ROME – A month after announcing the expulsion of the artist-priest Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, accused of sexually abusing several adult women, on the grounds of disobedience, Pope Francis’s own Jesuit order confirmed the decision Monday.
Father Johan Verschueren, the permanent delegate of the Society of Jesus for houses, works and inter-provincial Jesuits in Rome, who oversaw the order’s investigation into allegations against Rupnik, made the announcement in a July 24 letter.
Verschueren said that since the 30 days under church law allowing Rupnik to appeal his June 14 decree of expulsion had passed, “We can declare today that he is no longer a Jesuit religious.”
The confirmation means that Rupnik is no longer a Jesuit, though for the moment he remains a Catholic priest. In terms of what the future might bring, Verschueren told Crux the order is wondering too.
“We are actually living with the same questions,” he said. “Fr. Rupnik certainly won’t tell us where he is, and how he conceives his future.”
The Jesuit decree issued in June stated that Rupnik had been expelled on grounds of disobedience after refusing an order to leave a Jesuit house attached to the Aletti Center he founded in Rome and move to a different location, to take responsibility for his past crimes and to offer some sort of reparation toward those who launched the allegations.
According to Verschueren’s letter, there is no longer a Jesuit house attached to the Aletti Center.
After the announcement of Rupnik’s expulsion, the Aletti Center issued its own statement saying Rupnik had requested to leave the Jesuits in January, well before he received the order in March to leave and move to a different community.
It also said that each of the Jesuits residing at the community house attached to the center had also requested to leave the Society of Jesus, and they accused the media of launching a smear campaign against Rupnik, saying he has denied all of the allegations.
Verschueren said in his letter that Rupnik had indeed requested to leave the Jesuits, but that option “never in any way represented a ‘right’ for him, given that the vows he made one day in the Society of Jesus bound him to a lifelong commitment of obedience.”
Therefore, there was no obligation for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to grant Rupnik’s request, he said.
The reason why the Society of Jesus did not accept Rupnik’s request to leave, Verschueren said, “arose from the desire to bind him to his responsibilities in the face of so many accusations, inviting him to embark on a path of truth and confrontation with the evil denounced by so many people who felt hurt.”
“Unfortunately, he did not want to accept our invitation and we found ourselves in need of dismissing him from the Society for reasons already mentioned,” Verschueren said.
A famed Catholic artist and muralist whose works adorn chapels and shrines around the world, including the Vatican and the famous Marian shrine in Lourdes, France, Rupnik, 68, has been under investigation and had been barred from public ministry after allegations of sexual misconduct with nuns spanning some 30 years surfaced last year.
His case made headlines last December when Italian blogs and websites reported that for years, consecrated women had accused him of spiritual and psychological abuse and sexual misconduct. The women belonged to the “Skupnosti Loyola” or 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.
After initial reports on the Rupnik allegations began to circulate last year, the Jesuit Order admitted that Rupnik had been briefly excommunicated in 2020 for having committed one of the church’s most serious crimes: using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations.
Rupnik reportedly repented and the excommunication was quickly lifted a month later.
However, a year after that, Rupnik was accused by nine women of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing them at the Loyola Community, which he co-founded, in the 1990s.
At the time, the Jesuits recommended that a canonical trial be opened, however the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), led by Spanish Jesuit Luis Ladaria, denied the request, refusing to lift the statute of limitations, which it has done in other cases, thus declaring the offenses unable to be prosecuted.
Details Rupnik’s case have remained obscure, with many questioning who lifted the excommunication in 2020, why it was lifted so quickly, and if he was perhaps protected by the Vatican – where a Jesuit pope reigns, and another at the time led the office where abuse allegations are tried.
In his letter, Verschueren said that as the one in charge of Rupnik’s case, “I cannot help but greatly regret this insistent and stubborn inability to deal with the voice of so many people who have felt hurt, offended, and humiliated by his behavior and his way of acting and behaving towards them.”
“What has been said does not exclude the good he has done, and the spiritual fruit of which he has been the intermediary for many and for many others in the church. However, we must remember what Jesus taught us,” he said, citing the Gospel passage which urges believers to reconcile with their brothers and sisters before offering their gift to God.
Verschueren also addressed the question of Rupnik’s dismissal from the clerical state and why that avenue was not pursued.
In his letter, Verschueren said power to strip Rupnik of his status as a priest lies with the Holy See, not the Society of Jesus, and he insisted that in his own decision-making on the case, he sought to pursue a process “that could guarantee the judicial assessment of the facts, the right to defense, and the consequent sanctions (or possible acquittal).”
However, “various reasons, including the current limits of the norms relating to similar situations, did not allow this,” he said.
Verschueren also said it is “the firm desire” of the Jesuits to legally distance themselves from the Aletti Center. He said the Jesuits are holding conversations with the Vicariate of Rome, where the center is located, to seek “the best way to terminate partnership relations with the center.”
“To all those who have felt and still feel hurt by this once-brother of ours, I assure you of my full solidarity and openness to finding in the future the best ways to reflect on how to find inner peace and reconciliation through paths that we can study together,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen