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Vatican communications prefect: Removing Rupnik art ‘not the Christian response’

The prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication told a group of Catholic journalists Friday that removing artwork by disgraced religious artist and alleged serial sexual abuser Fr. Marko Rupnik is “not the Christian response.”

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, speaks at a synod on synodality briefing at the Vatican on Oct. 14, 2023. Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.


“I don’t think we have to throw stones, thinking it is the way of healing someone,” said Paolo Ruffini, according to video footage of his remarks obtained by The Pillar. “The Christian faith is saying other things. Jesus said other things.”

Ruffini, who since 2018 has headed the Vatican communications department, spoke at a Catholic Media Conference gathering in Atlanta on June 21.

During a Q-and-A session after his talk, Ruffini was asked by Colleen Dulle of America Magazine why his dicastery’s website continues to use Rupnik’s artwork. He was also asked what message he would like to give abuse victims.

Ruffini claimed that the Church’s closeness to victims “is clear,” but that it is necessary to wait for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) to conclude its investigation into the allegations against Rupnik before “judging.”

Still, Ruffini made clear his conviction that removing publicly displayed art is not a reasonable act for “civilization,” suggesting that even if Rupnik is convicted at the DDF of grave sexual abuse, the Vatican may not support the public removal of his art.

Ruffini did not respond to The Pillar’s request for comment.

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.

Ruffini said that while his dicastery is not adding new photos of Rupnik’s artwork to their collection, they have also decided not to remove the artwork from their website. The dicastery has drawn fire for repeatedly featuring Rupnik’s artwork on its website and social media posts to mark holidays and other special events.

It would be wrong to anticipate the judgment of the Vatican’s investigation, the Vatican’s communication chief emphasized.

“Who am I to judge?” he asked.

“We have to understand that the closeness to the victims is important. But I don’t know that it is the way of healing: again and again talking about this problem of art that is healing others maybe, I don't know but maybe, yes. Maybe yes. There are people that are praying in sanctuaries of many churches all around the world [in front of Rupnik’s art].”

“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 continued.

Paulina Guzik of OSV News followed up on Ruffini’s remarks, countering that she believed removing Rupnik’s artwork would demonstrate a greater closeness to victims.

Ruffini retorted, “You think so? Well, I think you’re wrong. I think you are wrong. I really think you are wrong.”

“Removing, deleting, destroying art does not ever mean a good choice,” he said. “This is not a Christian response.”

He added that it is “inspiring” that the Jesuits continue to have Rupnik’s artwork in the chapels where they pray.

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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.

According to the Vatican press office at the time, the pope made the decision after “the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors brought to the pope’s attention that there were serious problems in the handling of the Fr. Marko Rupnik case and lack of outreach to victims.”

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

The accusations against Rupnik have led to calls for the removal of his artwork, which is prominently featured in sacred spaces around the world, including the Basilica of the Sanctuary in Lourdes, France.

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