Center in Rome loyal to artist-priest accuses Jesuits of smear campaign

Crux [Denver CO]

June 17, 2023

By Elise Ann Allen

Just days after Pope Francis’s Jesuit order announced that Slovenian Father Marko Rupnik had been expelled over accusations of abusing multiple adult women, a community in Rome loyal to the controversial artist has claimed he actually asked to leave the Jesuits earlier this year, and accused the Jesuits of engaging in a media smear campaign.

Other Jesuits attached to that Roman community, who number at least four, also announced that they too plan to leave order, apparently in solidarity with Rupnik.

On June 15, the Society of Jesus, the largest men’s religious order in the Catholic Church, to which Pope Francis and several high-ranking Vatican officials belong, announced they had dismissed Rupnik over what they called “his stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience.”

The statement was signed by Father Johan Verschueren, who, in his role as permanent delegate of the Society of Jesus for houses, works and inter-provincial Jesuits in Rome, is handling the Rupnik case.

Verschueren said Rupnik had been ordered to leave a Jesuit house attached to the Centro Aletti that Rupnik founded in Rome, and to “accept a new mission, in which we offered him one last chance as a Jesuit to come to terms with his past and to give a clear sign to the many injured people who testified against him, in order to enter a path of truth.”

“In the face of Marko Rupnik’s refusal to obey this mandate, unfortunately we were left with only one solution: Dismissal from the Society of Jesus,” Verschueren said, saying Rupnik has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Although Verschueren declined a Crux request for comment on the Centro Aletti statement, he passed on via email what he described as a reaction from one of Rupnik’s alleged victims.

“The declaration of Centro Aletti is extremely violent for all those who have dared to talk about the suffering they have endured,” the comment said.

A famed Catholic artist and muralist whose works adorn chapels and shrines around the world, including the Vatican and the famous Marian shrine in Lourdes, France, Rupnik, 68, has been under investigation and had been barred from public ministry after allegations of sexual misconduct with nuns spanning some 30 years surfaced last year.

However, following the Society of Jesus’s announcement that they had dismissed Rupnik from the Order, the Centro Aletti – a community of international artists and theologians, composed of women and men, located in Rome and which for years has served as Rupnik’s base of operations – issued their own statement Saturday, claiming to set the record straight.

“On June 15, 2023, the news of Father Marko Rupnik’s dismissal from the Society of Jesus appeared on the Internet,” the center said, saying that “for the purposes of a fair and exhaustive information, the affair that led to his dismissal merits a reconstruction that takes into account at least other elements.”

In their June 17 statement, the Centro Aletti, a public association of faithful incardinated in the Diocese of Rome which has a Jesuit community house attached to it, said the request for Rupnik to leave Rome and transfer to a community in the northern Italian town of Lombardy was made March 9.

However, they stated that this request was made several months after Rupnik himself, on Jan. 21 of this year, presented “to the Society of Jesus, observing all the required canonical conditions, an application to be able to leave the order.”

Rupnik, the center said, made the request because “trust in his superiors had completely ceased.”

“They unfortunately showed repeated favor to a media campaign based on defamatory and unproven accusations (which have exposed the person of Fr. Rupnik and the Aletti Center to forms of lynching), rather than supplying the press with correct information founded on deeds and documents in their possession demonstrating a different truth from what was published,” the center said.

The center said Rupnik’s own request to leave the order had “inexplicably” been omitted from the Jesuits’ statement announcing the decision to have Rupnik expelled for disobedience.

Likewise, the center said that “for the same reasons of distrust towards superiors,” the Jesuits residing at the community house attached to the Centro Aletti have also requested to leave the order, and “are waiting for the relative procedure to be concluded in order to continue the exercise of their priestly ministry.”

In this context, they said, “the illogicality of the new mission with a transfer entrusted to him on March 9 appears questionable, except for wanting to take advantage of the purely instrumental purpose for a disobedience on which to then base the decree of dismissal.”

The Centro Aletti personnel voiced their conviction that, in light of his dismissal from the Jesuits, Rupnik would not appeal the decision, but “will remain steadfast in his already manifested desire to leave the order, continuing to live this moment in ecclesial discernment and communion.”

“In the light of what has happened and is happening, we also thank the Lord for the faith that history is in his hands and that everything works together for the good of those who love him,” they said.

Rupnik’s case exploded in international media last December when Italian blogs and websites reported that for years, consecrated women had accused him of spiritual and psychological abuse and sexual misconduct.

The women belonged to the Skupnosti Loyola or “Loyola Community,” a religious order Rupnik helped found in his native Slovenia, and their allegations dated back to the 1990s, when Rupnik served there as a spiritual advisor.

After initial allegations began to circulate last year, the Jesuits admitted that Rupnik had been briefly excommunicated in 2020 for using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations.

Rupnik reportedly repented and the excommunication was quickly lifted a month later. However, a year after that, Rupnik was accused by nine women of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing them at the Loyola Community, which he co-founded in the 1990s.

At the time, the Jesuits recommended that a canonical trial be opened. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), led by Spanish Jesuit Luis Ladaria, denied the request, refusing to lift the statute of limitations, which it has done in other cases, thus declaring the offenses unable to be prosecuted.

The Jesuits continued to carry out their own internal investigation, and as part of their inquiry invited anyone with other claims to come forward, resulting in 15 new complaints against Rupnik, who was barred by the Jesuits from public ministry, from making any public comments, from leaving the Lazio region where Rome is situated, and from engaging in public art projects.

The Diocese of Rome earlier this year quietly launched an Apostolic Visit of the Centro Aletti to gather facts and to determine what sort of internal environment there was in the community. The results of that inquiry have not been made public.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen