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The Rupnik scandal, deeper and deeper [News Analysis]

September 20, 2023

“After the statement from the Rome vicariate on Monday announcing a clean bill of health for the Centro Aletti, the only question is: What do you call a whitewash that is also a coverup that is also a snow job?” asks Christopher Altieri, writing in Catholic World Report. He answers his own rhetorical question at the end of an informative essay, with an expression that is indelicate but accurate (rendered in Latin to elude the editorial censors).

The statement in question is the latest outcropping of the scandal surrounding Father Marko Rupnik, the artist/theologian who founded the Aletti Center, who has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse, and who—having been expelled from the Jesuit order—remains a priest, but without a superior. An investigation of the Aletti Center, ordered by the vicariate of Rome, concluded with a report that the Center is fundamentally healthy, despite its continued support for Rupnik. In fact the report questioned the accusations against the former Jesuit.

That report—coming hard on the heels of a friendly meeting between Pope Francis and Maria Campatelli, a director of the Aletti Center who has decried the “defamatory and unproven accusations” against Rupnik—understandably left the priest’s accusers “speechless, without words left to cry out our shock, our scandal.” In an open letter, five of the women religious who have brought charges against Rupnik said that the report—issued by the Rome diocese, under the direct authority of Pope Francis—made a mockery of the “zero tolerance” policy toward abuse; they said that public policy is belied by actions “that support and cover up for the perpetrators of abuse.”

The accusations against Rupnik are unquestionably grave: sexual abuse, psychological manipulation and intimidation, violation of the confessional, some acts so perverse and blasphemous that I recoil from mentioning them. Of course we do not know whether the accusations are true. But we do know that there are dozens of such complaints, that a preliminary inquiry by the Jesuit order found them credible, that the order placed restrictions on his ministry, and that in May 2020 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a decree of excommunication against Rupnik for absolving an accomplice in an immoral act.

But then the excommunication was lifted almost immediately, which could not have happened without the approval of Pope Francis, who had chosen Father Rupnik to preach one of the Lenten Sermons that year. Notwithstanding orders from his Jesuit superiors that he should not lead spiritual exercises, Rupnik continued to do exactly that, preaching and leading retreats in and around Rome. His artwork was prominently displayed at Vatican events. None of the charges against Rupnik, and of course none of the disciplinary restrictions placed on him, were made public.

Then late last year another set of charges become public, and his Jesuit superior confirmed that these charges were “very highly credible.” Because of that, and because of his “stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience” in response to earlier restrictions, he was expelled from the order. But because the charges against him involved abuse of adults, he has escaped a canonical trial that might have resulted in his laicization.

The Society of Jesus has severed their official ties with the Aletti Center. In response the directors of the Center have essentially thumbed their noses at the Society, continuing to support Rupnik. And now the vicariate of Rome appears to be supporting the Center. To complicate the scandal still further, Ed Condon of The Pillar points out that the vicariate investigation reportedly involved reference to “copious” documents, which—if, as strongly suggested, were relevant to the canonical trial that resulted in his excommunication—were supposedly sealed. How did the investigator gain access to those documents? Condon reasons that the most likely answers to that question “point either to serious lapses in the handling of confidential materials, or a concerted effort to undermine Rupnik’s conviction and defend his reputation.”

There is an open sign of conflict here between the Society of Jesus and the vicariate of Rome, taking place under the eyes of a Jesuit Pontiff. (And the possibility that Cardinal De Donatis, the papal vicar from Rome, would have authorized the release of that report without at least tacit approval from the Pontiff can safely be dismissed.) That in itself is curious. But if there is indeed a move afoot to rehabilitate Father Rupnik, and if that effort has even a hint of support from the Pope who has so often pledged his commitment to punishing abusers, this case offers the most conclusive evidence to date that Pope Francis has not honored that commitment.

—Phil Lawler


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  • Posted by: IM4HIM - Sep. 28, 2023 12:45 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis and many others in the Church hierarchy have lost their credibility in the eyes of the faithful and society at large because of their actions and inactions. Our faith must be rooted in Jesus and His teachings, not in the personal opinions or actions of the hierarchy.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Sep. 22, 2023 6:31 PM ET USA

    But then the American Church is too fundamentalist!

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Sep. 21, 2023 2:38 PM ET USA

    One of the things that I find most disconcerting about the never ending "Pope Francis Drip, Drip, Drip..." is that you hardly hear any fraternal corrections from the bishops and cardinals. Don't they see the damage that this pontificate is doing to the Church, are they afraid of being called the pope's enemy, do they agree with what Pope Francis is doing, do they have their heads buried in the sand?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 21, 2023 12:40 AM ET USA

    Above the law? Why do Vatican politics more and more resemble White House politics under Democrat "rule" (cf. Valerie Jarrett, 9 November 2008).