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ROME – On Friday the bishop who oversees a famed Marian shrine in Lourdes said he is considering removing mosaics installed by a prominent Jesuit artist accused of sexual misconduct due to the potential harm their presence could inflict on victims.
In a March 31 statement, Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes said the mosaics were commissioned in 2008, for the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Lourdes, when the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a young woman named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
According to tradition, the Virgin Mary offered a message of penance and asked Bernadette to dig a hole in the ground, forming a spring with waters said to have healing properties. The location of the apparitions is now home to a large shrine, drawing pilgrims and visitors from all over the world, specifically those with disabilities, who are often immersed in large baths whose water comes from the spring.
The mosaics depicting the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary adorn the façade of the shrine’s main Basilica of the Rosary, and they are the work of Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, a famed Catholic artist whose works can be seen in other chapels and shrines throughout the world, including the Vatican.
Last year Rupnik was accused of sexual misconduct with nuns and barred by his order from public ministry. He was later also barred from any public artistic activity.
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In his statement, Micas said Rupnik’s murals “are appreciated by some, less by others, but the vast majority of pilgrims and visitors to Lourdes emphasize their beauty.”
Given the allegations that have arisen against Rupnik over the past few months and the fact that he has been sanctioned by his order, Micas said the question has arisen about the status of Rupnik’s works and what the future might hold for his once-prized mosaics.
Since the Lourdes shrine is traditionally seen as a place of healing, “the general question of the status of the works of artists involved in situations of abuse takes on a considerably more sensitive character here,” Micas said, noting that many victims of abuse have come to Lourdes in search of consolation.
“Their distress is great in front of Father Rupnik’s mosaics, in this same place: We cannot ignore it,” he said.
For this reason, Micas said a meeting was held on March 27 with the rector of the Lourdes shrine, Father Michel Daubanes, as well as the shrine’s Orientation Council to discuss what should be done about the Rupnik mosaics at the shrine.
“The subject was approached with great seriousness: we now know that the victims must be at the center of our thoughts, and any decision will have serious consequences,” Micas said.
To this end, he said a “reflection group” dedicated to the issue will be created in April consisting of himself, Daubanes, an abuse survivor, and a psychotherapist.
The task of this group, Micas said, will be to “Elaborate the elements necessary to make the best decision; Carry out this reflection in the most serene way possible; and to not reject any hypothetical decision a priori.”
“I entrust this process and the decision that will be made to the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, and to the mercy of God,” Micas said, saying he is counting on the prayers and support of faithful in his diocese and of all those with an affinity for the Lourdes shrine.
Allegations against Rupnik surfaced last December of both psychological abuse and sexual misconduct with women belonging to the Loyola Community, a religious order in Rupnik’s native Slovenia, and their allegations dated back to the 1990s, when Rupnik served there as a spiritual advisor.
Once the accusations went public, the Jesuits admitted that Rupnik had been briefly excommunicated in 2020 for having committed one of the Catholic Church’s most serious sins by using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations. Rupnik reportedly repented of the crime and his excommunication was lifted within a month.
In 2021, Rupnik was formally accused by nine members of the Loyola Community of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse and a Vatican inquiry was launched by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), led by Spanish Jesuit Luis Ladaria, however, that process quickly ended as the DDF refused to lift the statute of limitations, thus judging that the alleged offenses could not be prosecuted.
As the scandal surrounding Rupnik’s case unfolded last fall, the Jesuits barred him from ministry and invited anyone with other claims to come forward, which resulted in 15 more people issuing complaints against Rupnik.
The Jesuits are currently conducting their own internal inquiry into Rupnik, who thus far has refused to meet with a working group tasked with handling his case, to see if he will repent. If he does not, potential disciplinary measures include the possibility of being defrocked.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen