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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a rare intervention, the Holy See Press Office has rushed to clarify that a top cardinal's abrupt withdrawal from the forthcoming synod is not due to Rome's recent exoneration of a celebrity predator priest.
Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the former prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, canceled his participation in Pope Francis' pet project just after the vicariate of Rome published a report casting aspersions on the excommunication of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik.
Ferrer's dropping out of the synodal process fueled speculation that the cardinal's withdrawal was a protest against the report compiled by Msgr. Giacomo Incitti, professor of canon law at Rome's Pontifical Urban University.
Father Rupnik, a former Jesuit credibly accused of sexually, physically, emotionally and spiritually abusing over 25 nuns, was officially excommunicated in May 2020 for absolving in confession an Italian novice with whom he had sex, but Rupnik was rehabilitated later that month.
The Italian blog Messa in Latino reported that Pope Francis, a fellow Jesuit and friend of the celebrity mosaic artist, had ordered Rupnik's excommunication to be lifted, thus overruling Cdl. Ladaria and the DDF's unanimous decision on the serial abuser.
On Sept. 18, the diocese of Rome announced that a canonical investigation into the Aletti Center, cofounded by Rupnik, had declared the community "free from any particularly critical issues."
The diocese's report further identified "serious anomalies" that "generated well-founded doubts about even the request for excommunication itself."
The report was released two days after Pope Francis met with Dr. Maria Campatelli, a theologian and close collaborator of Fr. Rupnik, with the Holy See Press Office issuing a photograph of the meeting but failing to publish details of the conversation.
In a letter to Pope Francis published Sept. 19, former nuns of the Loyola Community, who constituted the majority of the ex-Jesuit's victims, said they were "left speechless" by Rome's cover-up of serial abuser Fr. Rupnik, Church Militant reported.
The victims slammed the "zero tolerance of abuse in the Church" as "merely a publicity campaign, only followed by often covert actions which instead supported and covered up the abusers."
Ladaria withdrew from the synod hours after the report seemed to clear Rupnik, leading the Italian blog Silere non possum to suggest that the Rome report was "the straw that broke the camel's back," ending a long-brewing cold war between Ladaria and Pope Francis.
On Monday, the Holy See Press Office clarified that the "reconstructions" of some newspaper articles regarding Cdl. Ladaria's withdrawal from the synod "have no foundation and are the product of pure imagination."
The Holy See Press Office maintained:
The truth of the matter is that, having completed his term as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cdl. Ladaria, who is close to 80 years old, requested not to participate in the synod solely due to accumulated fatigue, his age and his desire for some rest.
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about whether and how the diocese of Rome obtained sealed DDF files on Rupnik's sexual misconduct and trial, despite the paperwork being protected by the pontifical secret — the highest level of confidentiality in the Church.
In its analysis, The Pillar suggested that Giacomo Incitti "was able to examine files from Rupnik's 2019 canonical process because someone at either the Society of Jesus or the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith leaked them to him without authorization."
"The possibility of a leak leading to a report and statement from the vicariate challenging Rupnik's conviction would suggest a concerted effort is underway to champion Rupnik's cause and perhaps effect a kind of rehabilitation for him," The Pillar concluded.
Commentators, including liberal supporters of the synodal project, have expressed concern that Pope Francis' failure to address the grave and mounting accusations against the abuser priest would distract the media's attention from the Synod on Synodality.
"No one on the papal plane asked [Pope Francis] the most important question of his pontificate. Why not?" tweeted Robert Mickens, a reporter for French media La Croix, noting the failure of journalists returning with Francis on board the papal plane from Marseille on Saturday.
"Is Pope Francis protecting Marko Rupnik?" Mickens, a supporter of the pontiff, asked in a comment piece, noting that the "pope's legacy could be in jeopardy."