Pope calls on doctrinal dicastery to formally investigate Father Rupnik

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has lifted the statute of limitations on abuse accusations against Father Marko Rupnik to allow for a formal investigation of the case by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"In September 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," a written communique by the Vatican press office said Oct. 27.

"Consequently, the Holy Father asked the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to review the case and decided to lift the statute of limitations to allow a process to take place," it said.

"The pope is firmly convinced that if there is one thing the church must learn from the synod, it is to listen attentively and compassionately to those who are suffering, especially those who feel marginalized from the church," the communique said.

Father Rupnik, whose mosaics decorate churches and chapels at the Vatican and around the world, has been accused of sexually, spiritually or psychologically abusing more than 20 women and at least one man over a 40-year period.

After the Vatican announced the pope's decision, the safeguarding commission issued a statement saying the pope's decision "to allow a canonical trial to proceed in the Rupnik case is crucial, not only for the victims but for the whole Church. As a Commission, we remain concerned about the Church's disciplinary processes and its inadequacies. We will remain watchful in ensuring the adequate administration of justice."

While applauding "the bravery" of abuse survivors who "have been left empty-handed when seeking justice," the commission also insisted "there is no room in ministry for those who would violate so profoundly those entrusted to their care."

The Society of Jesus, the order to which Father Rupnik belonged until his expulsion in June, had received in 2018 allegations of sexual misconduct and an allegation of absolving in confession a woman with whom he had had sex. It reported the findings of its preliminary investigation to the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and placed a number of restrictions on Father Rupnik.

While he had been briefly excommunicated in 2020 for the canonical crime of absolution of an accomplice, the excommunication was lifted after he apparently repented. The Jesuits conducted another investigation into other accusations of abuse and sent those findings to the now-Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in January 2022 with the recommendation of a criminal process.

That October, the dicastery said it could not proceed with those allegations because the statute of limitations for reporting had passed. Pope Francis had told the AP that he does not generally waive the statute of limitations on cases involving the abuse of adults.

The Jesuits later expelled Father Rupnik for refusing to uphold his vow of obedience to the increasing number of restrictions placed on his ministry and confront the allegations against him. However, Father Rupnik was recently accepted into the Diocese of Koper, Slovenia, the diocese where he was ordained a priest in 1985.

A statement to AP from the diocese said it accepted Father Rupnik's transfer in August because he had not "been found guilty of the alleged abuses before either an ecclesiastical tribunal or civil court."