Jesuit Official: Alleged Sacramental ‘Irregularities’ Dictated Which Vatican Office Handled Father Rupnik Case

Father Verschueren, general councilor and delegate for the Houses and Interprovincial Works of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome, would not elaborate on which sacraments were at issue.

Father Marko Rupnik
Father Marko Rupnik (photo: Courtesy photo / Diocese of Rome)

VATICAN CITY — A high-ranking Jesuit in Rome has weighed in on one of the many questions swirling around the case of Father Marko Rupnik: Why were sexual abuse allegations against the well-known Jesuit priest and artist handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instead of the Vatican office that oversees religious congregations?

“Because it involved some possible irregularities in how the sacraments were administered, and this is within the competence of the CDF,” Father Johan Verschueren told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency.

Father Rupnik, 68, is alleged to have sexually abused members of a women’s institute of religious life in Ljubljana, Slovenia, while serving as the chaplain there in the early 1990s, according to the Italian news outlet One of the women allegedly attempted suicide because of the abuse, reported. A source in the Diocese of Rome told ACI Prensa that at least nine women were allegedly abused.

Father Verschueren, general councilor and delegate for the Houses and Interprovincial Works of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome, would not elaborate on which sacraments were at issue.

Nor did he comment on media reports that allege that Father Rupnik administered the sacrament of confession to one of the women he is accused of sexually abusing.

Still, his statements shed light on a key jurisdictional question related to the Vatican’s handling of the case.

While the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life oversees religious congregations such as the Jesuits, the norms for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) establish that it “judges crimes against the faith and the most serious crimes committed against morality or in the celebration of the sacraments.”

In the end, the DDF closed the case this past October without conducting a penal trial, having concluded that the 30-year statute of limitations on cases of alleged abuse between adults had run out.

Even so, “precautionary measures” the Society of Jesus placed on Father Rupnik during the investigation were never rescinded, the religious order said in a Dec. 2 statement.

Those measures included the “prohibition of the exercise of the sacrament of confession, giving spiritual direction, and conducting the Spiritual Exercises.”

“In addition, Father Rupnik was forbidden to engage in public activities without the permission of his local superior,” the statement continued.

“These measures remain in force today, as administrative measures, even after the response of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the statement said.

Father Verschueren told ACI Prensa said that in the case of Father Rupnik, “there was no penal trial and therefore no finding of guilt or innocence” according to penal law.

“However, administrative law, which secures the quality of religious life, is of the competence of the major superior. And, as the Society of Jesus wants to take measures to ensure the highest standards in our ministry, the measures are still in place,” he added.

“We don’t need the results of the penal process for the taking of preventive measures,” Verschueren emphasized. “And even when the focus points of DDF are declared time-barred, this doesn’t change anything with respect to our legal (administrative) perspective. Hence, measures can be imposed, proportionate, just, effective in order to assure maximum security for the people of God.”

Jesuit Bishop Confirms Basis for Referral

Father Rupnik is a world-renowned artist whose works include projects in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, the Knights of Columbus' National Shrine to John Paul II in Washington, D.C, the Cathedral of Santa María la Real de Almudena in Madrid, and the Fatima Shrine.

Father Rupnik made the logo for the Jubilee of Mercy called by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2015, and was in charge of creating the official image of the 10th World Meeting of Families held in 2022.

In the early 1990s, together with Sister Ivanka Hosta, Father Rupnik was involved in the founding of the Loyola Community in Ljubljana (Slovenia), a women’s institute of religious life.

By 1993, the Jesuit priest ended his involvement with the Loyola Community after apparent conflicts with Sister Hosta and went to Rome, together with several of the nuns, and created the Aletti Center, which was dedicated to the promotion of religious art and its connection with Ignatian spirituality. 

In 2020, former members of the Loyola Community turned to the Holy See to report abuses involving coercion and control that were experienced within the institution dating back to the years during which Father Rupnik served as the community’s chaplain.

The Vatican then appointed Bishop Daniele Libanori, a Jesuit and auxiliary bishop of Rome, as apostolic commissioner. In the process of his investigation, Bishop Libanori became aware of sexual abuse allegations against Father Rupnik which he referred to the Vatican, reported.

In a Dec. 9 statement to ACI Prensa, Bishop Libanori said that in the case of Father Rupnik the DDF “was the competent authority at that time.”

“When a case is presented, the authority to which the complainant remits sends it to the ordinary of the subject reported for investigation. Once the investigation is finished, the conclusions must be sent to the competent dicastery, which in turn must decide how to proceed,” Bishop Libanori told ACI Prensa.

“The Society of Jesus did what it was obliged to do and, so that there was no appearance of impropriety, it entrusted the investigation to a person outside the Society itself,” he said, referring to a Dominican religious who interviewed several people.

“As for the competent dicastery, at the time of the investigation the competent one was the DDF,” he said.

Bishop Libanori also maintained that appointing a commissioner to the Loyola Community has not been kept secret. “The appointing of a commissioner to the Loyola Community has been made public in the appropriate forum, that is, the Church,” he said. “I myself duly informed all the bishops in whose dioceses there is a house of the institute.”

Restrictions on Father Rupnik 

Another question relating to the aftermath of the Vatican’s involvement in the Father Rupnik case is whether the measures the Society of Jesus imposed on the priest are being obeyed.

The religious order’s statement made clear that Father Rupnik was adjoined from “conducting the Spiritual Exercises” and “forbidden to engage in public activities without the permission of his local superior.”

Yet, the Shrine of the Holy House Loreto in Italy has scheduled Father Rupnik to conduct a day of spiritual exercises from Feb. 13–17, 2023.

Bishop Libanoni addressed this question in his statement to ACI Prensa.

“Normally, the spiritual retreat program is drawn up at least one year in advance. I really do not think that the organizers could imagine what has been made public these days,” he said.

“Nor do I know if, after the facts that have emerged and have been made public, the planned course will be maintained or if Father Rupnik will be replaced,” he added.

In a Dec. 7 interview with Portuguese online news 7Margens, Father Arturo Sosa, superior of the Society of Jesus, also commented on the February event at the Shrine of Loreto, saying that it is “a retreat that I don’t think is planned, but he shouldn’t [do it].”

Father Rupnik “is not detained, nor does any of the measures affect his work. He has very important artistic commitments,” Father Sosa said.

“He can celebrate the Eucharist. What is prohibited is leading spiritual exercises or hearing confessions. Those are the measures, because it has to be proportional to the facts,” Father Sosa said.

“He continues to have the same mobility as any of us, for work reasons. He’s not limited by this type of measure. Those to which he was subject he has fulfilled,” he added.

Despite the sanctions, Father Rupnik has continued to post messages through the Aletti Center YouTube channel. The most recent of them is dated Dec. 8.

Asked about these messages, Father Verschueren, the Jesuits’ general councilor, told ACI Prensa that “we are now examining all the measures in place and we are trying to see how to make them more effective than they already are.”