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Rupniks remain on Vatican site despite O’Malley appeal

The Vatican’s media arm appears to be defying an appeal from Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who has urged the Vatican to stop using artwork created by alleged abuser Fr. Marko Rupnik. 

On the same day the cardinal’s call to all Vatican departments was made public, several of Rupnik’s alleged victims also appealed for Church institutions to remove displays of his work.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley. Scott Maentz via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

O’Malley, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), wrote a June 26 letter to the dicasteries of the Roman Curia calling for a moratorium on the display of artwork by alleged abusers.

“Pope Francis has urged us to be sensitive to and walk in solidarity with those harmed by all forms of abuse,” the Archbishop of Boston wrote in the letter, quoted in a June 28 post on the PCPM’s website. 

“I ask you to bear this in mind when choosing images to accompany the publication of messages, articles, and reflections through the various communication channels available to us.”

But the Vatican News website continued to use a mosaic of St. Irenaeus by a Rupnik-linked art studio to illustrate its June 28 “Saint of the Day” feature. 

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Despite the grave allegations against Rupnik, and the disgraced artist’s previous conviction by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) for crimes against the sacrament of penance, the Vatican’s official news site has used the studio’s artwork to illustrate major feasts, such as the Solemnity of the Most Sacred of Jesus, the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas

The St. Irenaeus illustration has appeared on the June 28 “Saint of the Day” entry since at least 2021, but remains on the site despite O’Malley’s letter, along with the other feast day images.

The original St. Irenaeus mosaic is displayed in the chapel of the apostolic nunciature in Paris, one of the more than 200 locations around the world decorated by the Rupnik-linked Aletti Center in Rome. 

On the day that the extracts from O’Malley’s letter were made public, five women who say they were abused by Rupnik wrote to bishops, asking them to remove his mosaics from churches. 

The AP reported that the women said in a letter that the mosaics made abuse victims relive their trauma.

“Notwithstanding the years that have passed, the trauma that each suffered has not been erased, and it lives again in the presence of each of Fr. Rupnik’s works,” said the letter, signed on the women’s behalf by lawyer Laura Sgro.

O’Malley’s letter and the five women’s appeal will intensify the pressure on the Vatican to get to grips with the Rupnik scandal, which has hung over the Holy See since 2022.

Rupnik, who has not responded publicly to the abuse allegations, was expelled from the Jesuit order in June 2023 due to “his stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience.”

Earlier in the same month, Pope Francis had highlighted a work by the priest in a video message to a Marian congress in Aparecida, Brazil.

Following an outcry in October 2023 after it emerged that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in his native Slovenia, the Vatican announced that the mosaic artist would face a canonical trial.

The Holy See press office noted at the time that the pope had been informed of “serious problems” in the Vatican’s handling of the case by the PCPM in September 2023.

Msgr. Joseph Kennedy, head of the DDF’s disciplinary section, said May 29 that work on the Rupnik case was “at a fairly advanced stage.” 

The Vatican News site is overseen by the Dicastery for Communication, led since 2018 by the Italian layman Paolo Ruffini. 

Ruffini sparked controversy June 21, when he strongly defended the use of Rupnik’s images at a Catholic Media Conference gathering in Atlanta.

“This is not the way to be close to the victims, to think that if I pull away a photo of art from my website, our website, I would be more close to victims,” he said.

In his letter, O’Malley argued that “pastoral prudence would prevent displaying artwork in a way that could imply either exoneration or a subtle defense” of an alleged abuser, “or indicate indifference to the pain and suffering of so many victims of abuse.”

“We must avoid sending a message that the Holy See is oblivious to the psychological distress that so many are suffering,” he added.

The PCPM noted that in recent months it had heard from abuse victims expressing “frustration and concern at the continued use of artwork by Fr. Marko Rupnik by several Vatican offices, including the Dicastery for Communications.”

“In his letter, Cardinal O’Malley said that while the presumption of innocence during such an investigation should be respected, the Holy See and its offices must ‘exercise wise pastoral prudence and compassion toward those harmed by clerical sexual abuse,’” the commission said.

Churches and shrines around the world are currently reviewing the display of Rupnik’s work.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France is expected to announce a decision soon on the fate of mosaics decorating the facade of Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Local bishop Bishop Jean-Marc Micas established a commission in 2023 to assess the mosaics, which were installed in 2008. 

Micas had a private audience with Pope Francis June 20, but it is not known whether they discussed the mosaics’ future.

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Rupnik has been accused of sexually abusing some 30 religious sisters. Some of the allegations involve claims of sexual abuse which reportedly occurred directly in the context of designing and creating his works of art. Rupnik was previously convicted by the DDF of sexual crimes related to the sacrament of penance and was briefly excommunicated. 

The Society of Jesus has already, according to its superiors, conducted a lengthy investigation into Rupnik’s alleged abuse and found a “high degree” of evidence against him, though instead of pursuing the priest’s laicization, the Jesuits opted to expel him from the order for “disobedience.”

After being expelled from the Society of Jesus last year, Rupnik was incardinated by his home bishop in the Slovenian Diocese of Koper where “as long as Rev. Rupnik has not been found guilty in a public trial in court, he enjoys all the rights and duties of diocesan priests,” according to the diocese.

According to statements from the Jesuits, Rupnik was placed under “restricted ministry” conditions as early as 2019, when they first received the allegation of attempted absolution of a sexual partner. 

Rupnik continued to teach, lecture, and receive high-profile artistic commissions throughout that time, and was named as a consultant to several Vatican dicasteries — including the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Dicastery for Clergy. 

But after listing Rupnik as recently as 2022, the Dicastery for Clergy has since renewed its slate of consultors and removed the priest, Vatican records show.

An initial examination of the allegations against Rupnik met a dead end when the DDF declined to lift the statute of limitations on the allegations.

In October last year, Pope Francis announced that he had waived the canonical statute of limitations on allegations against the priest, and instructed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith — the Church’s highest disciplinary court — to initiate a new process against the cleric.

The Vatican later ordered the closure of a religious community co-founded by the mosaic artist.

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