The handling of Rupnik is baffling, underwhelming, and scandalous

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

March 10, 2023

By Christopher R. Altieri

The Vatican and the Jesuits continue to deflect and deny, but the evidence is decades old and deeply troubling.

So, an accused sexual predator supposedly prohibited from saying Mass in public concelebrated a liturgy in Rome on Sunday.

The accused predator is the disgraced celebrity artist-priest and spiritual guru Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ, who came to Rome in the early 1990s to found a cultural center—the Centro Aletti–from which he produced artworks in mosaic and other media that now decorate major Catholic shrines and chapels from the Apostolic Palace to Australia, and dozens of places in between.

Rupnik is now facing an internal Jesuit process that could see him expelled from the order, but that development was a long time coming and is still far from a sure thing.

In short, Rupnik has been a very popular guy until recently, and apparently still has friends among the powerful, so the rules are not really rules for him.

The man currently responsible for enforcing the putative restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry, Fr. Johan Verschueren SJ., explained that the precepts actually allow Rupnik “to concelebrate Masses in the context of the Aletti Center, which is his inner circle, his community.”

The Mass Rupnik concelebrated was at Santa Prassede on the Esquiline Hill near St. Mary Major – just up a side street and around a corner from the Centro Aletti – and the head of the Jesuit community attached to the Aletti Center, Fr. Milan Žust SJ, was among the concelebrants as well.

So, I guess that counts.

Verschueren, for his part, told ACI Prensa earlier this week that he didn’t know much about the business, and wouldn’t be making “judgments about things that I am not absolutely sure about.” I mean, it’s … good policy, I guess. Only—forgive me—why do you not have eyes on this inveterate creep, 24/7? Also, if you are not going to make judgments about things you’re not sure about, at the very least, are you going to investigate?

There are real-world practical issues of public safety—physical and spiritual—in play here. If the ease with which Rupnik’s Jesuit superior allowed him to skirt the restrictions on celebrating the sacraments is any indication of the rigor with which the general restrictions on his movement and other activities are enforced, then one would not be surprised to see Rupnik at the dedication of whatever mosaic he has coming next.

No one should be surprised.

“Fish rots from the head, down,” is an old maxim frequently applied to Rome and the Roman Pontiffs. Candid minds must acknowledge that Pope Francis’s record on abuse and coverup is dismal. After Francis stripped Uncle Ted McCarrick of his red hat and made him a layman, he commissioned a report that was largely a whitewash. Nor does it appear that his resolve has stuck. Jean-Pierre Ricard—a confessed child molester—is still a cardinal with voting rights.

In February 2022, Pope Francis tapped Ricard as his delegate to the Foyers de charité, following revelations of abuse by one of that outfit’s co-founders, André Marie Van Der Borght. Ricard held the post for only a few weeks, before resigning “for health reasons” in mid-March of that same year.

To date, no review of Ricard’s conduct in office on any of the powerful Roman dicasteries has been announced, not even at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes of sexual abuse and coverup.

The Vatican surely knew about some, at least, of Rupnik’s predations in March of 2020, when Pope Francis tapped him to pinch hit for the preacher of the papal household on the curia’s Lenten retreat.

When Francis personally invited Cardinal Godfried Danneels to participate in the 2014 synod on the family, he certainly knew that Danneels had pressured the victim of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe—the bishop’s own nephew—to keep quiet at least until Vangheluwe could retire.

Francis knew about Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta’s penchant for seminarians and predilection for porn in 2015, but sent Zanchetta back to his see in Argentina and left him there until 2017, when Francis let Zanchetta retire quietly—for “health reasons”—and go for some head shrinking before taking up a post Francis created for him in the Vatican’s sovereign asset management outfit, APSA.

Francis had received a letter—or should have received it—from Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of Chile’s most notorious celebrity abuser-priest, Fernando Karadima, when he repeatedly accused Cruz and others of slandering Bishop Juan Barros, a Karadima protégé who enabled his protector’s abusive behavior and worked to cover it up.

Francis told a cabin full of reporters he had not received any evidence of Barros’ alleged wrongdoing, and that the victims had never brought their case to him. “You [reporters], in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward,” Francis said.

That simply was not true, and Francis either knew it was not true or should have known.

Francis had put Barros in the see of Osorno, against the complaints of victims including Cruz and over the objections of the Chilean bishops.

The Danneels appointment rightly raised eyebrows. The Barros business and l’Affaire Zanchetta should have destroyed any man, and likely would have sunk any similarly placed leader subject to anything like responsible oversight.

But we were talking about Rupnik.

Just so we are clear on the point: No fewer than fifteen women—many of them religious sisters—have accused him of sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse over a period of more than thirty years, from the middle of the 1980s to 2018.

A secret Vatican court found Rupnik guilty of absolving an “accomplice” in a “sin against the Sixth Commandment”—Church-speak for a broad range of sexual transgressions—in 2020, but punished him only with ratification of an excommunication he had already incurred, and then lifted the excommunication within a month of its imposition.

Until the story reached the papers late in 2022, only Rupnik’s victims and a few highly placed churchmen knew much of anything about his sordid and criminal extracurriculars. The Jesuits in senior leadership kept it that way. They were happy to let Rupnik trot the globe to receive awards and accolades and even lead retreats, too.

“We don’t have to publish every case,” Fr. Arturo Sosa, the head of the Jesuits, told Portuguese 7Margens news outlet in December of last year. “One of the things we are all entitled to as people is a certain amount of privacy: you have to make public statements when it’s public; when it’s not public, there’s nothing to do about it and that doesn’t mean hiding it.”

“We didn’t hide anything,” Sosa said.

Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors heard allegations against him no later than the 1990s, but left the priest to his devices. According to the particularly detailed account of one accuser, Jesuits in Rome and Rupnik’s native Slovenia either winked at efforts to discredit Rupnik’s accusers, or else took an active role in efforts to make sure the celebrity artist-priest would not face any consequences worth the name.

It’s not like Rupnik was stealing kisses under the portico, either.

That same accuser—“Anna”—told the Italian magazine, Domani, that Rupnik “asked me to have threesomes with another sister of the community, because sexuality had to be, in his opinion, free from possession, in the image of the Trinity.” Anna says Rupnik told her “the third person would welcome the relationship between the two.”

“On those occasions,” Anna said, “[Rupnik] would ask me to live out my femininity in an aggressive and dominant way, and since I could not do so, he would deeply humiliate me with phrases that I cannot repeat.”

The Pillar published an English translation of the whole Domani piece. It is gruesome stuff, which includes “violent masturbation” and the loss of her virginity. “He had no restraints,” Anna told Domani. “[H]e used every means to achieve his goal,” including things he learned under the seal of Confession. Given what Anna was able to describe in graphic detail, one shudders to think what she could not bring herself to say.

There’s more one could say about the manner in which Francis and his chief lieutenants have managed the Rupnik business–lots more–but this is not the place for parsing legal niceties.

As the Rupnik business continues to unravel, Francis has asked the entire Church to pray for victims of abuse.

“In response to cases of abuse, especially those committed by members of the Church, it is not enough to ask for forgiveness,” Pope Francis says in a video message announcing his March 2023 prayer intention. “Let us pray for those who have suffered because of the wrongs done to them by members of the Church,” Francis says. “May they find within the Church herself a concrete response to their pain and suffering.”