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‘Descent into Hell’: An alleged Rupnik victim speaks out

‘Descent into Hell’: An alleged Rupnik victim speaks out

An alleged victim of Slovenian Jesuit artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik detailed on Sunday the sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse she said she suffered as a religious sister, in a new interview with Italian media.

Allegations against the Jesuit priest have become a point of scandal in the Church, after Rupnik was accused of serially abusing Slovenian consecrated women in the 1980s and 1990s.

The allegations were sent to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021, but have not resulted in canonical prosecution — with Society of Jesus officials saying they were informed that Rupnik would not be canonically prosecuted for the alleged abuse, owing to the canonical statute of limitations.

That claim has sparked controversy in the Church, with journalists and victims’ advocates asking why the dicastery did not waive prescription — the canonical statute of limitations — as it has in other abuse cases handled at the dicastery.

The controversy escalated last week after the Associated Press confirmed that at the end of a process which began in 2019, the dicastery declared Rupnik excommunicated. The priest was found guilty of attempting to absolve an accomplice after a sexual encounter  — a major crime in the Church’s legal system.

The excommunication was quickly lifted, according to Jesuit superior general, Fr Arturo Sosa.

But while the process was underway, according to the Society of Jesus, Rupnik was nevertheless asked in March 2020 to preach a Lenten spiritual reflection in the Apostolic Palace for officials of the Roman curia.

The Italian website Messa in Latino first raised on Dec. 4 the prospect that Rupnik has been excommunicated for attempting to sacramentally absolve an Italian consecrated woman, a religious novice, after a sexual encounter with her.

As the story continues to unfold, an alleged victim of Rupnik — a former member of the Slovenian religious community he is accused of abusing — talked with the Italian news agency Domani about the abuse she said she suffered for nine years, and which she describes as a “descent into Hell.”

The Pillar has independently confirmed the identity of the victim, which has been withheld to protect her privacy.

Below is the English translation of the Dec. 18 interview, published with the permission of Domani.

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‘Rupnik’s victim, a former religious sister, speaks out’

by Federica Tourn

“The first time he kissed me on the mouth telling me that this was how he kissed the altar where he celebrated the Eucharist, because with me he could experience sex as an expression of God’s love.” This is the beginning of the detailed account of the sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse that Anna (not her real name), 58, a former Italian religious sister of the Loyola Community, suffered for nine years at the hands of Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.

As Domani has reported in recent days, Rupnik, a world-renowned theologian and artist, is now at the center of a scandal based on accusations that he abused several religious sisters. Anna, who came close to suicide because of the suffering caused by the Jesuit’s delusion of omnipotence and sexual obsession, denounced her abuser several times over the years but the Church has always covered everything up.


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Interview with “Anna”

When did you meet Marko Rupnik?
In 1985, when I was 21 years old and attending medical school. I was thinking of going off as a missionary after graduation and I felt the need to grow in my faith. I was also passionate about art and a religious sister I knew introduced me to this Jesuit painter who had a small studio in Piazza del Gesù in Rome. Rupnik was ten years older than me and in his first year of priesthood; I felt at ease with him, and he immediately became my spiritual guide.

What kind of person was he?
At that time, in the 1980s, he was already a star for the young Slovenian Jesuits. He had a strong personal charisma in explaining the Gospel and a keen sensitivity in identifying people’s weaknesses: not surprisingly, he immediately understood my frailties, insecurities, and fears.

How did your relationship begin?
I started going to his studio because I was fascinated by painting and in particular by Chagall’s colors.

I felt important to him: I liked his paintings and we often talked while he was painting. Then he began to place emphasis on the contact between us, telling me that every gesture had a precise meaning: even a simple handshake or a caress on the arm became an opportunity to emphasize my femininity. I could hardly imagine that this was already a strategy to arrive at having a very different kind of physical relationship with me, just as I could not understand that the hug after every confession was an invitation to go further.

In the same way, I could not imagine that, at the time, when he was explaining to me that the bodies drawn on the “Kama Sutra” boards are an art form, he was already a frequent visitor to porn cinemas.

You didn’t find anything abnormal in his manner?
Sometimes it seemed strange to me, but I explained it by his being an artist.

He wanted me to be his model and once he asked me to pose for one of his paintings because he had to draw Jesus’ collarbone and he was not looking for ‘worldly’ girls, who only expressed sexuality in his view, but someone like me who was seeking.

It was not difficult to accept and unbutton a few buttons on my blouse. For me, who was naive and inexperienced, it only meant helping a friend. On that occasion he kissed me lightly on the mouth, telling me that this was how he kissed the altar where he celebrated the Eucharist.

I was bewildered: on the one hand, I wanted to run away; on the other, Father Marko encouraged me by telling me that I could experience that reality because I was special and it was a gift that the Lord gave only to us—that only with me could he experience, even physically, belonging to God without possession, in freedom, in the image of Trinitarian love.

And did you believe him?
You have to understand how Ignatian discernment works: you are called to total availability and openness, and it is your spiritual father who guides you in understanding what is good and what is evil.

If the one who guides you says God wants it and you do not obey, you are setting yourself against God. That is precisely where manipulation can creep in, as it did with Father Rupnik.

I was afraid of making mistakes, afraid of losing his approval, I felt extremely dependent on his judgment. If I did not do as he wanted, he would immediately say that my spiritual journey was stalled and present me as ‘in the wrong’ to the young men and women in the group that was forming around him in the meantime. Only Father Marko decided who was right and worth supporting; those who were in the wrong were humiliated and sidelined.

When did you decide to rely totally on Rupnik’s spiritual guidance?
In the summer of 1986, before he left on a trip, we met in his workshop. We celebrated together the Eucharist and then he expected me to undress and let him touch me as usual.

That time, however, I refused, and he attacked me with very harsh and nasty words, saying that I was worthless, that I would never do anything good; he added that for him two other women only mattered, whose names he named, and that he wanted to end all relations with me.

I was desperate because I was now totally dependent on his approval.

It was not love, just fear of making a mistake.

From that time on, I decided to put my doubts aside and rely totally on him. I believed that what we experienced together would make me a better person before God; instead, it was only the beginning of the distortion of my identity and the loss of myself.

So, it was duress?
It was an outright abuse of conscience. His sexual obsession was not extemporaneous but deeply connected to his conception of art and his theological thought.

Father Marko at first slowly and gently infiltrated my psychological and spiritual world by appealing to my uncertainties and frailties while using my relationship with God to push me to have sexual experiences with him.

And so, feeling loved like ‘Wisdom playing before God,’ as is written in the book of Proverbs, turned into a request for more and more erotic games in his studio at the Collegio del Gesù in Rome, while painting or after the celebration of the Eucharist or confession.

How did you enter the Loyola Community?
I was among the first sisters of the Loyola Community in Mengeš [Slovenia], a town 15 kilometers from Ljubljana, and I was a member from October 1, 1987, to March 31, 1994.

At such a delicate and fragile time as when one is choosing which path to take in life, Father Marko demanded absolute availability and obedience from me, characteristics that were also a distinctive trait of the community’s charism, of which he was the guarantor before the Church on behalf of the then Archbishop of Ljubljana, Alojzij Šuštar.

Father Marko then asked me to leave the study of medicine and go to Slovenia with the superior, Ivanka Hosta, and six other sisters. Isolated from my family and friends, it was easy for Marko to manipulate me to his liking.

What happened in the community?
On Jan. 1, 1988, I professed my first religious vows in the chapel in Mengeš before Archbishop Šuštar, vows I then repeated in 1991 in the hands of the same archbishop.

Father Marko’s abuse continued and took place in the car when I accompanied him on his journeys. He became more aggressive: I remember a very violent masturbation that I was unable to stop and during which I lost my virginity, an episode that initiated pressing requests for oral intercourse.

The dynamic was always the same: if I had doubts or refused, Rupnik would discredit me in front of the community saying that I was not growing spiritually. He had no restraints, he used every means to achieve his goal, even confidences heard in confession. There began my psychological collapse.

Did the abuse only happen in Slovenia?
No, it also happened in his room at the Aletti Centre in Rome.

There Father Marko asked me to have threesomes with another sister of the community, because sexuality had to be, in his opinion, free from possession, in the image of the Trinity where, he said, “the third person would welcome the relationship between the two.” On those occasions, he would ask me to live out my femininity in an aggressive and dominant way, and since I could not do so, he would deeply humiliate me with phrases that I cannot repeat.

The final step in this descent into hell was the move from theological justifications of sex to an exclusively pornographic relationship.

In 1992, while I was in my fourth year of philosophy at the Gregorian, he also took me twice to see pornographic films in Rome on Via Tuscolana and near Termini station. By then I was feeling terrible.

Did Rupnik only abuse you or also other women?
At that time, Father Marko had openly started to duress other sisters in the community with the usual psycho-spiritual strategies he had already used with me, with the goal of having sex with as many women as possible.

At the beginning of the 1990s there were 41 sisters and, from what I know, Father Rupnik managed to abuse almost 20. Sometimes at great cost: one of them, in an attempt to resist, fell and broke her arm. He was brazen and talked openly about his tactics to “soften up” those who resisted him.

I tried to stop him, but he was unstoppable in his delirium. I even threatened him with a complaint, but he replied: “Who would believe you? It's your word against mine: if you talk, I’ll make you look like a lunatic.”

What did you do?
At that point I just wanted it all to end. I ran away from the community to let myself die in the woods: I hoped that this extreme act would bring Father Marko to his senses.

Fortunately, instead, you survived. How did he react?
I confronted him accusing him of lying, but his only reaction was silence. I also wanted to talk to my superior Ivanka Hosta about what had happened, but I did not have the strength at the time and tried instead to concentrate on my thesis in philosophy, which I defended in June 1993. In the meantime, however, another sister approached Hosta to tell her about the devastating relationship Father Rupnik had with both her and me.

What happened at that point?
Father Marko was temporarily removed from the community for the summer.

I then asked to meet Father Rupnik’s spiritual advisor, Father Tomáš Špidlík [who was later created cardinal deacon in 2003 by Wojtyła: editorial note by Domani], in the hope of finally being able to tell someone what had happened all those years. I reached him at the shrine near Livorno where he was staying during the summer and asked him to hear my confession.

I then started to tell [Špidlík] about the abuse, and he stopped me, saying that those were my things and that he did not want to listen to me. I was upset; for a priest to refuse confession is a grave sin.

Not only that: he also advised me to write a letter of resignation, a letter that he then wrote himself and that I still have, in which he specified that there were no specific reasons for my request to be released from vows, only a generic tension that I was no longer able to bear.

At that point I realized that he was on Father Rupnik’s side and that he did not want to be involved in the scandal together with the Aletti Centre, of which he was the founder and main representative.

Were you helped by anyone at that time?
No one helped me: neither the Superior Ivanka Hosta, whom I eventually turned to, nor the other sisters of the community. Not even Rupnik’s Jesuit superiors and Archbishop Šuštar.

Father Marko was protected by everyone, and I was nothing more than the scapegoat of an embarrassing situation, the weak link in a chain that could be sacrificed for the ‘greater’ good.

In September 1993, I therefore returned to Mengeš with Ivanka as a provisional councilor pending internal elections, scheduled for Easter of the following year. The climate of hostility towards me was palpable, but I remember that a sister, whom I still knew nothing about, came in tears to confide in me that Father Marko had abused her, too. No one, however, dared speak openly, and we lived in an atmosphere of omertà.

Before Easter, a meeting was organized between Father Marko, Ivanka Hosta, and the archbishop to finally deal with the issue: I was supposed to participate but at the last moment the superior prevented me from doing so. I wrote a letter of complaint which she was supposed to deliver to the archbishop, but I don’t even know if Monsignor Šuštar ever received it. Hosta however said nothing against Rupnik, the other abused sister refused to write a testimony, and it all ended in nothing.

What is certain is that, at that very time, the community’s constitutions were in the Vatican ready for approval.

Was Rupnik not sanctioned in any way?
He was distanced from the community and returned to Rome and has continued his career quietly ever since.

And you?
Ivanka had destined me to work in the kitchen in Mengeš for the rest of my life, without any prospect of change. I obeyed, even though in my heart I thought I would die.

A short time later, on the eve of the internal elections, during a community discussion I tried again to denounce the deep malaise that was at the root of our relations, but the superior ousted me from the vote, saying that I was dangerous because I was under the influence of the devil.

The following day I left the community for good.

What happened next?
Years later Hosta wrote to me asking forgiveness from me and my family, who had been told that I was schizophrenic. After leaving, I suffered from depression for a long time and even then I was unable to have an emotional relationship and build a family. The abuse I suffered profoundly shocked my psyche and left indelible marks on my spirit and body, which prevented me from making meaningful choices.

And here we are today. Since the case came out in the newspapers, the Jesuits have been reticent and contradictory. In particular, the Society of Jesus delegate in Rome, Father Johan Verschueren, has said that Rupnik is not accused of sexual abuse but of ‘transgressive behavior’ during confession. Is it possible that the Jesuits did not know about the accusations?
No, it is not possible.

The Church and the Jesuit order knew about the facts since 1994, when I personally brought my request for a dispensation of vows to the Archbishop of Ljubljana, in which I denounced Father Rupnik’s abuse. The archbishop on that occasion only told me that the Society of Jesus had severely sanctioned him, which was not very credible given that the work of the Aletti Centre was being established and consolidated in those years.

Not only that: another sister, who left the Loyola Community in 1996, not directly involved in the relationship with Father Marko but informed of the facts, also spoke in 1998 with Father Francisco J. Egaña, who at that time served as delegate for the international houses of the Society of Jesus in Rome. He listened to her but did nothing.

The superior general of the Society of Jesus, Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, has confirmed that Rupnik was excommunicated, following a 2019 complaint, for absolving in confession a woman with whom he had a sexual relationship. How does this admission affect you?
It pains me deeply, because it confirms the conviction I’ve always had, that Father Marko continued to abuse the women he met during all this time. He should have been stopped 30 years ago.

I am appalled that Rupnik still does not accept responsibility for the consequences his actions have had on my life and on the lives of so many other sisters who might speak out.

In spite of this, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith closed an ecclesiastical investigation into Rupnik in October 2022 because it considered that the facts were beyond the statute of limitations. Were you listened to on this occasion?
Yes, I testified on December 10, 2021 and recounted everything in detail.

After your testimony to the dicastery, what happened?

Since I heard nothing more about the outcome of the ecclesiastical investigation for months, last June (2022) I wrote an open letter, addressed to the Jesuit General Father Sosa, in which I repeated my complaint against Father Rupnik.

The copy included, among others, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome Angelo De Donatis, Father Johan Verschueren, Father Hans Zollner, the director of the Aletti Centre Maria Campatelli and other members of the Society of Jesus and the Aletti Centre.

I have had no reply from any of them.

Do you plan to seek civil compensation for moral and material damage?
I am considering this possibility with my lawyer.

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Translated by Diane Montagna with the permission of Domani.

Editor's note: The introduction to this interview was edited Dec. 20 to clarify that, according to the Society of Jesus, the penal process regarding absolution of an accomplice was not yet concluded at the time Rupnik was invited to preach a Lenten retreat in March 2020.