Jesuit case highlights secrecy and leniency for abuse of women

ROME (AP) — Revelations that the Vatican let a famous priest off the hook twice for abusing his authority over adult women have revealed two main weaknesses in the Holy See’s abuse policies: l Sexual and spiritual misconduct against adult women is rarely, if ever, punished, and secrecy always reigns supreme, especially when powerful priests are involved.

The Jesuit order, to which Pope Francis belongs, was forced to admit on Wednesday that its initial statements about the internationally recognized religious artist Reverend Marko Ivan Rupnik were far from complete. The order said Rupnik was accused in 2021 of unspecified issues “in the way he carried out his ministry,” but the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined the allegations were too old to prosecute. .

But when questioned by reporters, Jesuit Superior General Reverend Arturo Sosa acknowledged that the Congregation had prosecuted Rupnik over a separate earlier case from 2019 that ended with his conviction and temporary excommunication for one of the most serious crimes. more serious. in internal church canon law: that he used the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had previously had sex.

The case dates from 2015, when Rupnik was in Rome, and also included a false mysticism charge that was not prosecuted, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak about it. Rupnik quickly admitted the confession-related crime and formally repented, and the Congregation immediately lifted his excommunication from the church, Sosa said in response to a question from The Associated Press.

While the Jesuits forbade Rupnik from hearing confessions or giving spiritual direction, the restrictions placed on his ministry did not prevent him from celebrating mass or preaching. He continued to write and make his art without the public, consecrated women in his community or even his own fellow Jesuits knowing the truth.

Rupnik is unknown to most Catholics but is a giant within the Jesuit order and the Catholic hierarchy as he is one of the most sought after artists in the church. His mosaics depicting biblical scenes adorn the Basilica of Lourdes, France, the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican and the John Paul II Institute in Washington, and are to adorn the new basilica in Aparecida, Brazil. He designed the Vatican logo for the 2022 World Meeting of Families and was featured in a Vatican News TV interview to describe the religious inspiration behind it.

When the 2021 case became public this month, other Jesuits called the Vatican to better understand why Rupnik was not sanctioned by the Holy See after being accused.

After refining its procedures for punishing priests who abuse children, the Vatican last year updated its law to criminalize abuse of authority over adults.and in 2020 he revealed how a once-powerful ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused his adult seminarians.

But new revelations about Rupnik indicate that Catholic priests who abuse their authority to sexually, spiritually or psychologically abuse adult women rarely receive canonical punishment despite estimates that priests are four times more likely to engage in sexual activity. with women than with minors.

Sara Larson, executive director of Awake, an American grassroots group that seeks to educate, advocate and support survivors of Catholic abuse, said there is a seemingly reflexive belief that, short of physical abuse, all contact sex between adults is consensual. And yet, the #MeToo movement has made it clear that power differentials often make meaningful consent impossible.

“There can’t be real consent when a priest is in a position of spiritual authority over someone,” Larson said in a phone interview. “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 this type of sexual contact as a crime. Sexual activity between a priest and someone who sees him for spiritual care is really no different.

Yet the hierarchy often responds to women who speak out against priests for abusing their authority over them by blaming them for seducing the priest, or downplaying the event as a mere “mistake” or “boundary violation” by an otherwise holy priest, regardless of the devastating consequences. trauma such abuse can have on the woman, Larson said.

Sosa, for example, never used the word “victim” to describe the women injured by Rupnik. Instead, he repeated that Rupnik had made “mistakes” and that the Jesuits had pledged to help “heal the wounds”.

“We want to go beyond the legal question and support the staff who… are led to make this type of error and also support the people who have been injured by this behavior, to heal”, he said. declared.

The scandal involving Rupnik broke last week when three Italian blogs – Silere non Possum, and Messa in Latin – began to reveal allegations of spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse against Rupnik by consecrated women who live as nuns in a Jesuit community to which he was affiliated in his native Slovenia in the 1990s.

Sosa said Wednesday that the 2021 complaint dated from that period and that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined that the crimes were too old to prosecute. He revealed that Rupnik had been forced out of the community in Slovenia due to an unspecified “conflict” between the women there. A group followed the priest to Rome, where he founded the Jesuit Center Aletti, an art studio and center for study focused on the impact of culture on the Christian faith.

There was no explanation as to why the Congregation, which regularly waives the statute of limitations for abuse-related crimes, decided not to waive it this time around, especially given the previous conviction. The office, now called Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, is headed by a Jesuit, has a Jesuit prosecutor for sex crimes and had as number 2 at the time someone who lived at the Aletti Center in Rupnik.

Sosa was asked what, if anything, Francis knew about Rupnik’s case or if he had intervened. Sosa said he did not know but “could imagine” that the prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, would have informed the pope.

For Doris Reisinger, the handling of the Rupnik case seems all too familiar. She reported confession-related sexual abuse by a priest when she was a nun. In 2019, the Vatican concluded there was no “absolute moral certainty” in its claim and absolved the priest, who was working in the Dicastery at the time of his accusation.

“There is no transparency and no sympathy with Rupnik’s victims, and above all, the most outrageous thing, really, there seems to be a deliberate silence on the most recent case and the excommunication,” said Reisinger in an email. “Personally, it makes me sick.”

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