ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' cardinal vicar, Angelo De Donatis, is refusing to denounce serial abuser Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, claiming that he was "not aware" of the Jesuit celebrity artist's abuse of nuns "until recently."
In a noncommittal statement published Friday, after remaining silent for three weeks, De Donatis said that the diocese of Rome was "comforted by the discernment of its Supreme Pastor [Pope Francis]" and could not transform "de plano a denunciation into a crime."
"De plano" is a term in Roman law, originating from the time when the praetor (magistrate or judge) literally stood on the ground with legal suitors attempting to arrive at an informal resolution to a dispute, instead of the formal method of sitting on a bench or tribunal.
Blaming "especially the media" for this disconcerting communication," De Donatis lamented that the "whole diocese" of Rome and the "People of God" were disoriented by the news and were experiencing "these hours with concern and dismay."
"The judgments that we see spread by many with particular vehemence do not seem to manifest either an evangelical criterion for the search for truth or a basic criterion on which every state of law is founded," the cardinal vicar noted.
Silere non Possum, the Italian media outlet that first broke the Rupnik story, slammed De Donatis' statement, noting how "the pope's vicar has forgotten that we are not talking here of accusations but of sentencing."
"We are not in an investigative phase; we are looking at the decided facts," Silere non Possum remarked. "Much later, precisely because De Donatis collaborated to maintain silence and secrecy."
The cardinal vicar, who governs the diocese of Rome on behalf of Pope Francis (the bishop of Rome), insisted that he was "aware of the extreme delicacy of the situation" but "cannot enter into the merits of the decisions taken by others."
Unlike last week's statement from the Slovenian bishops that expressed "regret" for Rupnik's sexual, spiritual and physical abuse of at least 20 religious sisters, De Donatis did not censure Rupnik but maintained that he had only "been blamed for heavy abuses of various kinds."
De Donatis also reiterated that the matter of the Jesuit abuser "has been widely dealt with in court which completely fall outside the competence of the cardinal vicar, and which is now managed independently by the legitimate superiors of Fr. Rupnik."
"The current pronouncement of the vicariate of Rome must be understood as respectful of the competences and decisions of the legitimate superiors of Fr. Rupnik," as well as the rulings of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the cardinal vicar stressed.
In January 2022, the DDF dismissed the case of the Slovenian nuns against Rupnik on the grounds that it was beyond the statute of limitations. Back in January 2020, the DDF convicted Rupnik of sacramentally absolving a sexual accomplice, but the excommunication was lifted by what has been reported as the direct intervention of Pope Francis.
Refusing to take responsibility for Rupnik, De Donatis claimed that "the cleric has had a multi-level pastoral relationship with the diocese of Rome, but he is not in a position of hierarchical submission to the cardinal vicar at a disciplinary and possibly penal level."
The cardinal vicar also hailed Rupnik's "numerous and valuable services of a ministerial nature to the Church of Rome."
This included preaching retreats and spiritual exercises to the Roman clergy and decorating the chapel of the Roman Major Seminary, which was done at De Donatis' personal invitation.
The cardinal vicar has yet to divest Rupnik of his position as rector of San Filippo Neri on the Esquiline and his membership in the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art and Cultural Heritage.
Acknowledging that the artist continued to hold "diocesan canonical offices" that are "directly subject to the authority of the cardinal vicar," De Donatis stated that he was contemplating "a series of measures" concerning the roles "with which Fr. Rupnik is still invested."
"When will the measures come? When?" Silere non Possum asked in an editorial on Christmas eve, questioning if "the Rupnik case could be called the Maciel case of the Francis pontificate?"
Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ religious order, sexually abused over 60 minors and fathered six children by three women. Pope John Paul II chose not to prosecute the serial abuser, but Pope Benedict XVI forced Maciel to retire from active ministry in 2006.
Vaticanist Christopher Altieri blasted De Donatis for making "several remarks ranging in credibility from improbable, through implausible and on to almost certainly false."
"Basically, Cdl. De Donatis is telling everyone who reads and understands curialese [the bureaucratic-speak of the Roman curia] that Pope Francis is calling the shots on this one, and that Pope Francis has Fr. Rupnik's back," Altieri wrote.
"By invoking 'the discernment of the Supreme Pastor,' De Donatis is letting his professional ecclesiastical readership know that Rupnik is under the pope's protection," the Vaticanist added.
"De Donatis confirms this by his second circumloquacious invocation of Pope Francis, at the very bottom of the statement," Altieri observed.
The cardinal vicar's statement ends by "entrust[ing] everything to the Lord's mercy and to the prudent discernment of those called to make decisions on the people involved," an oblique reference to Pope Francis.