The Society of Jesus has announced a new canonical process against Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ, the priest and well known religious artist accused of sexually abusing dozens of women religious over decades.
The canonical process is internal to the Jesuits, and could result in the priest’s expulsion from the order, the Jesuits have explained.
The new legal process, announced Feb. 21 in a statement from the society’s interprovincial house in Rome, follows new allegations against the priest.
Those accusations were made after the Jesuit order asked for any additional victims of Rupnik to come forward in December last year, after news broke that the priest had been found guilty of a crime against the sacrament of penance and briefly excommunicated in 2020.
Since then, the society said Tuesday, the internal team responsible for handling complaints against Jesuits “has received several new testimonies and complaints concerning Fr. Marko Rupnik.”
Many of the people who have recently come forward to make allegations against Rupnik do not know each other, and alleged instances of abuse over a period which began in the 1980s and concluded as recently as 2018, the statement from the Jesuits said.
“These people are indeed truly ‘survivors’ given the evil they have reportedly suffered,” the Society of Jesus said, and “the degree of credibility of what is reported or witnessed seems to be very high.”
Rupnik has previously been accused of serious spiritual and sexual abuse of multiple women, one of whom detailed how the priest, whose artwork appears in several prominent churches and ecclesiastical buildings worldwide, used his artistic process as a means of grooming and abusing her.
In 2019, Rupnik was accused of attempting to sacramentally absolve a sexual partner — one of the most serious crimes in canon law. According to some Italian media sources, the charges stem from sexual contact with a religious novice in 2015.
For that crime, the priest was in 2020 declared excommunicated, but that penalty was soon lifted.
In 2021, the priest was investigated for other allegations of serious sexual misconduct, involving religious sisters in a community he had helped to found in Slovenia decades ago. But while investigators recommended a penal process at the Vatican, the DDF determined the case could not proceed because of the statute of limitations.
Since the allegations have emerged recently in the public, there was have been questions about who was responsible for the decision not to waive the canonical statute of limitations.
In an interview last month, Pope Francis told the Associated Press that he had declined to intervene to waive the statutory limit, and that he generally preferred only to do so when a case against a priest involved the abuse of minors.
The Society of Jesus explained in a statement this week that after a review of recent allegations made against Rupnik - he reportedly has about 25 accusers - a team has concluded that there is probable cause to pursue an internal canonical prosecution against the priest.
The statement added that Rupnik was recently asked to meet with the evaluation team to offer his version of events, but said the priest had declined to do so.
As a result, the statement said, Rupnik has been prohibited from “any public artistic exercise, especially involving religious structures” while the Jesuits continue their canonical procedure against him.
Those restrictions come on top of existing prohibitions on Rupnik publicly exercising priestly ministry or leaving the region of Rome.
The internal process now underway in the Society of Jesus is a canonical process similar to the ones Rupnik has already faced, but differs in several important elements.
According to the Society of Jesus, the new process will examine accusations against Rupnik which could result in his expulsion from the Jesuit order.
The society noted that canon law allows a religious order, like the Jesuits, to begin a process to expel a member for reasons including “repeated violations of the sacred bonds; stubborn disobedience to the legitimate prescripts of superiors in a grave matter; grave scandal arising from the culpable behavior of the member.”
In such cases, the society’s statement noted, the process does not come under the canonical criminal code, per se, but is an internal disciplinary matter for the society and, as such, is not subject to the canonical statute of limitations which prevented previous allegations against Rupnik from being prosecuted at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“In any case,” said the Jesuit provincial delegate responsible for Rupnik, “we want to have before us the clear possibility of a path that pursues the full recognition of the truth of the facts by those responsible, and a path of justice for the wrong done.”