After the dismissal of disgraced artist Fr. Marko Rupnik from the Jesuit order, Knights of Columbus officials are still considering what steps they should take regarding Rupnik’s art, which features prominently in several Knights of Columbus facilities.
“As of February, the artwork has been removed from all materials published via the Knights of Columbus’ Catholic Information Service and we continue to consult and deliberate regarding additional steps,” Steve Curtis, Knights of Columbus’ communications chief, told The Pillar June 19.
The fraternal organization first told The Pillar in December that the matter was up for review.
Rupnik, a well-known priest and artist, was until last week a member of the Jesuit order, the Society of Jesus.
The Jesuits announced June 15 that Rupnik, 68, had been dismissed from the order after persistent disobedience to his religious superiors.
The artist has been since last year at the center of a scandal that has shaken the Catholic world.
In November 2022, Italian blogs reported that Rupnik had been accused of spiritually abusing women religious in the 1990s. Some media sources said that the complaints had been sent to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
On Dec. 2, 2022, the Society of Jesus acknowledged that complaints were sent to the dicastery in 2021 and were investigated.
The Jesuits explained that in October 2022, the dicastery decided not to pursue canonical charges against Rupnik over the abuse allegations, because the relevant statute of limitations had run out.
The order added that since the complaint was sent to the Vatican, the priest had been prohibited from hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction, offering the spiritual exercises, or engaging in public ministry without the permission of his religious superior.
Speaking to journalists on Dec. 14, 2022, Jesuit superior general Fr. Arturo Sosa said that Rupnik had been excommunicated, but that the penalty was remitted after the artist repented of the serious canonical crime of absolving an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment.
Despite facing a rising number of allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse, Rupnik continued to maintain a public profile, concelebrating Mass at a basilica in Rome in March. He also remained an official adviser to several Vatican departments.
The Italian newspaper Domani reported that Rupnik recently defied restrictions by undertaking work trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
The artist’s superior Fr. Johan Verschueren said that the journeys were “a serious transgression of the restrictive measures imposed on Fr. Rupnik.”
In 2015 — well before allegations of misconduct had been made public — Rupnik installed mosaics in the Redemptor Hominis Church and the Luminous Mysteries Chapel at the St. John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC — an apostolate of the Knights of Columbus.
The work in New Haven - Rupnik’s first project in the U.S. - was described by the fraternal organization as “theologically profound in its exploration of the mysteries of our faith.”
In December 2022, the Knights of Columbus told The Pillar that the group was reconsidering the place of that work in their chapels, “in light of these very troubling developments” — a consideration still undergoing, the Knights confirmed this week.
Curtis declined to respond to questions June 19 about whether clerical sexual abuse victims have been consulted directly regarding the future of Rupnik’s art in Knights’ chapel, or about whether the group has heard from bishops on the matter.
And while the Knights of Columbus told The Pillar this week that Rupnik’s work is no longer used in its published catechetical materials, Curtis did not say whether the Knights will recall previously published material featuring Rupnik’s artwork.
In parishes and Knights’ halls across the country, pamphlet racks feature more than a dozen short books with Rupnik’s mosaics on the cover.
Gina Barthel, a clerical abuse survivor from Minnesota, told The Pillar in December that the Knights of Columbus — and other institutions — should remove Rupnik’s art from display.
“Rupnik has been found guilty of a canonical crime that violated the holiness of confession and violated the sixth commandment. And because of that, I think his artwork should be removed, as a testimony to the entire Church, and as a witness, that there are consequences to perpetrating abuse,” Barthel told The Pillar in December.
“There is a difference between clergy who have been accused and clergy who have been found guilty. And he is accused of some really terrible things, but he has also already been found guilty of a serious and disturbing canonical crime. So it should come down.”
Removing the art “would stand as a beautiful testimony and witness to the entire Church, and it would have a profound impact for survivors of abuse,” Barthel added.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh struck a different tone this week, opining on Twitter that: “Rupnick stays on my wall; I don’t approve of what he has done, but his are works of grace, and I don’t want to reject grace.”
Ivereigh argued that an artist depicting Catholic work might operate similarly to a priest: “Sacraments are ex opere operato; why not a great religious artist’s work?” he asked.
Rupnik’s critics point out that the priest allegedly abused religious sisters in the context of creating his religious artwork, using his victims as sketch models, and manipulating them sexually using both spiritual language, and his influence as a revered spiritual figure.
“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,” one alleged victim attested last year.
"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,” she added.
But days after Rupnik was expelled from the Jesuits this month, a community in Rome loyal to the priest accused the order of engaging in a smear campaign against Rupnik, which it compared to a “lynching.”
Centro Aletti, a community of artists and theologians, said in a statement Saturday that Rupnik had actually offered to leave the Jesuits before he was expelled, but that the order “showed repeated favor to a media campaign based on defamatory and unproven accusations … rather than supplying the press with correct information founded on deeds and documents in their possession demonstrating a different truth from what was published.”
The community said that Rupnik will appeal his expulsion from the Jesuits.
While Rupnik has been dismissed from the Jesuit order and is not eligible for priestly ministry, he has not technically been laicized — formal dismissal from the clerical state remains the prerogative of the Holy See in this case.
But as scandal has surrounded him, his art has become the focus of controversy.
The Diocese of Versailles, France, announced in December that it would end its contract with Rupnik for the decoration of a parish church, in light of the allegations against the priest.
Rupnik was to be “responsible for the interior and exterior decoration of the new Saint-Joseph-le-Bienveillant church, the construction of which began several months ago,” the diocese said in a Dec. 16 statement.
“After consultation with the parish and diocesan teams in charge of this project … it was quickly discerned that these facts required us to break off all collaboration with Fr. Marko Rupnik,” the Versailles diocese added.
And in April Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes, France, said he is considering removing the mosaics installed by Rupnik at the Basilica of the Rosary, where millions of pilgrims worship annually when visiting the famed apparition site.
The bishop announced that he had created a “reflection group” to consider how to move forward, which would include the basilica’s rector, an abuse survivor, and a psychologist.
“The subject was approached with great seriousness: we now know that the victims must be at the center of our thoughts, and any decision will have serious consequences,” Bishop Micas said earlier this year.
For their part, the Knights of Columbus did not respond to questions regarding how long their review of the priest’s artwork might take before a decision is announced.