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Women ask Pope Francis to make Father Marko Rupnik sex abuse report public

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Gloria Branciani, a former religious sister of the Loyola Community, discusses the sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse she said she suffered by Father Marko Rupnik, her spiritual director and confessor, during a news conference at the Italian National Press Federation in Rome Feb. 21, 2024. Laura Sgrò, her lawyer, is seen to the left. (CNS photo/Justin McLellan)

VATICAN CITY — Five years after Pope Francis’ summit on fighting clerical sexual abuse, a Rome lawyer had advice for religious women sexually abused by priests: Go to the police.

Laura Sgrò, a civil and canon lawyer known for arguing high-profile cases at the Vatican, made the remarks Feb. 21 as she accompanied two of her clients to a news conference where they appealed publicly to Pope Francis to investigate the handling of allegations of abuse by Father Marko Rupnik and to make the report public.

Many accusations against clerics — especially well-known clerics — continue to bounce off a “rubber wall” that shields the church as an institution, protects abusers and keeps victims and survivors in the dark, said Mirjam Kovac, who has tried for three decades to get officials to take seriously allegations against Father Rupnik.

Kovac, a former sister and former secretary of the Loyola Community, a religious order founded with Father Rupnik’s help in Slovenia in the 1980s, said she had heard from at least 20 of the 41 members of the community that they were sexually abused by Father Rupnik.

Gloria Branciani, 59, was one of them. She told reporters his manipulation of her was so unrelenting, so devious and so tied to her desire to serve God with her whole being that, after years, he even convinced her to have sex with him and another sister so that they could “reflect the Trinity.”

She thought suicide was her only escape, she said, and the only way to get Father Rupnik to stop what he was doing to the women in the community.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, speaks about the reported sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse by Father Marko Rupnik during a news conference at the Italian National Press Federation in Rome Feb. 21, 2024. (CNS photo/Justin McLellan)

She had met Father Rupnik when she was a 21-year-old medical student trying to discern a vocation. The sexual abuse began with touching and brief kisses, but eventually led to her losing her virginity. She said he took her to pornographic movie theaters. And he constantly alternated between heaping praise on her for her spiritual openness and bombarding her with scorn for being selfish and immature if she resisted or questioned what he was doing.

Father Rupnik, an artist whose mosaics decorate churches and chapels at the Vatican and around the world, moved to Rome from Slovenia in the 1990s. He has been accused of sexually, spiritually or psychologically abusing more than 20 women and at least one man over a 40-year period. He was a Jesuit until last June when the order expelled him for disobedience in connection with restrictions placed on his ministry.

Although the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed a case against Father Rupnik in October 2022 saying the statute of limitations had expired, a year later the Vatican press office announced Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations to allow for a formal investigation of the case by the doctrinal office.

At the news conference in Rome Feb. 21, Branciani said that although she had testified before both the Jesuits and the doctrinal office before the first case was closed, she had not been contacted again and did not know the status of the case.

Sgrò said she thought the case was still at the doctrinal dicastery, but she was not certain.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith put out a note Jan. 30 saying in cases of a cleric sexually abusing a “vulnerable adult,” the dicastery investigates and judges only cases involving “persons who habitually have an imperfect use of reason,” such as someone with a serious developmental delay. For other vulnerable adults, it said, another “appropriate” dicastery would be involved, presumably the dicastery for religious when the perpetrator is a member of a religious order or the Dicastery for Clergy when he is a priest.

After the women’s news conference, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said, “The case is currently being examined at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; over the past few months, following the responsibility received from the pope at the end of October, the dicastery has contacted the institutions involved in different capacities in the case to receive all available relevant information.”

“Having widened the scope of the investigation to entities not previously contacted and having just received the latest elements in response, it will now be a matter of studying the documentation acquired in order to be able to identify what procedures will be possible and useful to implement,” Bruni continued.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org and co-host of the news conference in Rome, told reporters that at the end of the Vatican summit on abuse in 2019, Vatican officials, bishops and religious superiors “pledged a new era of listening to victims. They made this point over and over again; it was perhaps their most specific commitment. They would now listen to victims and extend pastoral care to them.”

Yet, she said, the case of Father Rupnik, who was accepted into a diocese in Slovenia after being expelled from the Jesuits, is one of “the most egregious acts of cover up” of sexual abuse to take place in the church.

“Today in the interests of truth and justice, BishopAccountability joins with Gloria and Mirjam to call on Pope Francis to commission an independent investigation of the hierarchy’s handling of the allegations against Rupnik,” including what role, if any Pope Francis had in the process, “and to publish the findings.”