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ROME – Reports emerged this week that Slovenian Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a world-famous artist whose murals adorn the walls of churches and chapels throughout the Vatican and beyond, has been accused of sexual misconduct with nuns and has been barred by his order from public ministry.
This makes Rupnik, 68, the latest in a series of high-profile Catholic individuals in recent years to face such allegations, including famed French layman Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community that assists intellectually disabled adults, and the late Father Werenfried van Straaten, a Dutch priest who founded the papally-sponsored Catholic charity “Aid to the Church in Need” in 1952 to aid persecuted Christians.
In a statement dated Dec. 2, the Society of Jesus to which Rupnik belongs said that a complaint was made against him in 2021 and sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), which deals with clergy abuse cases.
“No minors were involved,” the statement said, but in the wake the complaint the order was instructed to conduct a preliminary investigation, and immediately appointed “a religious from another institute” as external investigator.
They did not name the individual appointed to investigate, but numerous media outlets have identified him as Bishop Daniele Libanori, who currently serves as auxiliary bishop of Rome for the city’s central sector.
According to the Jesuits’ statement, which was published on the conservative Catholic blog Silere non possum (“I cannot be silent”), several people gave their testimony as part of the inquiry, and afterward a final report was submitted to the DDF.
During the course of the investigation, “various precautionary measures” were taken against Rupnik, including a ban on hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction and conducting spiritual exercises. He was also barred from engaging in public activities without the permission of his local superior.
After studying the contents of the preliminary investigation, “the DDF found that the facts in question were time-barred and therefore closed the case at the beginning of October this year 2022,” the statement said.
However, the Jesuits insisted that despite the DDF’s ruling, the restrictions imposed on Rupnik “are still in force today as administrative measures.”
“The Society of Jesus takes seriously any complaint against one of its members. The mission of the Society of Jesus is also a mission of reconciliation. And we want to welcome everyone and everyone openly,” the statement said.
The Vatican itself has yet to issue a statement on the Rupnik case.
Rupnik both works and resides at the Centro Aletti, a community of international artists and theologians, women and men, located in Rome. His weekly Sunday homilies are still available on the center’s website and YouTube channel.
Multiple Italian news outlets have reported on the Rupnik case in recent days and weeks, saying the complaints against him involve spiritual and psychological abuse and sexual misconduct committed against women belonging to the “Skupnosti Loyola” or Loyola Community, religious order in his native Slovenia, in the 1990s, when he served as a spiritual advisor.
For over 30 years, Rupnik has designed mosaics for chapels, churches, and shrines around the world, gaining him international acclaim and prestige.
Among his most famous works are the interior walls of the Redemptoris Mater chapel inside the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the Redemptor Hominis Church at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington D.C., and his murals at famed Marian shrines in Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal, among others.
Rupnik is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná in Brazil. Mosaics designed by Rupnik on the façade of the national shrine of Aparecida in Brazil are currently being completed.
Pope Francis, who has met Rupnik on occasions prior to the 2021 complaint and subsequent investigation, held an audience with the Jesuit artist in January, presumably to discuss his case. No statement was issued after the meeting.
In addition to Vanier and Van Straaten, other founders and high-profile Catholics have caused headaches for the Vatican in recent years, including Italian lay monk Enzo Binachi, founder of the ecumenical community of Bose, who ordered to leave the monastery in 2020 after a Vatican-sponsored investigation found a “series of concerns” regarding his leadership, including alleged abuses of authority inside Bose.
Across the Catholic spectrum, from right to left, the Church has been plagued by scandals involving founders in previous decades, from the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, to Italian Father Luigi “Gino” Burresi, founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.
While Rupnik himself is not the founder of a movement, observers say the acclaim surrounding Rupnik’s artwork has insulated him, at a certain level, from suspicion and making the effort to bring allegations forward more difficult.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen