As for the victims, once again they must add to their suffering the contempt and denial of the institutional Catholic Church. According to Fr. Gerald Murray, the time has come for Father Rupnik’s trial to commence, as well as his removal from the responsibilities and rights of priesthood.