Lourdes bishop says it 'will eventually be necessary' to remove Rupnik mosaics, while others continue to be installed around world

PARIS (OSV News) -- As the commission discerning whether Father Marko Rupnik's mosaics stay or go from the facade of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the French sanctuary of Lourdes completed its work, no definitive decision was reached.

For now, the mosaics will stay, the sanctuary announced July 2, but "it will eventually be necessary" to remove them, the bishop of Lourdes told La Croix.

At the same time, artwork by the priest, who is under Vatican investigation after having been accused by between 20 and 40 women of spiritual and sexual abuse, with accusations made public in 2022, is still being installed around the world.

In France, the commission on the Rupnik art was established in 2023 by Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes and included a prosecutor, a lawyer, experts in sacred art, victims and "people with different vocations and diverse opinions," the bishop told the French Catholic daily.

The Lourdes mosaics by Father Rupnik were commissioned in 2008 to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady.

At the time, Father Rupnik was a "great artist," David Torchala, director of communications at the Lourdes sanctuary, told OSV News June 24. Father Rupnik's mosaics were intended to add the luminous mysteries of the rosary, instituted by St. John Paul II in 2002, to the basilica, Torchala said.

While the July 2 statement posted on the sanctuary's website did not indicate whether the commission had finalized its work, the sanctuary's press officer, Marie Etcheverry, confirmed to OSV News July 3 that it had.

"For the time being, the commission's work is finished. This commission was purely consultative. Its work has now come to an end," Etcheverry told OSV News. "It is now up to Bishop Micas himself to continue the process, to continue listening to those who are suffering. He wants to continue listening to the victims of Father Rupnik, and to other people who were victims, not just of Father Rupnik," she said.

"There is no consensus on any proposal. Positions are heated and passionate," Bishop Micas said.

In June, mentioning "civilization" and "humanity along the centuries," the prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, said on the final day of the Catholic Media Conference in Atlanta that "removing, deleting, destroying art has not ever been a good choice." Ruffini mentioned legendary Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, known widely as simply Caravaggio, who in the course of his life killed a man.

Removing Father Rupnik's art from public space "is not a Christian response," Ruffini said.

"As Christian(s), we are asked not to judge," Ruffini said to a room full of communications professionals after giving an address at the CMC June 21.

Bishop Micas, who did not mention Ruffini's remarks in his statement, said, "For my part, my personal opinion is now clear: this situation has nothing to do with other works whose author and victims are deceased, sometimes for centuries. Here, the victims are alive, and so is the author."

"My role is to ensure that the Sanctuary welcomes everyone, especially those who are suffering, including victims of sexual abuse and assault, both children and adults. At Lourdes, the suffering and wounded in need of consolation and reparation must always take first place," Bishop Micas wrote July 2.

"This is the special grace of this shrine: nothing should prevent them from responding to Our Lady's message to come here on pilgrimage. Because this has become impossible for many, my personal opinion is that it would be preferable to remove the mosaics," he wrote.

"This option does not have widespread support" however, Bishop Micas said in the statement. "It even meets with real opposition from some: the subject arouses passions. Today, the best decision to make is not yet mature" and "would add even more division and violence," he said.

However, for now they will stay, but will not be lit "during the Marian procession that brings pilgrims together every evening. This is a first step," the bishop said July 2. The press officer confirmed they had not been lit up that evening.

"It's a gesture to the victims, pending further action," Etcheverry said.

In an interview with La Croix, the bishop added that even if eventually the mosaics are taken down, that doesn't necessarily mean they would be destroyed.

"The mosaics are not glued to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. At the time of their installation, the architect of the French historical buildings required that they be removable. Therefore, we can take them down and, if desired, display them elsewhere. Destruction is not the only option," Bishop Micas said.

The bishop said he will "continue to work more closely with the victims, to discern what needs to be done, here in Lourdes, to honor the absolute need for consolation and reparation."

Asked whether leaving the decision in limbo has anything to do with the trial of Father Rupnik still pending at the Vatican, Etcheverry said that Bishop Micas "gave no indication" when the final decision would be made "nor has he mentioned anything about Father Rupnik's trial."

Antonia Sobocki, director of LOUDfence U.K. and advocate for victims of church sexual abuse, said in a July 2 post on X, "When I enter a church which contains Rupnik's work, it makes me feel physically sick. I am not the problem for feeling sick. Rupnik is the problem for committing sickening crimes which are depicted in his art."

She added that after the bishops' statement, Lourdes "certainly can't be a place of healing for me whilst the mosaics remain in situ."

Meanwhile, new mosaics by Centro Aletti are still being installed in various churches in the world, with the latest one unveiled May 26 in northern Italy in a local church in Conegliano Veneto, a town a few miles from Venice. It depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The work, measuring 160 square meters (1,722 square feet), was created with the permission of the Italian bishops' conference and blessed by Bishop Corrado Pizziolo of Vittorio Veneto.

In his Christmas 2023 letter to the community, Father Pietro Bortolini of the parish, Santa Maria delle Grazie, wrote that the project to embellish the apse was "a dream" of his predecessor. He said the idea of ??entrusting the task to Father Rupnik's Centro Aletti was appreciated "by the pastoral council, the economic affairs council, the sacred art (department) of the diocese," and "encouraged by the bishop, who even consulted the CEI (Italian bishops' conference)."

Centro Aletti is the art institute founded in Rome in the early 1990s by Father Rupnik, where the mosaics are created and where the priest is still listed as director of atelier, or studio, of spiritual art and director of atelier of theology. Centro Aletti lists at least 230 places where the mosaics, characteristic for the black eyes of their biblical and saintly protagonists, are displayed around the globe.

The cost of the mosaics is not publicly disclosed by Centro Aletti. However, Father Bortolini told OSV News that in his parish church, the mosaics cost 160,000 euros, or 1,000 euros per square meter ($172,000 for 1,722 square feet).Two sources separately told OSV News that the decoration of the interior of the chapel of the Pontifical Major Seminary in Rome, completed by Centro Aletti artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, cost about 1 million euros ($1,076,290).

According to the Italian news website Domani, the massive 2,400-square-meter (25,833-square-foot) work at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo reached 6 million euros ($6.5 million) more than a decade ago and was personally installed by Father Rupnik in the crypt burial place of St. Padre Pio (1887-1968).

In Father Rupnik's native Slovenia, according to data collected in 2012 by Arnold Oton Ciraj in his civil engineering thesis, the price of mosaics per square meter (10.7 square feet) ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 euros ($1,076-$3,220). The size of the nearly 40 works of Father Rupnik installed in Slovenia ranges from 50 to 200 square meters (538 to 2,152 square feet), totaling potentially millions in revenue, according to the thesis.

Asked by OSV News about the cost of the mosaics at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, the Knights of Columbus did not reveal the amount, saying, "We have determined not to discuss the details of our review process until it concludes."

In a statement previously shared with The Associated Press and sent to OSV News, the Knights said that the charity organization is "deeply disturbed by and strongly condemn all instances of sexual abuse, which are completely antithetical to the life, legacy and teachings of St. John Paul II" and that it continues "to pray for victims and (is) carefully considering the best course of action concerning the mosaics that were installed at the shrine."

"We are aware of recent reports that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith's investigation is at an advanced stage, which is an important factor in our considerations," the statement said. "We remain committed to carrying out the shrine's mission of evangelization through the witness of St. John Paul II."

The inauguration of new mosaics in northern Italy's Conegliano Veneto came two weeks after a festive public unveiling of the south facade of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil on May 11.

The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or the Redemptorists, which administers the Brazilian shrine of Aparecida, did not reveal the price of the new mosaics when asked by OSV News. The Brazilian bishops' conference has not replied to the same question from OSV News.

However, mosaicist Erasmo Freitas de Abreu, director of the architecture and sacred art atelier Amacom, told Folha do São Paulo contributor Isabel Gnaccarini that the going rate for this type of art is around 1,000 euros ($1,076) per square meter. According to the website of the Redemptorists, 4,000 square meters (43,055 square feet) of mosaics have been applied to the north façade of the Basilica alone.

- - - Federica Tourn from Turin, Caroline de Sury from Paris and Eduardo Campos Lima from São Paulo contributed to this report.