The Pillar [Washington DC]
January 11, 2023
Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ, was appointed by the Society of Jesus to create mosaics in one of the most important historic sites of the Jesuit order, after he was found guilty of sexual and sacramental misconduct. The mosaics were then dedicated by Rupnik and Jesuit officials after the priest was accused of more canonical crimes: spiritually and sexually abusing several consecrated women.
Rupnik was declared in 2020 excommunicated for the canonical crime of abusing the sacrament of penance to abet acts of sexual misconduct.
But 11 months after the excommunication was declared, the Society of Jesus announced that Rupnik had been commissioned to install a set of mosaics in the Sanctuary of the Cave, a Spanish church connected to the cave where St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits’ founder, composed his famous “Spiritual Exercises.”
The church, in Manresa, Spain, is an important site for Jesuits, and a destination for pilgrims from around the world.
Before the mosaics were liturgically dedicated, the Jesuits were informed by the Vatican that Rupnik had allegedly committed spiritual and sexual abuse against consecrated women in Slovenia.
Despite that allegation, Rupnik and Jesuit Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa jointly celebrated the dedication of the priest’s mosaics, during a July 2021 Mass attended by Jesuits from around the world. Sosa has subsequently claimed Rupnik was on restricted ministry at the time of both the mosaics’ installation and their dedication.
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 attempted absolution is considered a graviora delicta, or major crime, in the Church’s canon law and incurs the ipso facto penalty of excommunication; prosecution of alleged offenses occurs under the authority of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Rupnik faced an extrajudicial penal process authorized by the dicastery. In May 2020, he was found guilty of the crime and declared excommunicated.
The excommunication was remitted soon after it was declared, according to the Society of Jesus, apparently because Rupnik had expressed contrition for his action.
The Society of Jesus claimed last year that the order imposed restrictions on Rupnik’s priestly ministry in June 2019, and that the DDF imposed restrictions in May 2020.
Those restrictions were not announced when they were issued, and Rupnik has remained a prominent ecclesiastical figure – he remains an official advisor to several Vatican departments, gave a Lenten retreat talk for Vatican officials in 2020, has lectured and spoken around the world. The priest was also permitted to design the logo for the Vatican-sponsored 2022 World Meeting of Families after his excommunication, and was featured in videos released by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.
In April 2021, the Society of Jesus began announcing in press releases that Rupnik was “working intensely these days” to install eight mosaics for side chapels of the Cave Sanctuary.
Jesuit press releases explained that the remodeling was part of a year-long celebration commemorating the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ conversion.
Rupnik told Jesuits that he wanted his mosaics to portray “a space of encounter” and to depict “an itinerary of prayer, in which one moves from a professed Catholicism to a lived faith.”
But in June 2021, the Society of Jesus was informed of the newly emerged abuse allegations against Rupnik — namely that in the 1980s, he had psychologically, spiritually, and sexually abused members of the Loyola Community, a group of consecrated women which Rupnik had helped to found.
One former member of the community has alleged publicly that Rupnik incorporated the creation of his art into a spiritualized form of sexual abuse, in which the priest coerced women into sexual contact while asking them to pose for his sketches, and suggesting such contact would honor God or strengthen the spiritual life. That kind of spiritualized sexual abuse has been characteristic of other known abusers in the life of the Church, although the artistic elements are apparently unique to Rupnik.
The Jesuits claim that Sosa set up a preliminary investigation into the allegations in July 2021. On the last day of that month, July 31, Sosa was the principal celebrant at a Mass at the Manresa church, during which Rupnik “officially inaugurated his mosaics,” and Sosa blessed them.
In the months that followed, the Jesuits continued to issue press releases praising Rupnik’s work, even as the investigation into his alleged abuse continued.
Eventually, the investigators recommended a penal process at the Vatican, but the DDF determined the case could not proceed because of the statute of limitations.
Both the excommunication and abuse allegations against Rupnik became public last month — first reported by Italian blogs, and subsequently confirmed by The Pillar and other news outlets.
Among other questions, some critics have raised questions about whether the Society of Jesus actually imposed restrictions on the priest, given his public schedule since 2019. The order’s celebration of Rupnik’s 2021 mosaic creations would seem to amplify those questions.
The religious order has also been accused of making misleading statements about the matter — the Jesuits initially stated that Rupnik’s ministry was restricted in 2021; officials modified that statement only after reporters unearthed the 2019 allegations made against the priest.
While Rupnik was reported this month to have retreated to an isolated monastery as controversy swirled around him, the Italian blog Mass in Latin reported this week that the priest remains at Aletti Center, an artistic institute he once directed, and has continued offering Mass there.
The Society of Jesus has not yet responded to questions from The Pillar.