Stop using art by Father Rupnik, Cardinal O’Malley tells Vatican officials

Rupnik mosaics Lourdes Mosaics by alleged abuser Father Marko Rupnik are displayed at the shrine in Lourdes, France. | Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA

The pope’s top adviser on sexual abuse by clergy is asking Vatican officials not to use art by a former Jesuit priest accused of sexually abusing women — even as some Church officials continue to do so. 

Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, sent a letter to the dicasteries that govern day-to-day affairs of the Roman Curia expressing hope that “pastoral prudence would prevent displaying artwork in a way that could imply either exoneration or a subtle defense” of those of accused of abuse. 

“We must avoid sending a message that the Holy See is oblivious to the psychological distress that so many are suffering,” O’Malley wrote in a letter to leaders of the Curia on Wednesday, June 26, according to the commission he heads

The letter — which was made public Friday, June 28, one day before O’Malley turns 80 and therefore must give up his Vatican posts — refers to Father Marko Rupnik, 69, a Slovenian priest and former Jesuit whose mosaic art decorates Catholic churches around the world. 

Rupnik has been accused by about two dozen women, mostly former nuns, of sexually abusing them during the past three decades. He has not publicly responded to the accusations. 

Vatican News, an official news outlet of the Holy See, published an image of a mosaic of St. Irenaeus made by Rupnik with a note that the original is in the office of the papal nuncio in Paris. 

Vatican News also published images of Rupnik’s art on May 26, June 1, and June 7, as the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, has reported.

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, defended using Rupnik’s art during an appearance in Atlanta on June 21, arguing that removing it wouldn’t help his accusers.

“I think that, as Christians, we have to understand that the closeness to the victims is important, but I don’t know that this is the way of healing: again and again talking about this problem of art that is healing others maybe, I don’t know, but maybe, yes. Maybe yes,” Ruffini said, as the Register reported.

“There are people that are praying in sanctuaries of many churches all around the world” in front of Rupnik’s mosaics, he said.

In June 2023, the Jesuits expelled Rupnik from the society, saying that they found the credibility of allegations against him to be “very high” and that the priest had refused “to come to terms with his past” and “to enter a path of truth.” 

A lawyer who represents five of the priest’s accusers said this week she sent a letter to bishops of dioceses where the priest’s mosaics are displayed asking them to remove them “out of respect for the victims and for the very nature of the place of prayer.” 

“Father Rupnik … is accused by numerous women of having inflicted spiritual, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse on them, and his mosaics, which are found in the places where every believer gathers in prayer to have contact with the Father, cause disturbance in the hearts of the faithful,” states the letter by Italian lawyer Laura Sgrò.

Rupnik incurred an automatic excommunication in 2019 for giving absolution to a woman he had sex with — an offense seen by the Vatican as an abuse of the sacrament of confession. But the excommunication was lifted after only a month, and afterward, in 2020, Rupnik preached a Lenten meditation for fellow clerics in Rome, including Pope Francis. 

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, as Rupnik was until last year, and the two have reportedly been on friendly terms in the past. 

The outcry over Rupnik led Pope Francis to declare in January 2023 that he “had nothing to do with” how Rupnik’s case had been handled. 

Rupnik is currently a priest of the Diocese of Koper in his native Slovenia. 

More in Vatican

Many of the accusations against the priest were initially dismissed because they are beyond the Vatican’s ordinary statute of limitations for abuse of adults. But in October 2023, Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in this case, allowing the Vatican’s investigation of Rupnik to proceed.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.