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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis has failed to clarify if he intervened to lift the excommunication imposed on Jesuit serial abuser Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik.
In an interview with the left-wing Associated Press published on Wednesday, Francis equivocated when the reporter repeatedly questioned him about his involvement in the case of the world-famous mosaic artist. Rupnik has been a close friend and advisor to the pontiff.
Francis was asked if the sexual and spiritual abuse of nuns by Fr. Rupnik, which resulted in "victims with a very, very serious trauma," should be punished "more seriously or at least as seriously as child abuse."
The pontiff ignored the reporter's mention of Fr. Rupnik the first time and did not provide a specific answer to the question. In all, Francis repeatedly digressed and attempted to change the topic of Rupnik's abuse of 20 nuns, using some 9,000 words in Spanish in his attempt to respond to questions about the Jesuit abuser.
Responding to the first question about Rupnik, Francis launched into an extended digression of 4,300 words on the topic of child abuse, arguing it was far more prevalent in the family, clubs, schools, in the arena of sports and present in only 3% of the priesthood.
The pope cited an unnamed "Brazilian Jewish–Catholic group" as the source for his statistical claims but admitted that the figure of 3% provided by his source "is misleading" since the actual data on clerical sex abuse shows "it is a lot."
Referring to the homosexual abuse perpetrated by the laicized Cdl. Theodore McCarrick, the interviewer repeated the question asking whether the clerical abuse of adults needed to be criminalized and if it was downplayed because such behavior was often misunderstood as consensual.
Without mentioning Fr. Rupnik, Francis agreed that the category of "vulnerable adults" who were abused by priests would have to be treated "as if [the victim] were a minor."
Sickness, mental disabilities or dependency are factors that could render an adult "vulnerable," the pope explained.
"Sometimes there is seduction, a personality who seduces, who manages your conscience. This creates a relationship of vulnerability, and so you are imprisoned," he said, grabbing his wrists as if handcuffed.
Francis did not include religious sisters in the category of "vulnerable adults" or victims who could be seduced.
"At this moment, here, I am judging a case [of adult abuse] in the Vatican," the pope said, conceding that the buck stopped with him because this case was within the legal jurisdiction of Vatican City.
"And the most current case is the case of Fr. Marko Rupnik," the reporter stressed, asking how the Jesuits and the Vatican had reached a resolution on the Jesuit abuser.
Francis equivocated in his response, repeating that the path to resolving the issue was "not clear" to him. The pope said the Society of Jesus and the superior general of Jesuits had dealt with the matter by handing part of the legal process to the Dominicans.
"I don't mess with that. That was a great thing," Francis remarked, observing that "some have to leave the clerical state because they cannot continue in a pastoral situation of this type." The pope did not explain why Rupnik had not been laicized or why he was swiftly rehabilitated after his excommunication.
"The matter was in process for a case that was fixed. I don't know how, but it was arranged in the sense of mutual agreement. I think that compensation was paid, but the arrangement is not clear to me there, but it was fixed," the pope repeated, without specifying which or how many of the 20 nuns abused by Rupnik received a financial payout.
Francis also did not reveal if the compensation was paid by the Loyola Community, the Jesuits or the Vatican, or how much was paid to the victim(s). Since Rupnik is not allowed to have a bank account or own a substantial amount of money under his vow of poverty, the priest would not be in a position to compensate his victim(s).
"But in this case, did you have any role in the decision?" the reporter asked Francis, without clarifying if she was referring to the pope's role in lifting Rupnik's excommunication.
"Nothing," Francis replied. "I was involved in a small process that came to the Congregation [for the Doctrine] of the Faith in the past." Again, the pope did not specify if his involvement in the "small process" was a reference to lifting the Jesuit's excommunication.
The pope said that he had decided to let the Rupnik trial "continue with the normal court, because, if not, procedural paths are divided and everything gets muddled up."
"So I had nothing to do with this," Francis replied, referring not to his role in lifting the excommunication but his intervention "procedurally to keep the second set of accusations from the nine women with the same tribunal that had heard the first," according to the Associated Press reporter.
"I'll have to see if Fr. Rupnik appeals. Because he does have to appeal here, but he hasn't, he hasn't. If the appeal goes to the [Dicastery for the] Doctrine of the Faith, that is where the Vatican comes in," Francis added, not stating what decision Rupnik would be appealing against. The DDF dropped the abuse case against him because it was time-barred.
Francis acknowledged that he "always" waives the statute of limitations for cases involving minors and "vulnerable adults" but tends to insist on upholding traditional legal guarantees in cases involving others.
"No loose reins with minors, the reins are pulled pretty tight," Francis added. Again, the pope did not clarify if he regarded the abused nuns as "vulnerable adults."
The pope's response raises even more questions about his role in lifting Rupnik's excommunication, which, according to canon law, is the sole prerogative of the Apostolic See.
A highly placed source told Church Militant that the priest had telephoned Francis and pleaded with him to lift the excommunication.
On Thursday, Italian media Messa in Latino released the protocol number (685/2019) of the excommunication, which was issued in May 2020 and signed by DDF prefect Cdl. Luis Ladaria and DDF assistant secretary Abp. Augustine di Noia.
"It seems illogical that Cdl. Ladaria, who had just condemned him, lifted it on his own free will," Messa in Latino reported. "If this were the case, then poor Cdl. Ladaria would have to resign for schizophrenia."
The Italian media outlet noted that only two conclusions are possible: Either the pope is "lying diplomatically," or "he really knew nothing about it," which "would be very serious anyway" because it would mean that the DDF is dysfunctional.
"We also know that the Society of Jesus had requested his dismissal from the clerical state and had a press release ready, which was never published," Messa in Latino added.
The AP reporter failed to ask Francis why he had allowed Rupnik to preach to the Roman Curia during Lent in place of papal preacher Cdl. Raniero Cantalamessa, even when the pope knew the extent of Rupnik's grave crimes.
The interviewer also did not ask why the Vatican featured Rupnik's painting on the cover of its latest stamp volume after the scandals were reported in the media and other public displays of outrage —like Pauline Books and Media withdrawing three books written by the Jesuit and Slovenia's culture minister calling upon the Jesuit artist to return a national prize award to him.
In an attempt to figure out whether Pope Francis was responsible for the action, Church Militant asked the Holy See Press Office to name the official who ordered the lifting of Rupnik's excommunication. There was no response as of press time.