Victims ask pope for independent inquiry into abuse by prominent priest


  • World
  • Thursday, 22 Feb 2024

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, speaks as former religious sisters Gloria Branciani and Mirjam Kovac who say they have endured various kinds of abuse by world-renowned religious artist Father Marko Rupnik appear publicly for the first time holding a press conference in Rome, Italy February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

ROME (Reuters) - Former nuns who said they were subjected to sexual, psychological or spiritual abuse by a famous priest urged Pope Francis on Wednesday to allow an independent investigation, saying the Catholic Church had put up "a rubber wall" blocking the truth.

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a religious artist whose mosaics adorn about 200 churches and chapels around world, including in the Vatican, was expelled from the Jesuit order last year and is believed to be somewhere in his native Slovenia.

About 20 people, mostly former nuns, have accused him of various types of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in Slovenia about 30 years ago or after he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.

He has not commented on the allegations, which the Jesuit Order said last year are "very highly" credible. Both the order, to which Pope Francis belongs, and the Vatican have launched internal investigations.

Former nun Gloria Branciani said publicly for the first time on Wednesday that Rupnik had forced her to have three-way sex with him and another nun in Slovenia and had justified it as a devotion to the Holy Trinity. Later, in Rome, he forced her to visit pornographic movie theatres with him, she said.

She and another alleged Rupnik victim, former nun Mirjam Kovac, urged the pope to commission what victims advocate Anne Barrett Doyle called "an independent investigation of the hierarchy's handling of the allegations against Rupnik and to publish the findings".

Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based documentation centre on abuse in the Catholic Church, said the inquiry must "include every superior who may have turned a blind eye from the early 1990s until now and most importantly it must address the troubling questions swirling around Francis' own role in this case".

Repeated attempts to reach Rupik, now 70, though his art studio in Rome have been unsuccessful. A Vatican spokesman declined to comment on Barrett Doyle's remarks.

MYSTERIOUS LIFTING OF EXCOMMUNICATION

Under pressure from the media, the Jesuits disclosed in 2022 that in 2020 the Vatican's doctrinal department had excommunicated Rupnik for "absolution of an accomplice", referring to when a priest has sex with someone and then absolves the person in confession.

The excommunication was lifted after only a few weeks, an unusually short period, on the grounds that Rupnik had repented. Barrett Doyle said an independent inquiry should investigate if the pope had any influence on the decision.

Last year the pope ordered the Vatican's doctrinal department to re-open the Rupnik case. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Wednesday that the department had concluded gathering information and was deciding how to proceed.

Kovac, who said she suffered psychological but not sexual abuse from Rupnik, criticised the delay.

"We are saddened by the fact that (Church) institutions, instead of using our experience to re-think they way they handle such cases, continue to wrap themselves in silence, a silence we see as a rubber wall that bounces back every attempt to cure an unhealthy situation," she said.

Branciani, now 60, said her complaints to the mother superior in Slovenia and a local bishop there were met with ridicule.

Visibly shaken, she described Rupnik as a cult-like figure who "entered my psyche" and made her feel worthless unless she gave in to his demands.

"I was violated in body, soul, mind and spirit," she said.

"I hated what I had become and descended into self-disgust," she added, saying she had several times considered taking her own life.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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