Rupnik Affair exposes leadership crisis in Jesuits, Roman Curia

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

June 18, 2023

By Christopher R. Altieri

This is either kabuki theatre, or there’s one camp in the Jesuit leadership trying to deal with a guy who is a criminal pervert and another group in the Roman curia—lots of whom have SJ after their names, too—who … aren’t.

The disgraced celebrity artist-priest, Fr. Marko Rupnik, requested release from the Jesuit order several months before the Society of Jesus dismissed him. The claim came in an Italian-language statement released Saturday over the signature of Maria Campatelli and the Centro Aletti, and was confirmed by reporting from the Associated Press.

Campatelli is the current director of the Centro Aletti, an art studio Rupnik founded in the mid-90s when he came to Rome.

Her statement accuses the Jesuits of trumping up the grounds of stubborn disobedience on which the Jesuits expelled Rupnik, saying a “last chance” assignment to a new Jesuit house and mission outside of Rome was no last chance at all, but came months after Rupnik had asked to leave the order and was a pretext for his expulsion. The statement also accuses the Jesuits of running a smear campaign—a “lynching” to use her word—making use of the press to spread allegations against Rupnik that she described as “defamatory and unproven” but did not quite say were false.

The statement goes on to say, “[O]ther Jesuits of the Centro Aletti have also applied for permission to leave the Society and are awaiting the conclusion of the relative procedure, to be able to continue the exercise of their priestly ministry,” having also lost faith in the leadership of their Jesuit superiors.

From the outside looking in, the business has the appearance of a mutiny or defection in the face of late pushback from the top of the Jesuits against a fellow who was without meaningful oversight for too long and gathered a coterie of irreducibles around himself. Rupnik and his band of ultras—if there really is such a group—may well be counting on a sympathetic hearing from above the leadership of their erstwhile Company.

Rupnik is accused of serially abusing as many as twenty women—many of them vowed religious—over three decades. Rupnik escaped trial and most penal consequences at Church law for his alleged crimes, after the Vatican office responsible for investigating an initial set of allegations brought by at least nine women, of psychological, spiritual, and sexual abuse, ruled in October of 2022 that they were beyond the statute of limitations and declined to prosecute.

In 2020, 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— but punished him only with ratification of an excommunication he had already incurred. The Vatican lifted the excommunication within a month of its imposition. After the judges had determined that Rupnik had in fact done what he was accused of doing, but before they had pronounced sentence, Francis invited him to preach a Lenten retreat in the Vatican.

Earlier this year, the Jesuits announced they had opened an internal investigation and received further abuse allegations from at least fifteen people—the vast majority of them women—with the time span of the abuses running from the mid-1980s to 2018.

As a matter of policy, the Vatican waives the statute of limitations in cases involving clerics accused of sexually abusing minors, but Pope Francis has expressed reluctance to do the same in cases involving adults.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith—the Vatican department responsible for investigating and prosecuting most such crimes under Church law—refused to do so in Rupnik’s case. The DDF is headed by Spanish Cardinal Luis Ladaria SJ, and the chief prosecutor at DDF is American Robert Geisinger SJ.

The Jesuits have gathered a lot of evidence this second time, too. They liked their case the first time around, though the DDF refused to take it. If the investigating Jesuits have plans to try again with what they’ve got, they haven’t said so.

This is either kabuki theatre, or there’s one camp in the Jesuit leadership trying to deal with a guy who is a criminal pervert and another group in the Roman curia—lots of whom have SJ after their names, too—who … aren’t. Actually, those aren’t mutually exclusive options, but it’s ugly any way you slice it.

It is worth mentioning in these regards that Daniele Libanori, the auxiliary bishop of the Rome diocese who uncovered the original allegations against Rupnik while conducting an apostolic visitation of the Loyola community of religious sisters Rupnik helped found in his native Slovenia, is also a Jesuit. Libanori has said that Rupnik’s superiors both in Rome and his home country spent years ignoring allegations when they weren’t actively working to discredit the people making them.

In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year, Pope Francis said he never involved himself substantially in the Rupnik investigation, but admitted to intervening procedurally in the case to assure that a second set of allegations from the nine original accusers would be reviewed by the same body as had reviewed the first.

Earlier in June, Pope Francis recorded a video message in which he praised a work by Rupnik—a mosaic depiction of the Madonna and Child—to the participants in a Marian Congress in Aparecide, Brazil. The influential and semi-official Italian-language blog, Il Sismografo, bluntly asked whether that was “an error or a provocation?”

Frankly, that’s a reasonable question.

Even if there is a fine distinction to be made between the artist and his art, in Rupnik’s case the art was—is—central to his perverted diabolical schtick. One accuser—“Anna”—told Italy’s Domani magazine about the things Rupnik used to do to her:

Father Marko 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 where, he said, “the third person would welcome the relationship between the two.” On those occasions, he 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 got permission from Domani to translate and bring out the whole thing in English.)

One is left with the impression that Francis really doesn’t know in any significant detail what Rupnik is accused of doing, or else doesn’t care. If Francis forgot the piece was Rupnik’s, his people ought to have told him. Then, Francis is not one to be told what to do, nor does he like very much to work with traditional communications structures. In any case, someone in the comms dicastery apparently still likes Rupnik very much.

Vatican News has continued to make use of Rupnik’s work to illustrate and accompany various articles, including their brief on the June 16th Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, but then it’s been a while since “What’s wrong with these people?” became a reasonable question.

Now, with Rupnik’s you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit routine—one the Jesuits failed to mention in their statement announcing his expulsion from their Society last week—the optics of this whole business, already sordid beyond reckoning, have got even worse.

It’s not only the optics.

L’Affaire Rupnik lays bare the untenable condition of what passes for Vatican justice, with investigations and prosecutions juridically dependent on one office, in turn entirely dependent on an all-powerful ruler who—this time as in at least one other case during this pontificate—is personally connected to the accused and has more than the appearance of more than a little skin in the game.

Next time, I’ll delve wonkily into some of the structural reforms that may avail, but for now, suffice it to say that time is running out for Francis to see that crippling carelessness and dysfunction will be a part of his legacy, and act to make sure that they are not the sum of it.