VATICAN CITY – The Vatican came under pressure Tuesday to explain why it didn’t prosecute a famous Jesuit artist and merely let his order restrict the priest's ministry following allegations that he abused his authority over adult women.
The Jesuits, the same order to which Pope Francis belongs, announced in a statement made public this week that the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined the statute of limitations had expired and closed the case against the Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik.
Mosaics by Rupnik, a native of Slovenia who is as close as it gets to an official Vatican artist, decorate the Lourdes basilica, a chapel in the Apostolic Palace and churches around the globe.
In specifying that Rupnik was not accused of sexually abusing minors, the Jesuits indicated that he was accused of sexual-related crimes with adults involving the confessional, since those are the other types of canonical crimes that normally fall under the Dicastery’s purview.
The Jesuits didn’t specify the nature of the allegations against him, only to say they involved the way he exercised his ministry.
The vast majority of such cases handled by the Dicastery often fall beyond the 20-year statute of limitations in church law. But for over a decade, the Dicastery has regularly waived the time limit, precisely because of the time needed for victims to come to terms with their abuse and report it.
The Holy See’s own church norms, updated last year, explicitly state the statute of limitations can be waived for the gravest of church crimes, though observers have noted that such waivers are occurring less and less frequently.
Rupnik’s mosaic work can be found on the facade of the basilica at Lourdes, the Marian pilgrimage site in southern France, the Vatican’s Redemtoris Mater chapel in the Apostolic Palace and the John Paul II Institute in Washington.
He did an extensive televised interview with Vatican News in July 2021 to explain the inspiration behind the logo that he designed for the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families.
The Jesuit statement said the Vatican received a complaint against Rupnik in 2021, and that the Jesuits appointed an outside investigator who reported back to the Dicastery, which then closed the case in October 2022 because the statute of limitations had expired.
The Italian-language blog Silere Non Possum noted that Pope Francis received Rupnik in audience on Jan. 3 of this year, so while he was under investigation. The blog also reported comments from an an unnamed woman from the priest's community who said she first reported alleged psychological, physical and spiritual abuse by Rupnik in 1995, but that nothing happened.
Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said it was “strange” that the Vatican didn't waive the statute of limitations and conduct a proper investigation. Martens said such a waiver would clarify beyond any doubt that a renowned Jesuit did not receive preferential treatment from a Vatican with a Jesuit pope, a Jesuit prefect of the Dicastery and a Jesuit prosecutor.
“Why do you not prosecute that?” he asked, stressing that he didn’t know the particulars of the case. “Why do you not bring this to a conclusion? It is better in a case like this if you can bring it to a trial.”
Asked Tuesday about the case, the Vatican spokesman referred questions to the Jesuits. In the statement, the Jesuits said that even though Rupnik’s case was closed in October, the precautionary measures that his superior imposed on his ministry during the investigation remained in place.
Under those measures, Rupnik can no longer hear confession, offer spiritual guidance or lead spiritual exercises, and must receive explicit permission for public engagements.