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The Rupnik affair is a microcosm of Church’s leadership crisis

All the laws in all the world, all the paper reforms and speeches and exhortations and pleas and promises are worth exactly as much as those in charge are willing to put behind them in dollars and cents, to show they are earnest and make them stick.

Pope Francis greets Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik during a private audience at the Vatican in this Jan. 3, 2022, file photo. Father Rupnik, whose mosaics decorate chapels in the Vatican, all over Europe, in the United States and Australia, is under restricted ministry after being accused of abusing adult nuns in Slovenia. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

This Rupnik business is very bad. There’s no telling how bad it will be for Pope Francis, the Vatican, the Jesuits, or the Slovenian bishops. There’s plenty of bad to go around.

Rupnik’s art is to be found in shrines and chapels all over the world. That’s what makes this Rupnik business appear to be a world-in-a-nutshell instance of the Church’s leadership crisis and the effect of it on the institution and the faithful worldwide.

The Inescapable Rupnik

There is no escaping it. Lourdes. Fatima. Padre Pio’s crypt in San Giovanni Rotondo. Pope St. John Paul II’s shrines in Krakow and Washington, DC. Madrid’s cathedral adoration chapel. Aparecida. The Redemptoris mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Even the image most closely associated with Pope Francis’s signature Year of Mercy.

Those are just a few of the Catholic places – several of them major pilgrimage sites – at which one cannot avoid the artwork of Fr. Marko I. Rupnik, SJ, the Jesuit priest and world-renowned mosaic artist accused of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing at least nine women over several years.

Fr. Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors reportedly heard the allegations against him more than twenty years ago, but either turned a blind eye or actively covered for their guy, whose fame was growing and whose stock was high in the papal apartments.

A couple of years ago, Bishop Daniele Libanori SJ conducted a fact-finding mission called an “Apostolic Visitation” to a community of women religious that Fr. Rupnik had helped found in his native Slovenia. There, Libanori – another Jesuit – uncovered and finally succeeded in pinning one accusation on his celebrity confrere. The Vatican decided that Rupnik had absolved an “accomplice” to his “sins against the Sixth Commandment” – that’s Church jargon for sexual misbehavior – but the Vatican office responsible for investigating and prosecuting sex crimes passed on the chance to prosecute Rupnik for his actual crimes of abuse.

Luis Ladaria, SJ – the Jesuit prefect of the Congregation Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – who came into his position through the Jesuit pope, decided not to waive the canonical statute of limitations and try the celebrity Jesuit artist-priest on charges of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse.

The Jesuits put secret restrictions on their Fr. Rupnik, but those strictures did not keep the priest from travelling the world, receiving awards and accolades, or even from preaching a Lenten retreat to the papal household during 2020, while judges were deciding what to do about the charge of absolving an accomplice. Eventually, the excommunication Rupnik automatically incurred would be declared administratively, then lifted less than a month later.

Sure, statutes of limitations exist for a reason – mostly, to guarantee that someone accused of a crime has the wherewithal to mount a defense worth the name – but the CDDF usually has no trouble waiving the statute for crimes like the ones of which Rupnik is accused, and anyway both Rupnik and (some, at least, of) his alleged victims are alive and well enough. Encouraged by Bishop Libanori, SJ, several of Rupnik’s accusers have filed formal complaints against him within the last two years.

Vos estis(ne) lux mundi?

If the bald facts of the Rupnik Affair were to have come to light in any other chancery anywhere in the world, the faithful of those places would rightly be screaming for the Vatican to use Vos estis lux mundi, the potentially powerful paper reform Pope Francis introduced in 2019, to discover the precise nature and extent of the wrongdoing and begin to rectify it.

The Vatican has been extremely reluctant to use Vos estis, to say the very least.

For one thing, the Vatican still does not have an independent investigative arm to receive complaints and act on them, nor is there an independent judiciary in which to try cases investigators refer for prosecution.

Everything is done within a single dicastery – an outfit within the Roman administrative apparatus that is somewhere between a government ministry and an executive department – while the office within the department that handles investigations and prosecutions is critically understaffed and chronically cash-strapped.

The discipline section of DDF has a worldwide remit. There are well over a billion Catholics alive on planet Earth.There are fewer than two dozen people working full time in the discipline section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the whole of which has a budget of a paltry few million Euro per annum. By contrast, the 2022 budget for the Department of Justice in the US State of Montana was $114,965,234.

All the laws in all the world, all the paper reforms and speeches and exhortations and pleas and promises are worth exactly as much as those in charge are willing to put behind them in dollars and cents, to show they are earnest and make them stick.

Apostolica sedes a nemine iudicatur.

Around the time that the Vatican was rolling out Pope Francis’s signature reform law, Vos estis lux mundi, I was standing with a group of reporters in the Vatican press office. One of them – a new face, if memory serves – asked (ipsa vox), “Are they serious about it this time?”

If you want to know whether they’re serious,” I offered, “then consider that Dick Malone is still in his job, and Siobhan O’Connor isn’t.”

Richard Joseph Malone was then the Bishop of Buffalo, NY. He had been embroiled in a coverup scandal that had long since become national news in the US. Siobhan O’Connor was a former Buffalo chancery employee and the whistleblower who helped bring the story to light.

It would be August before Rome would take an interest in Buffalo. Malone would be out by the end of the year, but he never faced a canonical criminal investigation. Roman hands were careful to avoid that, opting for an Apostolic Visitation – that’s a sort of fact-finding mission that has a broad scope and can be conducted more discreetly than a criminal probe – rather than a test of Pope Francis’s reform.

Even if the Vatican types wanted to Vos estis themselves – and they don’t – they couldn’t. They’ve made sure of that. No one on earth can Vos estis the pope. The Apostolic See is judged by no man.


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About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
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.

21 Comments

  1. It’s a papacy that is a mess..
    Something Francis himself recommended… So he’s practicing what he preached… To the detriment of the entire Church…

  2. In a normal world, Bergoglio and his coterie around the world would all be charged for crimes of violating ecclesiastical RICO laws.

  3. This moral mess is beyond “replying to”. The”Sweet Christ”, the
    Vicar of Christ on earth, is owed allegiance by all, “even if
    he were the Devil incarnate” —(St.Catherine of Siena). So who,
    except God, is above Pope Francis? That means the same people —
    THAT’S US — who owe allegiance to Francis will REPLY BEST by non-stop “pray, penance, and almsgiving” . . and REPARATION, Eucharistic preferably, while suffering this Pontificate to its . . conclusion? . . or to the ushering in of the Anti-Christ?

    • Don’t confuse the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest…alas, if Sweet Truth be Love and Light:

      Saint Catherine is even by this one article amply heard afresh divinely echoed:

      Alas, alas, sweetest father mine, pardon my presumption in what I have said to you and am saying; I am constrained by the Sweet Primal Truth to say it. His will, father, is this, and thus demands of you. It demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church; declaring that brutes should not be fed with the food of men. Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honour to God and health to your soul would it be.

      AAuthority also you have, to give peace to those who ask you for it. Then, since you are not poor but rich, you who bear in your hand the keys of Heaven, to whom you open it is open, and to whom you shut it is shut. If you do not do this, you would be rebuked by God. I, if I were in your place, should fear lest divine judgment come upon me. Therefore I beg you most gently on behalf of Christ crucified to be obedient to the will of God, for I know that you want and desire no other thing than to do His will, that this sharp rebuke fall not upon you : “Cursed be thou, for the time and the strength entrusted to thee thou hast not used.”

      Blessings of Christ’sMass!

    • Let’s not forget that St. Catherine of Siena also reprimanded the very same pope and declared that if he did not get his act together for the sake of the unity of the Church, it would be better that he resign lest he face the wrath of God. We should be asking Heaven to send us a holy prophet to hold this bad pope accountable.

    • Saint Catherine of Siena, Letter to Pope Gregory XI:

      Alas, alas, sweetest father mine, pardon my presumption in what I have said to you and am saying; I am constrained by the Sweet Primal Truth to say it. His will, father, is this, and thus demands of you. It demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church; declaring that brutes should not be fed with the food of men. Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honour to God and health to your soul would it be.

      Authority also you have, to give peace to those who ask you for it. Then, since you are not poor but rich, you who bear in your hand the keys of Heaven, to whom you open it is open, and to whom you shut it is shut. If you do not do this, you would be rebuked by God. I, if I were in your place, should fear lest divine judgment come upon me. Therefore I beg you most gently on behalf of Christ crucified to be obedient to the will of God, for I know that you want and desire no other thing than to do His will, that this sharp rebuke fall not upon you : “Cursed be thou, for the time and the strength entrusted to thee thou hast not used.”

    • In truth, we owe allegiance to no one but God and his glorified Son, Jesus Christ. How many Popes have been corrupt over the centuries? Far more than the ones that weren’t. Trust nothing but the word of God. The Church since the early centuries has been led by fallible humans all susceptible to temptation and corruption. Many have lived up to their human failings.

    • The big problem with the Catholic Church is that there is no good way to address corruption in the hierarchy. If the Bishops/Cardinals/Pope become corrupt, our answer is to do…nothing! Because, you know, somehow even the corrupt clergy are so high above us that we are not worthy to stop them from destroying the Church from the inside. Right?

      To this I say “Balderdash!” It is this mentality which causes corruption which just doesn’t last days/weeks/months — but years, decades and CENTURIES.

      Shame on the laity for tolerating corruption in the clergy. Shame on the laity for deifying the clergy and making them incapable of taking correction by anybody but other clergy or Death.

      When I see this mindset, from good people no less, I honestly have to say, “Thank God for the Protestants.”

      • “The big problem with the Catholic Church is that there is no good way to address corruption in the hierarchy.”

        Yes, there is: expose it.

        “When I see this mindset, from good people no less, I honestly have to say, ‘Thank God for the Protestants.'”

        There are a host of problems with corruption and abuse among Protestant groups. And most are even less effective at dealing with said problems than are Catholics.

        • Carl, I appreciate the work you do and have for many years. I also appreciate your commentary and exposure of the problems in the Church.

          BUT, and this is a big BUT, we are waaaaaaayyyyyy beyond just exposing corruption/weakness in the Church and hoping the exposed parties shape up or other parties rise up to take action.

          In a way, our problem in the American Church mirrors our problem in American politics: The good people are not willing to stand up and fight the bad guys in such a way that hurts them much, and the bad guys have figured that out. Figured that out and become bolder…

          The problem is, indeed, the people in power. But an equally-big problem is that we are not man enough to stand up to them or somehow feel we don’t have the “authority” to do so. Nothing changes until the people in power feel more pain than they feel now.

  4. https://www.pillarcatholic.com/the-complex-case-of-fr-marko-rupnik-untangled/

    Another seemingly more balanced / truthful view above – unsure if the priest has only been accused of misbehavior so far .. when there are also motives of money on the victim side and realms of spiritual warfare on both sides –

    https://www.catholicexorcism.org/post/exorcist-diary-221-it-s-all-good-father

    The just and merciful means to deal with it all – may be far more complex …
    do families that have history of sins against marriage / life be precluded from all related realms for the rest of their lives …having means of just and merciful means esp. in vigorous measures of prevention too for those who seem esp. harshly treated – such as the priests …

    Hearing about the traffic snafus in the nation causing problems in many families – ? need to also see same as effect of the cold heartedness of the head of the related Dept.,in being an unholy example of what a family is to be !

    More than laws, more insight and means into the spiritual realms such as in the ministry of exrocism , The Precious Blood and Divine Will devotions …. the Holy Father is doing his share of same in ways that meet the needs of our times -esp. the catechetical lessons including warnings about polite demons and spiritual worldliness and all – seeing money and political power as more than The Spirit -may the ears and hearts be open to same !

    • Oh please. When you lack real moral and spiritual wisdom, it is easy to pretend to have it by condemning the old standbys, violence and love of money. When has Francis ever demonstrated actual wisdom on sexual ethics? When has he even drawn a connection between abortion and the sloppy moral standards of the sex revolution? On the contrary, he condemns concern for the first as an “obsession” and has cast doubt whether “below the belt” matters are even sinful.

  5. “Fr. Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors reportedly heard the allegations against him more than twenty years ago, but either turned a blind eye or actively covered for their guy, whose fame was growing and whose stock was high in the papal apartments.”

    In fairness; I could imagine the difficulty Jesuits would have believing that one of their members had illicit carnal appetites directed to women.

  6. Not familiar with MarksmanRuperstiltickel’s mosaics, I turned to Google. I discovered that Jimmy Martin did a little write-up about Marko Rupnik for America ragazine in 2009. Jimmy featured Rupnik in a video and a photo gallery. Guess what? Both have now disappeared. Like a magic show of smoke and mirrors. Pooph. With a wave of the hand, they’re gone.

    /www.americamagazine.org/issue/682/100/mosaics-marko-rupnik

    I’m curious; how many mosaics feature three eyes between two beings? Mr. Altieri writes that the Vatican ‘turned a blind eye’ to Rupnik’s exposing his misdeeds to those with eyes that see.

  7. Harsh yet, justified criticism of Papa is not something that CWR doesn’t want to attend to! While it is to be respected, those who love the church need to be heard.

    Luke 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,

    2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

    1 Corinthians 13:6 It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

    Matthew 23:1-Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, …

      • Dear Merion:

        Thank you for drawing attention to a rather awkward remark! It does happen to yours truly, more than I might wish!

        God bless you in your efforts to proclaim righteousness clothed with common sense.

        Yours in Christ,

        Brian

  8. Altieri is right in respect to the inviolability of papal authority, that this preeminence in the Church cannot be judged – although this judgment has two distinct meanings.
    First. We cannot judge the pontiff’s authority, by negation of that authority. Second. We can judge the benevolent or detrimental use of that authority. As we find in the references here to St Catherine of Siena.
    For examples, we may criticize Francis’ refusal to reply to the Dubia. We cannot prosecute him for that refusal. Similarly, many strongly criticized Francis, and rightly so for his refusal to respond to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s allegations regarding his knowledge of the McCarrick dossier. We cannot censure him for refusing.
    There is a misunderstanding among pious laity who contend that inviolability of pontifical preeminence raises a pontiff, Francis, above any reproach. That a pontiff even if he makes an inadvertent blunder, misguided statement is so inviolable to evil that he cannot be the cause of evil taking hold among the faithful. That’s the issue argued at length in the recent Feser article, When do popes teach infallibly?. That query infers whether God would permit a pontiff to misguide the Church outside of his ex Cathedra infallible office. That’s an issue that previously didn’t seem possible until 2013. Nevertheless, we cannot fully know the mind of God. The Aryan heresy though virtually universal addressed a single theological doctrine that was beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of Christians. Practice of the faith remained relatively intact. Whereas today there’s virtually total reevaluation of Catholic Christian doctrine. A significant error was addressed by me in Dr Feser’s article, the doctrine on worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.
    Archbishop Cordileone banned Nancy Pelosi from receiving the Holy Eucharist May 20. June 29 Pope Francis published his Apostolic Letter Desiderio desideravi, “To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word.” Francis had previously criticized the Archbishop for not being pastorally sensitive, standing by previous comments that no one should be denied the Eucharist.
    This is a public declaration that repudiates Catholic doctrine requiring confession and repentance for serious sin prior to receiving the Eucharist. Doctrine that reaches back to the Apostle Paul who instructed the faithful, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor 11:26-27).
    Wearing the wedding garment is more than belief. The virgins who were left outside in the dark believed, although did not practice the faith sufficiently. Wearing the garment refers to a real faith that lives the commandments.

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