Case of Prominent Jesuit Highlights Church Failures Around Abuse of Adults 

The case of Fr. Marko Rupnik, a prominent Jesuit priest who has been accused of sexual and spiritual abuse of religious women, suggests that the Church hierarchy remains unwilling to take the abuse of adults seriously.

Rupnik, 68, is a Slovenian theologian and artist known for his religious mosaics, which are installed in chapels around Europe and at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. He founded the Aletti Center, an institute in Rome dedicated to promoting religious art. Last month, blogs in Italy began sharing details of a 2021 case against Rupnik, which alleges that in the 1980s and 90s he spiritually and sexually abused multiple nuns who were members of the Loyola Community in Slovenia. Rupnik served as the community’s chaplain.

According to a press release from the Jesuits, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declined to pursue this case due to the statute of limitations, although the Vatican often waives these time limits in abuse cases.

Jesuit Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa also acknowledged, when questioned by reporters before Christmas, that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith temporarily excommunicated Rupnik in 2020. This was the result of a 2019 case in which Rupnik was found guilty of using the sacrament of reconciliation to absolve a woman with whom he had sexual contact, a grave crime under canon law. Sosa told the Associated Press (AP) that the Congregation quickly lifted the excommunication after Rupnik admitted to this crime and formally repented. The Jesuits restricted him from hearing confessions or providing spiritual direction, but he had an audience with Pope Francis in January 2022, has continued to record and share online homilies, and recently received an honorary degree from a Catholic university in Brazil. 

One victim, who says she was abused by Rupnik for nine years starting in 1986 when she was 22 years old, spoke to an Italian news agency about his spiritual manipulation and sexual abuse. The Pillar translated her interview from Italian to English and published it here.

Rupnik’s mosaics are installed in multiple U.S. chapels, including the Redemptor Hominis’ chapel of the National Shrine of St John Paul II in Washington, D.C., and in the Holy Family Chapel of the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.

Awake and Abuse Survivors Respond

In December, Awake Executive Director Sara Larson was interviewed by the AP when the news about Rupnik broke. She noted that many people believe that all sexual contact between adults is consensual. But the power imbalance between religious leaders (often seen as God’s representatives on Earth) and lay people can make meaningful consent impossible.

“There can be no true consent when a priest is in a position of spiritual authority over someone,” Larson told the AP. “We recognize that sexual activity between a doctor and a patient, or a therapist and a client, is a serious abuse of power, and we treat that kind of sexual contact as criminal. Sexual activity between a priest and someone seeing him for spiritual care is really no different.”

Paula Kaempffer, Outreach Coordinator for Restorative Justice and Abuse Prevention for the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, finds herself thinking about Rupnik’s victims. 

“This made me angry, being a survivor of clergy sexual abuse as an adult myself,” she says. “The heart of the human person is destroyed and there is a part of them that will never be the same again.”

Lisa Neu, a member of Awake’s Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP), who also experienced abuse as an adult, points out differences in the ways Rupnik and the victim-survivors are described, even in news stories. “We hear of his contributions to the church,” she says. “Note also the way that we are not hearing about his victims and their value. There is a discussion here about losing his contributions, but an omission around the contributions of victims that we’ve lost because of his actions. The implication of this line of thinking is that his value is so high that it doesn’t matter what collateral damage he does to the people around him.”

Another Awake SAP member, Lucy Huh, finds the Rupnik story evocative because she is a former member of a religious community. “It is particularly abominable that this story involves a community of religious women who devoted their lives in service of the Catholic Church and are essentially voiceless when it comes to the male-dominated system that governs the Church,” she says. “Even though this priest abused his position and power in ways that were nothing short of satanic, he remained clearly highly favored and protected.”  

She also notes that religious communities require members to take a vow of obedience, which can set the stage for abuse. “The vow of obedience can easily be used as a tool to manipulate and psychologically abuse women and make them feel they have no voice or power or decision-making skills,” Huh says. ”It takes immeasurable courage and strength to confront the system that has enabled the abuse and has enormous repercussions particularly for a nun or sister because she risks losing her entire way of life.”

The news about Rupnik follows 2021 revisions to the Vatican’s Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, which specifically addresses cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors and adults. The code now recognizes that adults can be harmed by priests who abuse their authority, and states that lay people in leadership positions in the Church—such as parish staff members or catechists—can be punished under canon law for abusing minors or adults.

But changes to Church law are not enough. Survivors such as Kaempffer wish to see more action from Church leaders. “When will they experience their own conversion of heart and change their own power structure?” she asks. “Change has to come from within. I wish they knew that. I wish they knew how to kneel before victims and wash their feet.”

—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog

One thought on “Case of Prominent Jesuit Highlights Church Failures Around Abuse of Adults 

  1. Thank you for this great article Erin. I read the AP article but this feels much more complete and survivor focused. Thanks for all you do! Elizabeth

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