ROME (AP) – The head of Pope Francis’ Jesuit religious order admitted Wednesday that a prominent Jesuit priest had been convicted of one of the most serious crimes in the Catholic Church about two years before the Vatican decided to drop another case against of him for allegedly abusing other adult women under his spiritual care.
Reverend Arturo Sosa, the Jesuits’ superior general, admitted this during a briefing with journalists dominated by the scandal surrounding Reverend Marko Ivan Rupnik and the reluctance of both the Vatican and the Jesuits to tell the full story behind the unusually lenient treatment he received. even after being temporarily excommunicated.
Rupnik is unknown to most Catholics, but he is a giant within the Jesuit order and the Catholic hierarchy because he is one of the church’s most sought-after artists. His mosaics depicting biblical scenes decorate the basilica of Lourdes, in France, the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Vatican, the John Paul II institute in Washington and must embellish the new basilica of Aparecida, in Brazil.
The scandal involving Rupnik erupted last week when three Italian blogs — Silere non Possum, Left.it and Messa in Latino — began to reveal allegations of spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse against Rupnik by women of a Jesuit community with which he was affiliated in his native Slovenia.
The Jesuits initially responded with a Dec. 2 statement confirming a complaint had been received in 2021, but said the Vatican’s sex abuse office had determined the allegations, dating back to the 1990s in Slovenia, were too old to be prosecuted. The Jesuits said they had nevertheless decided to maintain “precautionary restrictions” on his ministry that prohibited him from hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction or conducting spiritual exercises.
The statement asked more questions than it answered and entirely omitted the fact — first reported by Mass in Latin and later confirmed by The Associated Press — that Rupnik had been convicted and sanctioned by the Vatican after a 2019 complaint that he had acquitted a woman in confession to having sex with him.
The so-called acquittal of an accomplice is one of the most serious crimes in church canon law and carries with it automatic excommunication for the priest who can only be lifted if he admits the crime and repents — which Rupnik did, Sosa said in response to a question from the PA.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “said it happened, there was the acquittal of an accomplice,” Sosa said. “So he was excommunicated. How do you lift an excommunication? The person has to acknowledge that and he has to repent, which he did.”
Sosa had previously insisted that the Jesuits were hiding nothing else about Rupnik. When asked why the Jesuits had not disclosed the conviction related to the confession, Sosa said Wednesday that “they were two different times, with two different cases.”
Sosa then contradicted the earlier Jesuit statement and said the restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry actually dated back to that confession-related conviction, and not the 2021 allegations that the Vatican’s sex crimes office decided to drop because deemed too old to be prosecuted.
There was no explanation as to why the office, which routinely waives statute of limitations for abuse-related offences, decided not to waive it this time, especially in view of the previous conviction for an equally serious crime against an adult woman. The office, now called the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, is headed by a Jesuit, has a Jesuit prosecutor for sex offenders, and was number 2 at the time someone who lived in the Rupnik Jesuit community in Rome.
Sosa was asked what Francis knew about Rupnik’s case or if he had intervened. Sosa said he “could imagine” that the prefect of the dicastery, Jesuit cardinal Luis Ladaria, would inform the pope of this decision.
Dicastery officials either did not respond to emails requesting comments or refused to comment, referring the questions to the Vatican spokesman, who in turn directed the questions to the Jesuits.