VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - After days of prevaricating, the Jesuit superior general has finally confessed that a celebrity Jesuit artist was excommunicated for offering sacramental absolution to a sexual partner.
Jesuit chief Fr. Arturo Sosa, who had previously insisted that the Society of Jesus wasn't hiding anything about the scandal, admitted Wednesday that the world-famous mosaic artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik had indeed been convicted of the gravest of canonical crimes.
However, even in his address to a press gathering at the Jesuit General Curia in Rome, Sosa refrained from mentioning Rupnik's violation of canon 977, which involves absolving a woman with whom he had entertained "de sexto" relations, an act that incurs a sentence of excommunication.
Instead, the superior general referred only to a second scandal in which Rupnik was accused of sexually, physically and emotionally abusing nine religious sisters when he was confessor and spiritual director to the Skupnost Loyola (Loyola Community) in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
It was only when a reporter cornered Sosa on the question of whether Rupnik had indeed been excommunicated for violating the confessional that the superior general admitted that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith "said it happened."
"There was the absolution of an accomplice," Sosa conceded. "So he was excommunicated. How do you lift an excommunication? The person has to recognize it and has to repent, which he did."
When asked why the Jesuits hadn't revealed the confession-related excommunication, Sosa said that "they were two different moments, with two different cases."
The superior general, however, did not reveal who had revoked the excommunication. On Sunday, the Italian media outlet Messa in Latino reported that it was Pope Francis who lifted Rupnik's excommunication hours after an ecclesiastical tribunal unanimously imposed the sentence.
Rupnik, the founder of the Rome-based Aletti Center, is a close friend and advisor to Pope Francis. According to a daily bulletin issued by the Holy See Press Office, Rupnik was invited to a private papal audience on Jan. 3, 2022.
Canon 1378 §1 stipulates that a priest who violates canon 977 incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. The power to convict someone of this delict is reserved to the DDF and the power of remission of the censure of excommunication is reserved to the Apostolic See.
When asked if Pope Francis had intervened in the Rupnik case, the superior general replied, "Generally, the heads of the dicastery report the cases to the pope. I can imagine that the prefect spoke to the Holy Father, but I cannot say yes or no."
In his response to reporters, Sosa contradicted the statement published by the Society of Jesus on Dec. 2, which said that the sanctions on Rupnik were in response to the abuse of the Slovenian nuns — a case dismissed by the DDF because it was "time-barred."
The Vatican's discipline watchdog, which regularly waives the statute of limitations for abuse-related crimes, has not explained why it decided not to waive it in Rupnik's case, especially given his previous conviction for a grave offense incurring the penalty of excommunication.
Sosa conceded that Rupnik had "exceeded the limits of an adult relationship." During an earlier visit to Portugal, in an interview with Radio Renascença and 7Margens media, Sosa emphasized that the artist's case had to do with "issues between adults," and "there are no minors involved."
When asked why the statement from the Jesuit curia did not refer to Rupnik's victims, Sosa told the Portuguese media that "you have to ask the victims." He added, "There is no classification of the victims. There is a suspicion of facts that were mostly beyond the limits of what is done between adults."
In the earlier interview, the superior general insisted that the Society of Jesus did not need to "publish every case" and that "individuals are entitled to a certain amount of privacy."
On Thursday, Dr. Doris Reisinger, a former nun raped by a Catholic priest, pointed out how Sosa had nowhere referred to the religious sisters who are "maximally marginalized in ecclesiastical criminal law."
"Rupnik received the — theoretically — severest punishment known in canon law: excommunication," Reisinger noted. "What many people do not realize is that it is also a very cheap penalty that can be easily reversed."
"This is also the case when priests force their pregnant victims to have an abortion: They are excommunicated, repented and immediately rehabilitated. The victim does not have to play a role in this process. The general public usually doesn't find out anything about it," Reisinger lamented.
Reisinger, who entered religious life at the age of 19, was solicited for sex in the confessional by Austrian theologian Fr. Hermann Geissler, a former member of the DDF.
Geissler denied the allegation — but left the DDF in January 2019, after the incident became public. In May 2019, five judges of the Vatican's supreme tribunal decided that he would not be tried for "a delict of solicitation to a sin against the Sixth Commandment in the context of confession."
On Tuesday, the provincial of the Slovenian Jesuits, Fr. Miran Žvanut, dismissed news reports about his Slovenian confrere Rupnik as "quite inflated and with a lot of untruths."
The final report was sent to the DDF, which closed the case in October 2022 because of the statute of limitations, Fr. Žvanut noted, insisting that restrictions on a priest are "normal" in case of accusations.
"The accused Rupnik is a Jesuit. The head of the agency [the DDF], Cdl. Luis Ladaria, is a Jesuit. A senior official of this agency lives in the same house as Rupnik. The pope is a Jesuit. Who seriously believes that there are no biases here?" Reisinger tweeted.