VATICAN CITY (VATICAN CITY)
La Croix International [France]
February 17, 2023
By Loup Besmond de Senneville
The handling of the Marko Rupnik case shows the difficulty Rome has in analyzing the phenomenon of having a “hold” over someone when it concerns an adult
Numerous messages were posted on Facebook at the end of December 2022, a few days after several Italian websites and newspapers revealed what quickly became the Rupnik affair, named after the Slovenian Jesuit mosaicist accused by several nuns of touching and rape, against a background of a psycho-spiritual hold.
After having sexually assaulted them, the priest then heard their confessions. These are the events for which the Jesuits must close an internal investigation this Friday, February 17.
On social medias, the debate surrounding these accusations rages among Italian journalists.
One explains: “In fact, if there had been no consent, there would have been no confession and absolution of the access consenting, since they were adults. The person speaking is not just anyone: he is a regular and valued contributor to L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.
This way of looking at adult abuse is far from limited to Rome. While sexual abuse of minors or “vulnerable adults” – a vague category – is one of the “most serious crimes” and is therefore dealt with by the dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, this is not the case for other situations, which are handled by other services of the Roman Curia.
Does this mean that the Vatican is underestimating the number of cases of abuse of adults, both men and women? To hear the reactions that followed the revelations about the actions of Bishop Michel Santier, the former bishop of Créteil who was sanctioned for inciting young men to strip during confession, one might be tempted to answer positively.
“It was with adults. Would you do that, you, get naked in front of someone, and moreover in a confessional? I wouldn’t,” says a Vatican source.
“There is the idea that adults, especially women, are always tempters”
The pope himself also establishes a very clear gradation between the types of abuse, affirming that he systematically lifts the statute of limitations on possible cases involving minors or vulnerable adults, but not for the average adult population.
“In this case (Marko Rupnik, editor’s note), I didn’t do it, which doesn’t mean that the person shouldn’t be prosecuted,” Francis said in an interview with the AP agency in late January.
To explain this difference, one must go back in time.
“Until the 1970s, when the feminist movement demanded that rape victims essentially be considered as victims, rape was considered more as a disturbance of the moral order,” explains Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia.
“In this sense, both people were considered to be behaving against morality,” she says. “If you go back further, in the 1800s, all illegitimate intercourse was called ‘rape’,” Scaraffia continues.
“Deep down, there is the idea that adults, especially women, are always tempters,” says this intellectual who is particularly committed to the defense of nuns who are victims of sexual violence.
A telling example: in an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in 1962 and entitled Crimen sollicitationis, Rome’s intention was to severely punish priests who propose sexual relations in the context of confession; however, in this document, priests are systematically warned against women, whether they are “young women, married women or servants”.
“The clerical mentality is perverse,” says a canon lawyer in Rome. “It considers that the victims have as much responsibility as the perpetrators. This makes the concept of “having a hold over someone to be something unthinkable in the Vatican”.
The notion of vulnerability
Scaraffia says an entire work on the notion of vulnerability remains to be done. “For the moment, we seem to forget that the priest is a person who has power over others because his role is to lead them,” she laments. “Only the arrival of women in decision-making positions in the Church can change this perception.”
Privately, though, the pope says that any sexual abuse always begins with an abuse of power, reports a witness who recently discussed the subject with him. According to this source, Francis also regularly refers to “abuse of power” within religious communities.