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The Marko Rupnik abuse case and the Vatican's disturbing silence

By Robert Mickens | Vatican City

Even two prominent Jesuits have urged the doctrinal office to explain why it refused to move forward on abuse allegations against their well-known Slovenian confrere. One of them is known, perhaps, as global Catholicism's most credible official in the effort to end the Church's ongoing sex abuse crisis. The other is less famous but, with degrees in civil law and moral theology, he's held important leadership posts in the Church.

Both are Jesuit priests. And both are troubled by the way officials at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) — and even those in the highest echelons of their religious order, the Society of Jesus — have handled abuse allegations against their Slovenian confrere, the well-known mosaic master Marko Ivan Rupnik. The two priests believe that, by the lack of transparency, ecclesiastical officials are doing grave harm to the Church, their confrere's alleged victims and even Rupnik himself.

"With all my limitations, I am trying to give my life to the Catholic Church through the Jesuits. But it has to be said: the 'Rupnik case' is a tsunami," said Gianfranco Matarazzo in a long Twitter thread posted in English on December 7.

Former head of the Italian Jesuits

The 59-year-old Italian priest is not just any Jesuit. A native of a small town south of Naples, he served six years (2014-2020) as superior of his order's Italian Province, which -- midway through his term -- became the Euro-Mediterranean Province and now includes Malta, Albania and Romania.

Matarazzo, who has a licentiate in morals from the Rome-based Gregorian University, described Rupnik's abuse case as a "tsunami of injustice, lack of transparency, questionable management, dysfunctional activity, personalized work, apostolic community sacrificed to the leader and unequal treatment". He even said a statement that his own Jesuit order issued about the case on December 3 only "relaunches this tsunami". He called the ordeal surrounding Rupnik a "paradigmatic case of justice denied" where "not even the alleged perpetrator has been helped".

"It's obvious that the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith has to respond," said the second prominent Jesuit to speak out.

"The dicastery must respond"

He's Hans Zollner, one of the Church's leading experts in the field of safeguarding from abuse. The 56-year-old German has been a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its creation in 2014 and is currently the Director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Gregorian University.

In comments to the Spanish-language news agency ACI Prensa, he basically said the Society of Jesus' hands were tied. "They have said what they could say and, from what I see, the explanations about what they arrived at with the ruling must be given by the (DDF)," he said. "They are the ones who have determined that the facts (of the case) have exceeded the statute of limitations. The Society of Jesus can't do that, it's the competency of the dicastery," he explained. "The dicastery must respond."

The question is why the DDF did not wave the statute of limitations, which the Vatican calls "prescription". Norms updated in 2021 note that the serious crimes that are reserved to the DDF's tribunal are "extinguished by prescription after twenty years". Rupnik's alleged instances of abuse are believed to have occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s. But the Norms also grant the dicastery "the right to derogate from prescription for all individual cases of reserved delicts".

"Is the Lord calling us to this approach?"

The fact that the DDF did not do so rankled Matarazzo, the former Italian provincial. "As Jesuits we are identified, with merit and without merit, with the frontiers of faith, justice, charity, dialogue, concern for the poor, and research," he said in a Tweet on December 6. "Yet today with the 'Rupnik case' we cling to 'prescription' and... ..hope that everything can stop there. Is the Lord calling us to this approach?" he wondered.

The Vatican has made no comment whatsoever on Rupnik's case. And the priest's Jesuit superiors have not said much more. But they have pointed out that the allegations concern grown women, not minors.

"We have not hidden anything"

"These are problems among adults," said Arturo Sosa, the 74-year-old Venezuelan who has been the Jesuit Father General since 2016. In an interview this past week with a Portuguese radio station he denied the Society of Jesus was trying to cover things up. "We don't have to make public all the (abuse) cases," he said. "All persons have a certain right to privacy: you have to make public declarations when it's gone public. When it has not gone public, you don't have to do anything and this does not mean hiding things. We have not hidden anything," he insisted.

Sosa said the allegations were not reported to the Jesuits, but to the Vatican. And then the DDF asked the religious order to carry out the preliminary investigation. There were actually two investigations, in the end.

The second was not even focused on Rupnik initially, but on problems in the female religious community in Slovenia, whose founder he was close to. During interviews with current and former members of the community, a number of women supposedly accused Rupnik of abusing them psychologically and sexually.

What does the Church's most important Jesuit think?

There have been various and sometimes conflicting reports in the Italian media concerning the allegations against the Slovenian priest and artist. The Vatican's decision to issue no statement on a case concerning a high-profile cleric who is allegedly close to Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, is disconcerting.

Matarazzo suggested Church authorities take the following steps immediately:

1. Accept full responsibility and consequences.

2. Offer a detailed reconstruction of everything that happened.

3. Convene a press conference and answer all questions in a transparent manner, without having to make run-up additions because forced to.

4. Open wide the archives.

The Italian Jesuit also suggested that Zollner "who is credited as an authoritative voice on the subject of abuse and is always demanding of the bishops with respect to the handling of this tragedy, take a stand on his (religious) order".

Meanwhile, that order is keeping "administrative sanctions" in place for Rupnik, forbidding him to hear confessions, give retreats and accept public engagements without the permission of his local superior. "He's not a prisoner and neither are there any measures that impinge on his artistic work. He has very important artistic commitments," said Sosa. He added that the sanctions "must be proportionate to the facts".

Perhaps that's a hint that the Church's most important Jesuit might not believe Rupnik did anything that was really all that bad.


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