ROME – Despite being expelled in July from his Jesuit order over charges of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse, famed Slovenian artist Father Marko Rupnik’s base of operations in Rome has drawn a clean bill of health from the pope’s diocese, which praised his Centro Aletti for fostering “a healthy community life free of particular critical issues.”
A Sept. 18 note from the Diocese of Rome also said its review had identified “gravely anomalous procedures” behind a May 2020 decree of excommunication against Rupnik from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, raising what the statement called “well-founded doubts” about the decision.
That 2020 excommunication, which was lifted after 15 days under what remain murky circumstances, concerned using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activity, considered a serious crime under Church law.
Beyond that specific charge, several women have accused Rupnik of various forms of abuse stretching over 30 years. Following an internal investigation, the Jesuit order announced in June that they found the claims to be “very highly credible.”
Despite his exit from the order, Rupnik remains a priest in good standing, although it’s unclear which diocese, if any, has agreed to receive him, and it’s also unknown if he’s currently facing a procedure that could lead to his removal from the priesthood.
The new laudatory statement from the Diocese of Rome came after a Sept. 15 audience with Pope Francis and Maria Campatelli, an Italian lay theologian who is a key figure at the Centro Aletti and who has defended Rupnik against abuse charges.
In June, Campatelli complained of a “a media campaign based on defamatory and unproven accusations” against Rupnik, suggesting he and the Centro Aletti had been victims of a form of “lynching.”
According to the statement from the Diocese of Rome, the pope’s vicar, Italian Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, launched a review of the Centro Aletti in January after the charges against Rupnik had become public. The inquiry was conducted by Father Giacomo Incitti, a professor of Church law at Rome’s Urban University.
The statement indicated that Incitti essentially gave the center a thumbs-up.
“It emerges clearly that within the Centro Aletti, a healthy community life free of any particular critical issues is present,” it said.
“The visitor was able to ascertain that the members of the Centro Aletti, although saddened by the accusations and the ways in which they were handled, chose to maintain silence – despite the vehemence of the media – to guard their hearts and not to claim any irreproachability with which to stand as judges of others.”
“The entire affair, in the judgment of the visitor, has helped the persons who live the experience of the Centro Aletti to reinforce their trust in the Lord, in the awareness that the gift of life in God makes space for itself also in trials,” it said.
The report said that certain changes in the governing statutes have been necessary in light of the decision of the Jesuits to withdraw, but that those revisions have left the aims of the center basically intact.
Incitti’s report, according to the statement, also raised questions about the 2020 excommunication.
“The visitor also examined the main accusations that were made against Fr. Rupnik, especially the one that led to the request for excommunication,” it said.
“Based on the copious documentary material studied, the visitor was able to find, and therefore reported, gravely anomalous procedures whose examination also generated well-founded doubts about the request for excommunication itself,” the statement said.
In light of those doubts, the statement said, De Donatis has “presented the report to the competent authorities,” presumably meaning Pope Francis and the doctrinal congregation.
This is not the first time De Donatis, 69, has appeared to come to Rupnik’s defense. In January, he warned against a rush to judgment.
“We ministers of Christ can’t be less committed to the due process of law, and less charitable, than a secular state, automatically transforming an accusation into a crime,” he said.
At the time, De Donatis’s handling of the Rupnik case was believed to be part of the reason for an overhaul of the Diocese of Rome decreed by Francis in early January, taking away most of the vicar’s power and transferring it to auxiliary bishops and pointedly stating that De Donatis must not “undertake important initiatives or ones exceeding ordinary administration without first having reported to me.”
It’s unclear what the verdict of the Diocese of Rome may mean in terms of Rupnik’s future. Most observers consider it unlikely the diocese would have issued such a statement without at least submitting it first to Pope Francis, but much the same conclusion was drawn when the Jesuits issued their conclusions and decree of expulsion over the summer.
Reaction to the statement in the Italian media has been broad, and, at times, critical.
The influential blog Il Sismografo, for example, accused the statement from the Diocese of Rome of “intolerable and dishonest verbal acrobatics,” while veteran Vatican correspondent Franca Giansoldati wrote in Il Messaggero that “an unprecedented clash with unpredictable consequences is emerging among the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, the Jesuit order and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Referring to Rupnik’s alleged victims, the website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana wrote, “The lone certainty is the continuous humiliation of these women, and the total disinterest in their regard, just as everyone gets drunk on the rhetoric of synodality and the ministries of women.”