What if I told you that a man with power of his own and access to more of it serially abused unsuspecting women who had turned to him for various reasons, both professional and personal, for help and guidance?
What if I told you that he followed a playbook to warp their minds, exploit their vulnerabilities – including their desires to be loved and appreciated – in order to get them to do the sorts of things for which Lulu White would charge her clients extra and women like Cora Pearl would not countenance for all the petites Tuileries in the world?
What if I told you that lots of people knew what he got up to, most of them very powerful and in a position to stop him if they had half a mind to do so, but also had their own uses for the fellow and in any case didn’t want the trouble?
Am I talking about Jeffrey Epstein? Harvey Weinstein? Jim Jones?
I’m talking about Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, the celebrated artist-priest who has digs attached to the Jesuit mother church in Rome, founded a religious congregation in his native Slovenia and an art school in Rome, received commissions from major shrines and chapels from Fatima to Queensland, Australia, to New Haven, Connecticut, and lots of places in between, including the Apostolic Palace.
Fr. Rupnik is accused of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse of at least nine women over several years, and possibly more than two decades. Several of the women were religious sisters attached to the Loyola Community he founded in the 1980s. A Vatican decision in 2019 confirmed and administratively imposed an excommunication Rupnik had received when he absolved one of his “accomplices” in a “sin against the Sixth Commandment” – that’s Church-speak for sexual misbehavior – which was lifted almost immediately after Rupnik apparently pinky-swore he was really super-duper sorry.
One accuser – “Anna” – gave graphic depiction of the horror she suffered under Fr. Rupnik. The Pillar reproduced the Italian original with permission of the Italian investigative news magazine, Domani:
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.
Jesuit superiors both in Rupnik’s native Slovenia and in Rome had heard of his behavior more than a decade before any of this came to light, but never took meaningful action against him. Instead, they either winked at efforts to discredit and sully the names of Rupnik’s accusers, or actively participated in efforts to make sure he would never face significant consequences for his action.
When formal accusations – rather than mere informal allegations – finally reached Rome in or about 2019, a Jesuit was in charge of the department in which the office that handles investigations and eventual prosecutions is juridically established and physically located. There was a preliminary investigation, after which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith decided not to lift the statute of limitations.
The Associated Press obtained the correspondence of one investigator – an auxiliary of the Rome diocese and a Jesuit, Bishop Daniele Libanori – who says the allegations are correct, and that Fr. Rupnik’s victims had “seen their lives ruined by the evil suffered and by the [Church’s] complicit silence.”
It’s hard not to run up against the statute of limitations when superiors systematically refuse to consider allegations until after the statute of limitations has expired. The subsequent handwringing – of the “Oh, there’s nothing we can do!” variety – fails to convince, not least because the Code of Canon Law provides for the waiving of the statute.
The Jesuit pope and the Jesuit Prefect closed the books on the celebrity Jesuit creep who lived just across the river and up the street.
(If you are doing a double take right now, wondering how it is that there should be no independent investigative arm or judicial tribunal for these sorts of matters even this late in the day, well, you are not alone.)
It appears that Fr. Rupnik’s 1993 departure from Slovenia had something to do with allegations of grave misbehavior. It was in that year – 1993 – that Rupnik came to Rome and established his Centro Aletti institute for art and culture. He would go on to decorate chapels and shrines the world, over. He would receive awards and accolades even be invited to preach – in March 2020, more than a year after the Jesuits received the allegation of crime in the confessional and months after the Vatican panel of judges had unanimously decided that Rupnik had done the thing of which he was accused – to preach a Lenten retreat to the Papal Household.
The case of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, keeps getting worse.
Every time we learn something new about the case, the mishandling of it at every level appears more appalling. There was the fine distinction between “covering up” and merely not saying anything, which Fr. Arturo Sosa – Superior General of the Society of Jesus – offered in the wake of the story’s breaking. There was the egregiously thin timeline the Jesuits published along with improbable assurances that victim “will be listened to with understanding and with empathy.”
The Jesuits’ response to this unutterably awful business has been ghastly, vile, horrid.
To hear one accuser tell it, the Jesuits knew about him in the ‘90s: Fr. Francisco Egaña SJ heard of Fr. Rupnik’s behavior no later than 1998; so did Tomáš Josef Špidlík, SJ – a close friend to Rupnik and a board member of the Centro Aletti art center of which Rupnik was the founding director – created Cardinal in 2003. All this puts the Dec. 14th statement from Fr. General Sosa in glaring light.
“The case of Fr. Marko Rupnik, which became public last week [i.e. the first week of December, Ed.],” said Fr. Sosa, “is a good example of how much we still have to learn, especially about people’s suffering.”
A candid observer may reasonably conclude that Churchmen – including, senior Jesuits, and including among those the one in the Apostolic Palace – are still trying to perfect the playbook they have employed in cases from Maciel, to McCarrick, to Danneels (who begged a child abused by his uncle – a priest – not to go to the police, after which Pope Francis appointed His Eminence to the Synod on the Family) and Delft (the Caritas director who had his way with boys on at least two continents) and Leatherby (whose grooming and abuse playbook tracks eerily with that of Rupnik) and … for God’s sake, how many others?
In 2018, Pope Francis said that he was “part of the problem” plaguing the Church. One is tempted to say, sic et simpliciter, that today Francis is the problem. Nevertheless, it is not just Francis. It is not only Francis with all his coterie of implausible goons. Leadership culture in the Church has been rotten for a very long time. Now, it appears that corruption permeates the Church’s whole leadership apparatus.
The Slovenian bishops have issued a statement – just this morning, December 22nd – saying, among other things: “[T]he current Slovenian bishops have learned about [the criminal perversion of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ] from publications in the media.” That is very carefully worded, indeed, though precisely no one struggles to believe that the former Slovenian bishops knew of the allegations against Rupnik and did what they could to keep them under wraps.
“The news about the abuses committed by Fr. Rupnik have shocked the Slovenian and global public,” the statement goes on to say. “We have known Fr. Rupnik as an outstanding artist and insightful spiritual leader who has marked many personal lives and communities and created many works of art and spiritual literature.” They say they “understand that many of you are hurt by this news and that you are wondering whether or not it should all be thrown away.”
“We beg you,” they say, “with this tragic realization in mind, to distinguish his unacceptable and reprehensible actions from his extraordinary spiritual and artistic accomplishments in mosaics and other areas.” They’re worried about their stuff.
“Only by working together,” the Slovenian bishops say, “and breaking the silence, which sides with the perpetrators, can we stop this evil.” That is absolutely true, and every word of it is still a lie.
All this has been a long time coming, too, but it has emerged on Francis’s watch.
If Pope Francis would not have this be the sum of his legacy, he should dispense with half-measures and paper reforms, and pick up the Augean shovel. At the very least, he should explain himself in respect of Marko Rupnik, inexplicably styled Fr. Rupnik, SJ.
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