Rupnik remains consultor at key Vatican departments despite excommunication

The Pillar [Washington DC]

December 22, 2022

Fr. Rupnik remains an official advisor to several Vatican departments, even after he was excommunicated and accused of sexually abusing consecrated women.

Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ, remains an official advisor to several Vatican departments, even after he was excommunicated for a major canonical crime, and is accused of spiritually and sexually abusing consecrated women.

Rupnik was declared in 2020 excommunicated, for the canonical crime of abusing the sacrament of penance to abet his sexual misconduct.

He was in 2021 formally accused at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith of serially abusing Slovenian religious women in the 1980s and 1990s. Rupnik is nevertheless still listed as a consultor – an officially appointed expert advisor – for several Vatican dicasteries, including those with oversight of clergy and liturgy.

The priest’s roles on those departments amplifies questions about whether he was actually placed under ministerial restrictions by his religious order as his crimes became known to the Vatican — and about whether Vatican officials should have intervened to limit his participation in Church leadership and governance.

In 2020, while subject to a penal process but before the penalty of excommunication was declared, Rupnik was invited to preach a Lenten retreat to the Roman curia. Since his conviction, he has traveled widely, received international awards for his work, and continued to release video commentaries on theological matters.

In 2019, Rupnik, a famous religious artist and prominent member of the Society of Jesus, was accused of attempting to sacramentally absolve a sexual partner — one of the most serious crimes in canon law — according to some Italian media sources, the charges stem from sexual contact with a religious novice in 2015.

The priest faced an extrajudicial penal process authorized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the faith. In 2020, he was found guilty of a graviora delicta – a major crime, in Church law – and declared excommunicated.

The excommunication was remitted soon after it was declared.

According to a timeline released by the Society of Jesus, Rupnik’s religious superiors were aware of that allegation against the priest at least by 2019.

But in official Vatican records for 2020, Rupnik was listed as a consultor to the Congregation for Clergy, which moderates programs for seminary formation around the world, handles special cases for the laicization of clerics, and reviews on appeal a range of governance issues in dioceses.

Also in 2020, Rupnik held the position of consultor at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and at the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

Rupnik was again listed as a consultor to those departments in 2021 and 2022.

In 2021, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith received claims that Rubnik had serially abused – spiritually, sexually, and psychologically – members of a Solvenian religious community in the 1980s and 1990s, when he served as a chaplain for the group. Those allegations, which include abuse of the sacrament of penance, did not lead to a canonical trial, owing apparently to the canonical statute of limitations, according to the Society of Jesus.

But the bishop who investigated those claims insists the allegations are true. One woman described her alleged experience as a “descent into hell.”

Despite his official role at Vatican dicasteries, the Society of Jesus insists Rupnik’s ministry was “restricted” in 2019, and has remained restricted since that year.

Rupnik is listed on official Holy See records as serving at the now renamed Dicastery for Clergy alongside such influential figures as Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, the prominent member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the Jesuit canon lawyer Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis earlier this year.

Earlier this year, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization became the part of the new Dicastery for the Evangelization, following curial reforms by Pope Francis — it has been styled the “preeminent” dicastery in the Roman curia.

The priest’s continued role at the Dicastery for Divine Worship, which oversees the liturgical life of the Church, is also likely to raise concerns.

According to one of his alleged victims, Rubnik’s alleged abuse was heavily laden with spiritual imagery; the woman claims Rupnik used images from the Eucharist and of the Holy Trinity to coerce her sexually.

In a recent interview, that alleged victim said the priest abused his position as a spiritual director to groom and coerce her into acts of sexual depravity, including group sexual acts, and told her that his initial contact with her was “was how he kissed the altar where he celebrated the Eucharist, because with me he could experience sex as an expression of God’s love.”

“Sexuality had to be, in his opinion, free from possession, in the image of the Trinity where, he said, ‘the third person would welcome the relationship between the two’,” his alleged victim said. “His sexual obsession was not extemporaneous but deeply connected to his conception of art and his theological thought.”