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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Slovenia's minister of culture, Asta Vrečko, has asked Jesuit serial abuser Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik to renounce the nation's highest cultural award following revelations of the abuse of 20 nuns by the celebrity artist.
In 2000, Fr. Rupnik was awarded the Grand Prešeren award for his mosaic creation in the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The Prešeren prize is the highest honor conferred by the Republic of Slovenia for achievements in the field of art.
On Friday, Vrečko accused Rupnik of obtaining the award under false pretenses by receiving it for a single work that is not accessible to the public. "The Grand Prešeren awards are given for a work of art, but the artworks should be accessible to the public," she said.
The Slovenian government's website categorically states that "the Prešeren Fund award is given to creators for outstanding artistic achievements that have been presented to the public in the last three years and represent an enrichment of the Slovenian cultural treasury."
The Redemptoris Mater Chapel is not open to the public but is located on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace just outside the doors of the papal apartments and is reserved for the exclusive use of the Holy Father.
"This was not an award for lifetime work, for which the Prešeren prize is intended," Vrečko explained in a Facebook post, noting that the Jesuit abuser received the award by means of an "unstable" and "irregular procedure."
"The professional committees of the Prešeren Fund work with the purpose of judging top artistic achievements and their importance for culture and art. Based on such a procedure, the professionals immediately had doubts about the suitability and justification of the reward for the work of Fr. Rupnik," the minister observed.
"Svetlana Makarovič, who was also awarded the highest Prešeren award the same year, refused it," Vrečko added. Makarovič, who has been called "The First Lady of Slovenian Poetry," is a writer of prose, poetry and children's books. She's also an actress, illustrator and songwriter.
Makarovič earlier justified her refusal of the award by questioning the unusual and suspicious awarding criteria, explaining, "The statute of the award requires a lifetime's work, not just one work, and work that was done in the country of Slovenia. But [Rupnik's] was work in the pope's private chapel."
Vrečko maintains that the board of directors of the Prešeren Fund, under the chairmanship of architect Jože Kušar, arbitrarily made the decision to award the Prešeren prize to a painter who was highly valued in ecclesial circles.
The expert commission for fine arts did not propose Rupnik as one of the candidates, but the board of directors included him among the nominees and awarded him the award.
"We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence at the Ministry of Culture," Vrečko stressed. "In environments where individuals have a lot of power, especially if they are doing pedagogical, mentoring, spiritual or creative work, the awareness of the unacceptableness of these actions must be that much greater."
The minister admitted that under the current statutes governing the award, it would not be possible for the government to formally strip Rupnik of his honor, "but it would be a minimal decent act for the recipient to return it himself."
The minister, however, said that the government did not intend to remove Rupnik's mosaics, and the Ministry of Culture had "neither the desire nor the authority to erase history," since they were "not competent or moral arbiters."
In 1996, Pope John Paul II, who was also a close friend of the Jesuit abuser, invited Rupnik to redesign the Redemptoris Mater Chapel for the 50th anniversary of the pontiff's ordination to the priesthood.
A key factor in commissioning Rupnik was John Paul II's desire to restructure the new chapel to include the presence of Oriental tradition and make it an ecumenical sign of communion between the Eastern and Western Churches.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis' cardinal vicar, Angelo De Donatis, has come under fire for his reluctance to divest Rupnik of his position as rector of San Filippo Neri on the Esquiline in Rome. De Donatis has also yet to revoke Rupnik's membership in the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art and Cultural Heritage in the diocese of Rome, Church Militant reported.
In 2021, De Donatis paid Rupnik and the Aletti Center a fee of 1.5 million euros to decorate the chapel of the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary with scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
The cardinal decided to offer the job and commission to Rupnik despite his scandalous past. In January 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith unanimously convicted and excommunicated Rupnik for sacramentally absolving a sexual accomplice. But in May 2020, Rupnik was mysteriously rehabilitated.
In the same year that Rupnik was working on the chapel at the Roman Seminary, he was also being investigated by Jesuit Bp. Daniele Libanori, an auxiliary bishop of Rome, for accusations of sexual, spiritual and physical abuse of religious sisters in the Loyola Community.
In October 2022, the Vatican dismissed the findings of the investigation and the trial by the CDF on the basis that Rupnik's crimes were outside the statute of limitations.