Rupnik victims, advocates decry failures of Vatican justice

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

February 21, 2024

By Christopher R. Altieri

“Truth and justice shouldn’t be an extraordinary ask in the Catholic Church in 2024 …” Anne Barrett Doyle of the watchdog and advocacy group,, told CWR, “I believe that at heart Pope Francis is opposed to reform…”

In some of the strongest remarks to date, a senior figure at a leading watchdog and advocacy group has cast strong doubt on Pope Francis’s commitment to reform of the Church’s justice system.

The remarks to the Catholic World Report came on a day the Vatican made its own statements suggesting that the ordinary organs of ecclesiastical justice are still trying to decide what to do with disgraced former Jesuit celebrity mosaic artist Fr. Marko Rupnik, accused of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse of more than a dozen victims.

Wednesday was also a day on which two of Rupnik’s many alleged victims again called for justice, even as the Vatican appeared unsure whether to proceed against the accused, let alone how to proceed in the event anyone there should decide to do anything at all.

Two of Rupnik’s alleged victims held a press conference in Rome to decry the lack of progress in the case. “I found myself in silence for too many years,” said Gloria Branciani, who gave a gruesome pseudonymous account of the abuse she suffered, which was published by Italy’s Domani in 2023.

That account was translated shortly thereafter into English with Domani’s permission and published in its entirety by The Pillar. Using “Anna” as her pseudonym, Branciani offered an unspeakably horrific description of Rupnik’s diabolical modus operandi, by which he warped the mind of his naïve mark and exploited her insecurities.

“Today,” Branciani said, “I ask for truth, transparency and justice for the religious women who have suffered violence.”

Mirjam Kovac, another of Rupnik’s victim-accusers, said, “We decided to speak out to oppose the wall of silence [It. muro di gomma] that the ecclesiastical authorities have erected all these years.”

The press conference took place at the Italian Press Association in Rome on Wednesday, five years to the day since Pope Francis opened an international summit to tackle the crisis of abuse and coverup in the Church and several months after the papal volte-face that cleared – on paper, at least – a procedural obstacle to Rupnik’s eventual prosecution.

Most of Rupnik’s victims are – or were at one time – women religious, members of an international congregation called the Loyola Community, which Rupnik helped found several decades ago in his native Slovenia. The Vatican has suppressed the Loyola Community and punished its once-powerful superior and co-foundress, Sr. Ivanka Hosta, for abuse of power.

Rupnik is a priest in good standing. The Slovenian Diocese of Koper decided to incardinate him following his expulsion from the Jesuits for disobedience. The bishop of Koper, Jurij Bizjak, agreed to take Rupnik since Rupnik had not been convicted of abuse. Rupnik had been seeking a way out of the Jesuits anyway. For the past several months, Rupnik has reportedly been living in Rome as an extern of Koper.

Small room for action”

Branciani and Kovac emerged from anonymity several months ago to denounce both Rupnik and the appalling failures of Vatican justice under Pope Francis.

Their canon lawyer, Dr. Laura Sgrò, praised her clients’ courage and tenacity. Sgrò also praised their clarity of vision.

“The statute of limitations was removed by the Holy Father in the canonical forum,” Sgrò told journalists, adding that the decision left “some small opening for action [It. spiragli per azione].” Sgrò said that victims “must not lose faith in justice, they must not lose hope of finding the truth.” Most especially, Sgrò said, “Victims ought not limit themselves to approaching the bishop or the mother superior to ask for help.”

“They must go and report it to the secular authorities,” Sgrò said. “Whoever does what they did to Gloria must go to prison.” NB. “They” not “he” – not only Rupnik. “This veil [of secrecy],” Sgrò said, “must be torn to tatters.”

Italian reports, including one from Domaniindicated that Sgrò’s clients have received entreaties from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith but are reluctant to appear before the DDF without counsel. Requests for clarification from DDF and the Vatican press office did not receive immediate reply. Depending upon the kind and stage of an investigation under Church law and the reason for their appearance before investigators, witnesses may or may not have a strict right to counsel.

Nor have Sgrò’s clients ruled out attempts to recover damages.

Where are we now?

Also on Wednesday, the Vatican’s official media outlets proffered their own version of recent developments in the Rupnik case.

“After expanding the search to realities not previously contacted and having just received the latest elements in response,” explained the Vatican press office in a statement on Wednesday, “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

At face value, those assertions are difficult to square with the Vatican’s and the Jesuits’ own published records and timeline of events. There have been several thorough investigations and copious evidence collected. Much of that evidence was in the form of testimony from victim-accusers the Vatican’s own investigator, Bishop Daniele Libanori SJ, described as “highly credible” witnesses.

“[T]he Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,” read a story from Vatican Media, “in September [of 2023], sent the Pope some reports it had received regarding ‘serious problems’ in the handling of the Rupnik case and ‘the lack of closeness to the victims’.”

By the Vatican’s own admission, therefore, the only thing that could bring even the tiniest sliver of hope against hope to Rupnik’s victims for justice from the Church, was an unsolicited report from a powerless department that brought unspecified “problems” to the personal attention of the head man, after all the ordinary organs of power had miscarried and failed, including the one again entrusted with reviewing the whole business.

It is difficult to consider that admission as anything other than a damning indictment of the whole ecclesiastical justice system, five years after Pope Francis pledged himself to systemic repair of the Church’s leadership culture and systematic reform of her organs of power, especially insofar as the investigation and prosecution of abuse and coverup are concerned.

“Truth and justice shouldn’t be an extraordinary ask in the Catholic Church in 2024,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the watchdog and advocacy group,, during Wednesday’s press conference.

Barrett Doyle also noted that the press conference was taking place five years to the day on which Pope Francis opened his Meeting for the Protection of Minors.

“Wrapping up the summit at the end of the four days,” Barrett Doyle recalled, “the pope declared an ‘all-out battle’ on abuse.”

“It is in the last five years,” Barrett Doyle went on to say, “that the most egregious acts of cover-up of Fr. Rupnik’s crimes have occurred.

“After the summit,” Barrett Doyle said, “after the pope passed his law, Vos estis lux mundi, that was supposed to crack down on cover-up.

Reform? What reform?

“I believe that at heart Pope Francis is opposed to reform,” Barrett Doyle told the Catholic World Report on Wednesday after the press conference.

“When Pope Francis speaks out in anger,” said Barrett Doyle, “it’s almost always about what he calls the evil of gossip. I have come to believe that he sees victims as accusers, as bearers of gossip, not as the Church’s own wounded deserving of help and compassion and justice.”

Defenders of Pope Francis may rightly point to numerous denunciations he has made through the years, his personal meetings with many victims of clerical abuse, and his promises to bring the full power of his office and the entire Church to bear on the evil scourge of abuse. Pope Francis’s record of action in the leadership of the Church, however, must come under the most unsparing public scrutiny.

By the end of the annus horribilis that was 2018, the question was not whether institutional reforms were necessary, but which we would get and at what level of ecclesial life. Anyone with eyes to see knew that more terrible revelations were on the horizon, though few could have guessed then what shape they would have or whom they would reach.

“Individual bishops from whom we hope and deserve better will disappoint,” this journalist warned. “The hierarchy will fail us again.” Anyone with the slightest understanding of human nature and some basic knowledge of history saw that the crisis in the Church would get worse before it began to get better.

None of us was prepared for what has come in the meantime, nor were we ready for what did not come. History is always happening. History is always messy in the making. History teaches slowly, but ruthlessly and inexorably.

The Rupnik story has been in the news since late 2022. It was immediately evident that the business was very bad. By September of last year, l’Affaire Rupnik had eclipsed l’Affaires BarrosInzoli, ZanchettaDanneels, even l’Affaire Ricard. L’Affaire Rupnik had already stained Pope Francis’s legacy and was well on its way to defining it.

Candid observers may now have the wherewithal to surmise that there is no reform, nor any real desire for it to be found among the clerical and hierarchical leadership of the Church in respect of the crisis of abuse and coverup that plagues the Church on every habitable continent.

Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.