ROME (AP) – Pope Francis’ religious Jesuit order has decided to ban a prominent Jesuit artist whose mosaics decorate churches around the globe from continuing his artistic activity after 15 more people came forward with new accusations against him of spiritual, sexual and psychological abuse .
The Jesuits told The Associated Press that they are considering further disciplinary action against the Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik after a third church investigation into allegations that he used his exalted status as one of the Catholic Church’s top religious artists to manipulate adult women into sexual activity.
While technically still an option, alternative measures could include removing him from the art society he founded in Rome and isolating him in a monk-like life of penance and prayer so he is no longer a threat to women, Rupnik’s superiors said, Fox. Johan Verschueren.
“Of course, the first thing I have to be careful about is doing everything to prevent similar things from happening in the future,” Verschueren said, adding that he still hoped Rupnik would take responsibility for his actions.
The Rupnik scandal exploded in December when Italian blogs and websites reported that consecrated women had complained of abuse for years only to have their claims discredited or covered up by Rupnik’s superiors. The case has remained a problem for the Vatican and the Jesuits because of suspicions that the charismatic Slovenian priest received preferential treatment at the Holy See, where a Jesuit pope rules and Jesuit priests help run the sex abuse office.
Verschueren briefed the AP and La Repubblica newspaper before the release Tuesday of the conclusions of a new investigation into Rupnik that was opened in December, after the Jesuits reluctantly admitted Rupnik had been declared excommunicated in 2020 for having committed one of the most serious crimes in church law – using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activity – but had repented and had the sanction quickly removed.
The following year, Rupnik was accused by nine women of sexually, psychologically and spiritually abusing them in the 1990s in a community he co-founded in Slovenia. Although the Jesuits recommended a church trial, the Vatican’s sex abuse office refused to waive the statute of limitations, declaring the crimes too old to prosecute.
The result underlined how the Catholic hierarchy routinely refuses to consider spiritual and sexual abuse of adult women as a crime which must be punished, but rather a lapse of priestly chastity that can be forgiven, regardless of the trauma it causes victims.
In the midst of the scandal, the Jesuits invited everyone with other demands against Rupnik to come forward and 15 people did: 14 women and one man, Verschueren told AP and La Repubblica. The Jesuits’ investigative team found their allegations, dating from 1985-2018, to be credible and confirmed a “pattern” of psychological, sexual and spiritual abuse, and abuse of conscience.
Based on the 15 new allegations, Verschueren said he confirmed previous bans on hearing confessions or giving spiritual guidance, and on leaving the Rome area without permission. But in addition, Rupnik will now be banned from exercising his artistic activity, Verschueren said, suggesting that his interactions with people in creating his mosaics became a source of violent relationships.
“I only take action when there are reasons for risk,” he said.
Rupnik has not responded to the latest allegations: He has not responded to requests for interviews, refused to speak to the investigative team and Verschueren said his next task would be to meet with Rupnik to hear his side, insisting that he be given the right to to defend oneself.
Verschueren said he would decide on definitive disciplinary action based on how Rupnik responds, and expressed hope that he takes responsibility for his actions and agrees to undergo psychological therapy.
“I think, I hope we can still come to a process to find the truth,” he said. “Only when we get into the truth with all those involved can we really solve the problem – the problem with the victims and enter into a process of reparation with them, but also for him.”
He acknowledged that there are some who want Rupnik removed from the priesthood, given the serial nature of his abuse and the more than two dozen victims who have already been identified. But Verschueren noted that kicking Rupnik out of the Jesuits would remove all checks on him, increasing the chances that he could continue to be a threat.
The new charges do not involve sacramental abuse, which would justify sending the case on to the Vatican’s office for sexual abuse, known as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Verschueren said he was “relieved” that the Dicastery would not be involved, given its earlier decision not to waive the statute of limitations for the 2021 case.
In a Jan. 24 interview with the AP, Pope Francis acknowledged that he always waives the statute of limitations for child abuse cases, but not those involving adults. In the same interview, Francis denied having anything to do with the Rupnik case other than intervening on a procedural note.
In addition to the abuse investigation, a theologian was brought in to study Rupnik’s writings and found some potentially “transgressive” problems with conferences Rupnik gave on sexuality in the 1980s and 1990s, Verschueren said.
“The theologian I consulted did not want to call it heresy, but said it gave an opening to legitimize certain actions that are not correct,” he said.
He denied that Rupnik’s art was irretrievably tainted, likening it to writers who write good books but are flawed themselves.
“I asked myself, Johan, is it difficult to pray before these mosaics? My answer is no,” he said of Rupnik’s chapel mosaic at Jesuit headquarters. “In a way, I have managed to separate the art from the artist.”