ROME, Feb 21 (Reuters) – The Jesuit Roman Catholic religious order said on Tuesday that allegations of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse against a prominent member were highly credible and that restrictions against him had been tightened.
The order said in a statement on its website that it intended to start what it called an “internal procedure” against the priest, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a well-known artist of religious themes.
Around 25 former nuns and other women have accused Rupnik (69) of abuse, either when he was the spiritual leader of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia around 30 years ago, or after he moved to Rome to continue his career as an artist . .
Father Johan Verschueren, Rupnik’s superior in the religious order, released an update on the case, which has rattled the worldwide religious order and the Vatican since it broke up in November.
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Writing on the Jesuit website, Verschueren said the number of people who had come forward with similar allegations against the priest led to the conclusion that the allegations had “very high” credibility, especially since some of the accusers did not know each other.
Rupnik has not spoken publicly about the allegations, and Verschueren said he has declined to meet with Jesuit investigators.
Repeated attempts by Reuters to reach Rupnik through his school of religious art in Rome were unsuccessful, and he did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Some women have given accounts to Italian media, saying the charismatic Rupnik used his position as their spiritual leader to force them to have sex with him.
An ex-nun told how he used what she called psychological control over her to coerce her into sexual acts, deploying “cruel psychological, emotional and spiritual aggression” to “destroy” her, especially after she refused to have three-way sex .
After the allegations against him were first reported, Jesuit headquarters acknowledged that he had been placed under partial sanctions, including a ban on hearing confessions and leading spiritual retreats, in 2019.
Verschueren said Tuesday that following the latest accusations over the past two months, Rupnik has also been banned from performing any artistic activity in public.
A mosaic specialist, Rupnik rose to prominence as an artist when the late Pope John Paul II commissioned him to redesign a chapel in the Vatican between 1996-1999. He has since designed chapels around the world.
The new restrictions specifically prohibit him from having any artistic activity with churches or other religious institutions, Verschueren said.
He said a Jesuit investigation has determined the alleged abuse took place from the mid-1980s to 2018.
In 2020, Pope Francis, who is also a member of the Jesuit order, asked Rupnik to lead a Lenten spiritual retreat for the Pope and top Vatican officials.
After initial media reports last year, the Jesuit order revealed that the Vatican’s doctrinal department excommunicated Rupnik in 2020 after finding him guilty of “exonerating an accomplice” in confession, referring to when a priest has sex with someone and then absolves the person of the sin.
The excommunication was lifted several weeks later after Rupnik repented.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robert Birsel
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