ROME – Both the alleged victims of Slovene Father Marko Ivan Rupnik and the bishops of his native Slovenia have spoken out about the disgraced artist’s welcome into a new diocese, as well as the pope’s decision to waive a statute of limitations under Church law, thereby allowing canonical proceedings to begin.
In the wake of Pope Francis’s Oct. 27 decision to waive the statute of limitations in canon law, five of Rupnik’s presumed victims signed and released a brief statement that was shared in Italian media, saying they were “very surprised” by the announcement.
They voiced hope that “this is a suitable step towards seeing the truth fully known,” and said they are awaiting “further developments.”
Rupnik, who has been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct by at least 25 adult women, with the alleged abuse stretching over a 30-year period. Rupnik was one of the Catholic Church’s most famed artists, his murals adorn chapels and shrines around the world, including the Vatican and the Marian shrine in Lourdes.
When allegations first arose and were sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department denied a request on the part of the Jesuits to open a canonical trial on grounds that a statute of limitations applied because the alleged victims were adults.
Rupnik nevertheless was expelled from the Jesuits earlier this year after refusing to comply with an internal investigation that found a high degree of credibility to the charges, and for his refusal to obey orders transferring him to another community.
On Oct, 25, the Diocese of Koper in Slovenia announced that Bishop Jurij Bizjak had accepted Rupnik into the diocese on grounds that he had not been formally charged with any crime, and that until that happened, he was free to engage in public ministry.
Two days later, on Oct. 27, the Vatican issued a statement announcing that the Pontifical Commission for the Protections of Minors, a body created by Pope Francis in 2014, had flagged “serious problems in the handling” of the case, prompting the pontiff to lift the statute of limitations.
In a statement issued the same day, Bishop Andrej Saje of Novo Mesto and president of the Slovenian Bishops’ Conference, said the Slovenian Bishops Conference (SŠK) “did not participate in the process of Rupnik’s incardination to the Diocese of Koper.”
“Each bishop is autonomous and independent in this regard, so he is not obliged to inform the SŠK about it,” Saje said, noting that the SŠK already took a position on the Rupnik case in December 2022.
At that time, on Dec. 21, 2022, the SŠK convened an extraordinary session in Ljubljana in which they voiced support for Rupnik’s alleged victims “in their quest for truth and justice.”
“It’s never the victims’ fault! We are on the side of the victims. We express our sympathy and closeness to them and pledge to help them. We also want to stand by the wider community,” the bishops said, voicing regret that “the inadmissible acts remained hidden for so many years” and that the victims “were not really heard.”
The bishops also established a special email account where potential Rupnik victims could write in and asked other victims of abuse within Church communities not to be afraid to come forward.
In his Oct 27 statement, Saje quoted a Letter to the People of God published by members of Pope Francis Synod of Bishops on Synodality on Oct. 25, saying, “The Church of our time is obliged, in the spirit of conversion, to listen to those who have been victims of abuse by members of the church body, and to make a concrete and structural commitment so that this will not happen again.”
In this spirit, Saje said, “the Church’s commitment to greater transparency and zero tolerance towards physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual violence continues to apply.”
Referring to Rupnik’s expulsion from the Jesuits in June, Saje said that “such an extreme measure cannot be understood otherwise as a criminal sanction for serious, inadmissible acts.”
The Slovenian bishops, he said, “are on the side of the victims, so that they will be heard and that they will get justice.”
“Those responsible in the Church will monitor what is happening in our church communities, so that in the future there will be no abuse of authority by persons who have any leadership role in the Church,” he said, adding that preparations are currently underway to establish a new entity for support and prevention.
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