15 December 2022, The Tablet

Scandal over Jesuit priest and artist who 'absolved' woman for engaging in sexual activity with him

Scandal over Jesuit priest and artist who 'absolved' woman for engaging in sexual activity with him

Pope Francis greets Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik during a private audience at the Vatican in January this year.
CNS/Vatican Media

An eminent Jesuit priest, Father Marko Rupnik, whose mosaics decorate chapels in the Vatican and elsewhere, was excommunicated after being found guilty of “one of the worst forms of spiritual abuse” just two years before the Vatican decided to take no action on further abuse allegations.

Associated Press confirmed an allegation reported first by the Messa in Latino blog that Rupnik had been convicted of absolving a woman in confession of engaging in sexual activity with him after a complaint in 2019 and had been sanctioned as a result.

But separate, historic allegations made just two years later were not prosecuted because the Vatican decided they were too old to take action on. 

Fr James Martin SJ, editor-at-large of the Jesuit review America, which carried the AP report, tweeted: “In the Catholic Church, in addition to the crimes of physical and sexual abuse, there is spiritual abuse, and a priest absolving someone in the confessional from a sin they have committed together is considered one of the worst forms of spiritual abuse.”

He added: “It immediately incurs what is called a latae sententiae or automatic, excommunication from the church. That is, besides civil penalties for any crimes committed, the absolution is so heinous that the priest automatically excommunicates himself from that moment... cutting himself off from any participation in the church's sacraments. As a Jesuit, a priest, a Catholic and a Christian, the sins and crimes of abuse, whether physical or spiritual, disgust me.”

Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, said yesterday in an address to journalists in Rome that a commitment to a “culture of safeguarding” embraced by the Jesuits in 2016 was a “cultural change” that required long, well-planned processes.

“Child protection protocols are well developed everywhere. As far as vulnerable adults are concerned, much work remains to be done, both on our part and on the part of the Catholic Church and civil society in general,” he admitted.

“The case of Fr Marko Rupnik, which became public last week, is a good example of how much we still have to learn, especially about people’s suffering. This case, like others, causes us shock and sorrow; it forces us to understand and empathise with the suffering of all those involved in one form or another. It confronts us with the challenge of respecting this pain at the same time as we scrupulously initiate the procedures demanded by civil or canonical laws.

“We seek to communicate this in a way that does not conceal the facts, while we also, enlightened by the Gospel and other human experiences, try to open paths toward healing the wounds produced.”

Cases such as that of Fr Rupnik are the exclusive responsibility of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which asks religious superiors to carry out both the pre-trial investigations and the eventual administrative-penal processes, while the final decision always remains with the DDF, he said.

In this case, the DDF directly received a complaint that permissible limits were exceeded in the relations between Fr Rupnik and consecrated adult persons in the Loyola Community, Slovenia, while he was exercising pastoral activities related to sacramental ministry. These events occurred in the early 1990s.

The DDF asked the Society of Jesus to proceed immediately with the initial investigation. “Upon receiving the information and the assignment, the Society took precautionary measures proportionate to the case. The initial investigation was carried out by competent persons outside the Society, and the results were delivered to the Dicastery. After the Dicastery had studied the file and reported that the complaints received were legally prescribed, we sought to move from the level of legal proceedings to the task of taking care of the suffering caused and trying to heal the open wounds. Maintaining the restrictive measures on Fr Rupnik’s ministry constitutes one element of a complex process, which we know takes time and for which there are no predefined formulas. It is part of the apprenticeship we are doing, trying not to get it wrong.”

It emerged last week that Fr Rupnik had been barred from hearing confessions or offering spiritual direction. Italian news outlets reported the complaints were accusations of spiritually and sexually abusing adult members of a religious order of women in Slovenia.

However, at the beginning of October, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith closed the case because the statute of limitations had expired, said a note from the Jesuit headquarters on 2 December.

The restrictions on Father Rupnik's ministry “remain in effect as administrative measures even after the response of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith” said the statement published by the Jesuit superior's delegate for the interprovincial houses and works of the Society of Jesus in Rome.

Father Rupnik lives and works at the Centro Aletti, an international community of artists and theologians, both women and men, in Rome.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith received a complaint about Father Rupnik in 2021 and asked the Jesuits to conduct a preliminary investigation, which they entrusted to a religious from another order. Various people were invited to give evidence and a report was submitted to the Vatican. Multiple Italian news outlets reported that the accusations involved allegations of psychological and sexual abuse against women belonging to the Skupnosti Loyola or Loyola Community, a new religious community in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in the early 1990s when Father Rupnik served as a spiritual adviser.

(Additional reporting by CNS)



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