Cardinal Angelo De Donatis. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 24, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said Friday that the Diocese of Rome learned only recently about the accusations of abuse against Father Marko Rupnik, a Jesuit priest and artist who has served in the diocese for decades.

In a statement released late on Dec. 23, De Donatis said “the Diocese of Rome, which was unaware until recently of the issues raised, cannot enter into the merits of the determinations made by others, but assures, also in the name of its Bishop, every support necessary for the desirable positive solution of the case…”

De Donatis is vicar of the Diocese of Rome, of which Pope Francis is bishop.

The 68-year-old Rupnik, originally from Slovenia, is a renowned sacred artist whose works decorate Catholic churches, chapels, and shrines around the world, including the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican and the major seminary of Rome.

Reports were published earlier this month containing allegations that Rupnik had, around three decades ago, sexually, spiritually, and psychologically abused sisters in a religious institute with which he was formerly associated.

Following the media reports, the Jesuits confirmed that Rupnik had also incurred an automatic excommunication for absolving an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment. The excommunication was verified, and shortly afterward lifted, by the Vatican in 2020.

The Jesuits also said the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith had, in October 2022, declined to pursue a penal process against Rupnik for the abuse allegations because they fell outside the statute of limitations.

An auxiliary bishop of Rome, Daniele Libanori, SJ, has also said he uncovered accusations of abuse against Rupnik while performing his duties as a Vatican-appointed investigator into the Loyola Community, which split from Rupnik in the early 1990s.

The Jesuits said Rupnik’s ministry has been under restrictions since 2019 and 2020. While under restrictions, the Jesuit artist has continued to preach online and receive public accolades. In March 2020, he gave one of the annual Lenten sermons to the Roman Curia and Pope Francis.

In his statement, De Donatis noted “media-level accusations” against Rupnik, who has performed “numerous and valuable services of a ministerial nature to the Church of Rome.”

The artist, he said, has had “a multi-level pastoral relationship with the Diocese of Rome, but he is not in a position of hierarchical submission to the Cardinal Vicar at the disciplinary and possibly penal level.”

De Donatis said Rome diocese will collaborate with Rupnik’s “legitimate superiors,” the Jesuit order, “within the terms of canon law.”

This collaboration, he said, “will also likely entail, among other things, a series of measures with respect to the diocesan canonical offices — the only ones directly subject to the authority of the Cardinal Vicar — of which Father Rupnik is still invested…”

Rupnik is currently rector of the Church of St. Philip Neri at the Esquiline and a member of the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art and Cultural Heritage.

The priest is also the founder of the Aletti Center, a community which has a sacred art school and a theological center, and organizes and leads frequent retreats and spiritual exercises in Rome and the surrounding area.

De Donatis said “the Diocese of Rome is also aware that it must reflect and possibly take action” with respect to the activities of the Aletti Center. In June 2019, the Aletti Center became a public association of the faithful of the Diocese of Rome.

“The Church,” the cardinal vicar said, “has two inalienable mandates that are at the same time also duties: to be close to those who suffer and to implement the criteria of truth and justice inferred from the Gospel.”

“We ministers of Christ cannot be less of a guarantor and [less] charitable than a secular state, turning a complaint into a crime de plano [flat-out],” he said.

“The judgments that we see spreading by many with particular vehemence,” De Donatis continued, “do not seem to manifest either an evangelical criterion of the search for truth, or a basic criterion on which every rule of law is founded, a verbis legis non est recedendum.”

“A verbis legis non est recedendum” is a Latin phrase and legal concept meaning “from the words of the law, there must be no departure.”

The cardinal referenced twice a decree of Dec. 16, titled “Prot. DIR-SOLI 22/006,” which he said was signed by Fr. Johan Verschueren S.J., major superior for the international houses of the Jesuits and Rupnik’s superior.

He said the diocese assures the Jesuits of “all necessary collaboration” for the implementation of the decree.

“The entire diocese, faced with this disconcerting communication, especially in the media, which disorients the People of God, is living these hours with concern and dismay,” De Donatis said.

The Diocese of Rome, he added, is “aware of the extreme delicacy of the situation, which — it was reiterated — has been amply dealt with in judicial fora that are completely outside the competence of the Cardinal Vicar, and which is now being handled autonomously by Fr. Rupnik’s legitimate Superiors.”

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