The Rupnik affair is a microcosm of Church’s leadership crisis

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

December 28, 2022

By Christopher R. Altieri

All the laws in all the world, all the paper reforms and speeches and exhortations and pleas and promises are worth exactly as much as those in charge are willing to put behind them in dollars and cents, to show their earnest and make them stick.

This Rupnik business is very bad. There’s no telling how bad it will be for Pope Francis, the Vatican, the Jesuits, or the Slovenian bishops. There’s plenty of bad to go around.

Rupnik’s art is to be found in shrines and chapels all over the world. That’s what makes this Rupnik business appear to be a world-in-a-nutshell instance of the Church’s leadership crisis and the effect of it on the institution and the faithful worldwide.

The Inescapable Rupnik

There is no escaping it. Lourdes. Fatima. Padre Pio’s crypt in San Giovanni Rotondo. Pope St. John Paul II’s shrines in Krakow and Washington, DC. Madrid’s cathedral adoration chapel. Aparecida. The Redemptoris mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Even the image most closely associated with Pope Francis’s signature Year of Mercy.

Those are just a few of the Catholic places – several of them major pilgrimage sites – at which one cannot avoid the artwork of Fr. Marko I. Rupnik, SJ, the Jesuit priest and world-renowned mosaic artist accused of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing at least nine women over several years.

Fr. Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors reportedly heard the allegations against him more than twenty years ago, but either turned a blind eye or actively covered for their guy, whose fame was growing and whose stock was high in the papal apartments.

A couple of years ago, Bishop Daniele Libanori SJ conducted a fact-finding mission called an “Apostolic Visitation” to a community of women religious that Fr. Rupnik had helped found in his native Slovenia. There, Libanori – another Jesuit – uncovered and finally succeeded in pinning one accusation on his celebrity confrere. The Vatican decided that Rupnik had absolved an “accomplice” to his “sins against the Sixth Commandment” – that’s Church jargon for sexual misbehavior – but the Vatican office responsible for investigating and prosecuting sex crimes passed on the chance to prosecute Rupnik for his actual crimes of abuse.

Luis Ladaria, SJ – the Jesuit prefect of the Congregation Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – who came into his position through the Jesuit pope, decided not to waive the canonical statute of limitations and try the celebrity Jesuit artist-priest on charges of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse.

The Jesuits put secret restrictions on their Fr. Rupnik, but those strictures did not keep the priest from travelling the world, receiving awards and accolades, or even from preaching a Lenten retreat to the papal household during 2020, while judges were deciding what to do about the charge of absolving an accomplice. Eventually, the excommunication Rupnik automatically incurred would be declared administratively, then lifted less than a month later.

Sure, statutes of limitations exist for a reason – mostly, to guarantee that someone accused of a crime has the wherewithal to mount a defense worth the name – but the CDDF usually has no trouble waiving the statute for crimes like the ones of which Rupnik is accused, and anyway both Rupnik and (some, at least, of) his alleged victims are alive and well enough. Encouraged by Bishop Libanori, SJ, several of Rupnik’s accusers have filed formal complaints against him within the last two years.

Vos estis(ne) lux mundi?

If the bald facts of the Rupnik Affair were to have come to light in any other chancery anywhere in the world, the faithful of those places would rightly be screaming for the Vatican to use Vos estis lux mundi, the potentially powerful paper reform Pope Francis introduced in 2019, to discover the precise nature and extent of the wrongdoing and begin to rectify it.

The Vatican has been extremely reluctant to use Vos estis, to say the very least.

For one thing, the Vatican still does not have an independent investigative arm to receive complaints and act on them, nor is there an independent judiciary in which to try cases investigators refer for prosecution.

Everything is done within a single dicastery – an outfit within the Roman administrative apparatus that is somewhere between a government ministry and an executive department – while the office within the department that handles investigations and prosecutions is critically understaffed and chronically cash-strapped.

The discipline section of DDF has a worldwide remit. There are well over a billion Catholics alive on planet Earth.There are fewer than two dozen people working full time in the discipline section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the whole of which has a budget of a paltry few million Euro per annum. By contrast, the 2022 budget for the Department of Justice in the US State of Montana was $114,965,234.

All the laws in all the world, all the paper reforms and speeches and exhortations and pleas and promises are worth exactly as much as those in charge are willing to put behind them in dollars and cents, to show their earnest and make them stick.

Apostolica sedes a nemine iudicatur.

Around the time that the Vatican was rolling out Pope Francis’s signature reform law, Vos estis lux mundi, I was standing with a group of reporters in the Vatican press office. One of them – a new face, if memory serves – asked (ipsa vox), “Are they serious about it this time?”

“If you want to know whether they’re serious,” I offered, “then consider that Dick Malone is still in his job, and Siobhan O’Connor isn’t.”

Richard Joseph Malone was then the Bishop of Buffalo, NY. He had been embroiled in a coverup scandal that had long since become national news in the US. Siobhan O’Connor was a former Buffalo chancery employee and the whistleblower who helped bring the story to light.

It would be August before Rome would take an interest in Buffalo. Malone would be out by the end of the year, but he never faced a canonical criminal investigation. Roman hands were careful to avoid that, opting for an Apostolic Visitation – that’s a sort of fact-finding mission that has a broad scope and can be conducted more discreetly than a criminal probe – rather than a test of Pope Francis’s reform.

Even if the Vatican types wanted to Vos estis themselves – and they don’t – they couldn’t. They’ve made sure of that. No one on earth can Vos estis the pope. The Apostolic See is judged by no man.