'No one listened,' says alleged Rupnik victim, recalling fight with church system for truth
TURIN, Italy (OSV News) -- On Oct. 30, three days after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations and opened the path for a church trial and possible removal from the priesthood for former Jesuit and mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik, a woman previously known as Anna gave the world her real name, revealing it in the Italian daily newspaper Domani.
Emerging as Gloria Branciani, she openly wanted to protest church policies that put the alleged victims in more pain instead of healing.
Branciani alerted church authorities about Father Rupnik's behavior years ago, but her fight with the church system was, as she recalled in a conversation with OSV News, a lost battle.
In a first-ever interview by an alleged victim of Father Rupnik, published by Domani Dec. 18, 2022, she spoke about a "descent into hell" she experienced for nine years and recalled how "Father Marko at first slowly and gently infiltrated my psychological and spiritual world by appealing to my uncertainties and frailties while using my relationship with God to push me to have sexual experiences with him."
She described Father Rupnik's request "for more and more erotic games in his studio at the Collegio del Gesù in Rome while painting or after the celebration of the Eucharist or confession."
Father Rupnik was expelled from the Jesuit order June 9 because of his "stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience." The artist had been accused by several women of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuses that according to media reports over a 30-year period. He remained a priest after his dismissal from the Jesuits, and was received into the Diocese of Koper, Slovenia, at the end of August in response to his request.
In a conversation with OSV News, Branciani, a graduate in philosophy, said that in the early 1990s, some nuns of the Loyola Community of Menge, Slovenia, accused Rupnik of abuse of power and conscience as well as sexual abuse, but "no one listened to the sisters."
Sister Ivanka Hosta founded the Loyola Community in Slovenia in the 1980s. From the beginning, Father Rupnik was the community's spiritual counselor.
In March 1993, Branciani, who studied philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, left the convent of La Verna in Italy's Tuscan Apennines, where she was living, with the intention of letting herself die in the woods. "I just wanted my pain to end and for my gesture to bring Marko Rupnik to his senses," she told OSV News.
"By then there were many sisters involved at various levels in sexual relationships with him. I tried to talk to Father Rupnik one last time, but he had cynically rejected me saying that it was only my problem, that his aim was to arrive at a collective orgy with sisters 'stronger' than me,'" she said.
Then, in order to protect other sisters, Branciani warned Sister Ivanka, mother superior of the Loyola Community; the provincial of the Jesuits, Father Lojze Bratina; and the archbishop of Ljubljana at the time, Archbishop Alojzij utar. She even warned then-Father Tomá pidlík, an influential Jesuit working in Rome for Vatican Radio, who was later made a cardinal.
However, instead of taking actions to ensure justice and reparation and the necessary support for the complainant, Branciani was ridiculed, accused of being responsible for her improper relationship with Father Rupnik and punished: "In August 1993, (Father) pidlík advised me to write a letter of resignation" from religious life, said Branciani, adding that it was "a letter that he wrote himself and that I still have today, in which he suggested saying there were no precise reasons for my request for dispensation from vows."
The complaint, however, had some effect, and in October 1993, Archbishop utar removed Father Rupnik from the Loyola Community of Menge, without explanation.
At the time, Father Rupnik had moved from Slovenia to Rome, where he created the Centro Aletti, a place dedicated to religious life and artistic creativity.
Some sisters of the Loyola Community, who were already living at Centro Aletti in Rome, followed Father Rupnik, including Maria Campatelli, who is the current director of the center. (Father Rupnik, according to the website, is still formally the director of its spiritual art atelier, or studio, and director of its atelier of theology). She still defends the former Jesuit and on Sept. 15 was received by the pope. She claims accusations against Father Rupnik were "defamatory and unproven" and amounted to a form of mediatic "lynching" against the Slovene priest and his art center.
When a few sisters, including Campatelli, left the Loyola Community to found Centro Aletti with Father Rupnik, Bracianci told OSV News, "I wrote a letter to warn them of the manipulative and abusive dynamics I experienced with Father Rupnik," and "I delivered the letter to Ivanka Hosta. To this day, I don't know if the sisters of the Aletti Center have ever received it."
After Father Rupnik's departure from Slovenia, Gloria Branciani reintegrated into the Loyola Community. According to her testimony, she tried to find her place, but the hostility of the superior and the coldness of the other sisters made her life impossible.
During Easter 1994, after her last attempt to denounce the inauthenticity and lies on which she says community life was based, she left Loyola forever.
However, the sisters were unaware of what had happened to her. Only after the newspaper Domani published an interview with Branciani in December 2022, they learned of the violence she had suffered and were finally able to show their solidarity with her. "Ivanka had told everyone that I was under the influence of the devil and that I was dangerous to the community," Branciani recalled.
Branciani's subsequent life was deeply marked by the abuse she suffered: She had to deal with two hemorrhagic uterine fibroids and an ovarian tumor of psychosomatic origin, as well as a serious car accident, which left her in a coma, followed by a long rehabilitation.
Branciani was not the only one who tried to warn the ecclesiastical authorities. Mirjam Kovac, another former sister of the Loyola Community and secretary for its superior at the time of the events, Sister Ivanka, testified that she had received several confidential testimonies from sisters abused by Father Rupnik and had reported them to the Jesuits.
"I spoke to the father provincial, and in 1998 I also went to the delegate for international houses (of the Society of Jesus) in Rome, Father Francisco J. Egaña, but they did nothing," she told OSV News.
The women stressed that neither the Slovenian Jesuits, nor the archbishop of Ljubljana at the time, nor the influential Father pidlík, later cardinal, considered it necessary to launch an investigation into Father Rupnik, enabling him to continue to move about undisturbed for another 30 years.
In 2022, Branciani was not informed about the outcome of the trial in her own case at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. She wrote an open letter to the ecclesiastical authorities to be informed about the ongoing investigation at the dicastery, but, as she said, no one responded. So, she decided to turn to the press.
The recent news about the reopening of the canonical process against Father Rupnik was a surprise for Branciani.
"We hope that this will be a suitable step towards seeing the truth acknowledged. We await further developments," she and other women wrote in an Oct. 30 letter, following the pope lifting the statute of limitations to allow the canonical process. They said that they hope that finally, after 30 years, the truth will be recognized.
- - - Federica Tourn writes for OSV News from Turin, Italy. She is a journalist investigating clerical sexual abuse for the Domani newspaper.