Pope Francis has ordered the Vatican to reopen the case of Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik, a well-known priest-artist accused of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing adult women. The Vatican’s decision to remove the statute of limitations that had previously prevented a church trial marks a significant turnaround and follows growing outcry among abuse victims and their advocates.
The Vatican’s abuse prevention commission flagged “serious problems” in the initial handling of Rupnik’s case, particularly the lack of outreach to victims. This terminology is significant as church authorities previously refused to consider the women with claims against Rupnik as “victims.” As a result, Francis asked the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to review the case and lift the statute of limitations, allowing a trial to take place.
Rupnik, a Slovene priest, was initially declared excommunicated by the Vatican in May 2020 for using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activity. However, the excommunication was lifted two weeks later, and he continued his artistic and preaching activities. When additional claims against him were presented a year later, the Vatican’s sex crimes office refused to waive the statute of limitations.
The Jesuit order expelled Rupnik this summer after more adult women came forward with accusations of sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuses. The Jesuits found the women’s claims to be highly credible but were limited in their ability to pursue a canonical trial or harsher punishment due to the Vatican’s disciplinary procedures at the time.
The announcement of a church trial has been welcomed by Rupnik’s former Jesuit superior, Rev. Johan Verschueren, who called it a major step in the right direction. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors also expressed support for the trial, emphasizing the importance of justice for the victims and the entire church.
Pope Francis’ decision to reverse course and allow the old claims to proceed in a trial suggests a recognition of the scandal’s impact on his credibility and the church’s efforts to combat abuse. The handling of the Rupnik case has raised questions about the church’s response to women reporting priests for abuse of authority.