Pope Francis knew about Marko Rupnik’s abuse. Why didn’t he punish him sooner?
Marko Rupnik, S.J., has been expelled from the Jesuits. I have written enough about sex abuse that I automatically started to type out “Disgraced former priest Marko Rupnik,” but guess what? He is still a priest (although his faculties are limited), and I am hard pressed to say that he has truly been disgraced, even now.
Father Rupnik is a voracious sexual predator who allegedly spent several decades manipulating and tormenting vulnerable women into acting out quasi-spiritual sexual fantasies for his gratification. He is also a popular sacred artist (his hollow-eyed figures haunt the missals at my parish, as well as the walls of prominent churches and shrines worldwide), and apparently he is also a charismatic and charming fellow. For over 30 years, nearly every time one of the victims reported him, his peers and superiors, including the pope, decided that even when he might need to be disciplined, he didn’t need to be stopped. Clericalism is bad, but Father Rupnik is different.
A formal investigation by the Jesuits confirmed that he had excommunicated himself when he absolved a woman of sexual sins that he himself had perpetrated upon her. But even while his excommunication had not been resolved, he was invited to substitute as the preacher of the annual Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia; later, his work was chosen as the logo for the World Meeting of Families. In January 2022, the pope met with him privately. When Rupnik’s excommunication was confirmed, that sanction was quickly lifted, and when Rupnik was later accused of decades-old crimes, the Vatican refused to waive the statute of limitations.
When will the day come when we won’t see a headline about the church reluctantly admitting that they have spent several decades protecting yet another predator and feeding yet more victims into the flames?
In January of this year, Pope Francis, who had supposedly been close with Rupnik, called the allegations against him “a surprise.” He strove to emphasize that he himself had nothing to do with this case beyond a small administrative decision. It wasn’t his fault. How could he have known? What could he have done? He is just the pope. He only met with the man. How was he supposed to make sure he didn’t keep abusing women?
When will this end? When will the day come when we won’t see a headline about the Catholic Church reluctantly admitting that they have spent the last several decades protecting yet another predator and feeding yet more victims into the flames? When will it stop?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I know when it won’t stop: It won’t stop under this generation of bishops, appointed by Francis or Benedict XVI or John Paul II. Some of them are good and decent men. But all of them are tainted. And the purification that must happen in the church will not be completed until they have been replaced.
I am not thirsting for anyone’s death. I am looking to Scripture, and I am seeing how God’s slow hand works.
Look at the story of Exodus. It was so hard for God’s chosen people to be liberated from the Egyptians. Pharaoh finally released the Hebrews under great duress, with many false starts. But that release marked only the beginning of their march toward freedom. First they spend 40 years in a strangely small desert, wandering, setting up camp and taking it down again, organizing and reorganizing themselves, fighting, reconciling, accusing each other, trying to establish some kind of new order, trying to put God at the center of their new life, struggling, failing, trying again, suffering.
Pharoah is abuse and the clericalism that hides it. The Hebrews are the church. The desert is where we are now.
Over and over again, the people find themselves longing for Egypt. They spent nearly 400 years begging to be freed, and then when it happens, the transition to freedom turns out to be hard because it means purifying yourself. So they want to go back to the way things were.
Pharoah is abuse and the clericalism that hides it. The Hebrews are the church. The desert is where we are now. We have, in some sense, been freed from the chains of the past. Now the sex abuse scandal is out in the open, and we are clearly in a different phase of history than we were when the standard response to a complaint was, “Hush your mouth, Father is a good’n’holy man and would never do that; and besides, you must have done something to bring it on yourself; and besides, we need to protect the reputation of the church.” Things are different.
But I can tell we are still in the desert because Marko Rupnik is still a priest. Pope Francis, the self-declared enemy of the great Pharaoh Clericalism, knew Rupnik and knew something about the case, but he didn’t act to stop him or to protect his victims, and he hoped none of this would need to become public, and it was a long time ago anyway; let’s not make a fuss.
There is an even worse prospect: Perhaps Pope Francis didn’t raise an eyebrow over this case because rather than seeing Rupnik as an abuser, he saw him as not that unusual, just another priest who had slipped up. And it’s possible the pope is aware of many such slip-ups, and the press just has not caught wind of them yet, and there’s been more effort focused on avoiding scandal than asking if someone has been hurt by these priests. There may be many exalted priests who have discovered that a little charm and a little power will buy you an endless stream of victims and an endless wall of protection, and even the pope—even this pope—won’t turn over the next rock until someone asks him about it. And then he will say he is shocked, shocked to find that sexual abuse is going on in here.
May I remind you that Moses didn’t make it out of the desert, either?
Yes, we are still in the desert.
Last time I wrote about the pope and the sex abuse scandal, several readers said I was being unfair, and that he had made meaningful changes to canon law and had met with abuse victims who say his words and presence were healing. They see Pope Francis as a new kind of leader who does things differently, as a kind of Moses figure who has the courage and single-mindedness to take the people of God in a new direction and lead us where we need to go.
May I remind you that Moses didn’t make it out of the desert, either?
Moses was part of that same generation who was brought up in Egypt. He did not long for its fleshpots like the simple Hebrews, but there was clearly something of the old ways deep within him, something that could not be expunged even by 40 years of suffering. God wanted his utter trust, and he could not or would not give it. So God said that he was not fit to lead them into the Promised Land. That job was for someone else.
I believe we will be released from this horror. I have reason to hope that the church, so beloved of Christ, will be purified some day. Someday, when we are led by someone new.