Rorate Caeli

Francis Makes His Most Audacious Move: Rehabilitating His Friend, the Sex Abuser Marko Rupnik


When he was elevated to Pope a decade ago, there was a widespread hope that Pope Francis would take effective steps to remedy the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. It is now clear that Francis has utterly failed in this regard. His Pontifical Academy for the Protection of Minors has fallen apart and lost all credibility amid the resignation of Fr. Hans Zollner earlier this year. At the time, Zollner criticized the Commission's shortcomings "in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability and transparency," particularly criticizing the lack of any clarity about the Commission's relationship to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith (DDF), which oversees sex abuse investigations. At the time, The Pillar noted that "close and expert observers have complained for years about the wheels falling off the Vatican’s reform efforts — or complained that there were no wheels there to begin with." 

Then, this summer, Francis named Archbishop Tucho Fernandez to lead the DDF. This, despite Fernandez's role in covering up sex abuse in his own Diocese of La Plata and his authorship of a book of erotic poetry directed at teenagers.

There is also Francis's own disturbing role in personally covering for the serial sex abuser Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta. In 2022, Zanchetta was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for sexually assualting two former seminarians. As The Pillar noted, "despite mounting complaints from local priests [about Bishop Zanchetta's disturbing conduct towards seminarians], Francis sided with [Bishop Zanchetta]  According to the former vicar general of the diocese, even after obscene photographs of the bishop and of young men were discovered on Zanchetta’s phone, the pope accepted his explanation that he’d been hacked by 'conservatives' and 'anti-Francis' forces in the diocese." Even after accepting Zanchetta's resignation, Francis "creat[ed] a sinecure position for him in the curia, and g[ave] him a home in the Vatican hotel where the pope himself lives." 

And perhaps most notoriously, Francis attempted to rehabilitate the predator Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, lifting restrictions on his activities and utilizing him as an advisor, before McCarrick's abuse was publicly exposed. McCarrick has close links to many American bishops close to Francis. There was similar inaction from the Vatican in the cases of the abuser Bishop Carlos Belo, predator Bishop Michel Santier, and the abuser priest Fr. Carlos Buela, founder of the Institute of the Incarnate Word-- which had close links to McCarrick.

It is clear, after ten years, that Pope Francis has chosen to handle abuse allegations as he has handled nearly every other aspect of his pontificate: as a way to reward his friends and punish his enemies, nothing more. 

The most brazen example is now unfolding before our eyes: Francis's attempt to rehabilitate his close friend Marko Rupnik. Rupnik serially used his priestly office and status as a religious artist to commit horrible crimes of sexual abuse against religious sisters. "Father Rupnik is a voracious sexual predator" who "spent several decades manipulating and tormenting vulnerable women into acting out quasi-spiritual sexual fantasies for his gratification."  Rupnik "used the artistic process of creating his work to groom and abuse women. The act of creating his work was bound up with the act of abusing his victims, sometimes in overtly blasphemous ways — they were not separate events but mutually dependent."

At every step in the process, Francis has acted to protect Rupnik. Francis met with Rupnik in a private audience in January 2020; Francis invited Rupnik to preach at the annual Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia that year (after he had been adjudged guilty of sexual abuse by a secret Vatican court), and, in 2021, Rupnik's  art was chosen as the logo for the World Meeting of Families-- again, despite the substantiated abuse claims against him. Just three months ago, Francis made a video praising Rupnik's art, and Rupnik's art continues to routinely be used by the Vatican to promote the Synod on Synodality. As The Pillar's Ed Condon noted, "Despite Rupnik’s public fall from grace and the stomach-churning details of his abuse of religious women, over decades, becoming known, his work is used so frequently by Vatican News that I have to wonder if they actually have images from any other artists in their files to use."

That is not all. When Rupnik was excommunicated in May 2020, the excommunication was lifted the same month-- so swiftly, that it is likely that Francis himself was involved. As Ed Pentin has reported, "It is inconceivable that Pope Francis was not informed by the prefect, Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer, of the status of the conviction of Father Rupnik, or his petition to be absolved from his excommunication, unless Father Rupnik had succeeded in bypassing the congregation and obtaining directly from Francis absolution from his declared excommunication." And Francis refused to waive the statute of limitations concerning the complaints against Rupnik. As Catholic World Report's Christopher Altieri has reported, "senior churchmen close to Francis have strongly suggested that Francis had pretty much everything to do with the management of [the Rupnik situation]." A carefully-worded statement from Cardinal De Donatis of the Diocese of Rome in late 2022 was meant to signal to "everyone who reads and understands curialese that Pope Francis is calling the shots on this one, and that Pope Francis has Fr. Rupnik’s back."

Recent events have confirmed that Francis is determined to rehabilitate Rupnik. On Friday, September 15, Francis held a meeting with the Director of the Aletti Center, an art and theology institute founded by Rupnik. The Director with whom Francis met has vigorously defended Rupnik, calling the allegations against him "unproven and defamatory." And then on Monday, the Diocese of Rome issued a statement praising Rupnik's Aletti Center, where Rupnik "remains a welcome member of the center’s community despite his public disgrace and ecclesiastical sanction." The Diocese's statement praised the members of the Aletti Center because, despite the outcry against Rupnik, they "chose to maintain silence" and "to guard their hearts and not claim any irreproachability with which to stand as judges of others." And the statement sought to rehabilitate Rupnik himself, calling into question the basis for his brief excommunication: “Based on the copious documentary material studied, the visitor was able to find, and therefore reported, seriously anomalous procedures whose examination also generated well-founded doubts about the request for excommunication itself.” It is unclear how "the visitor," Msgr. Giacomo Incitti, would have even obtained access to the files of a sealed canonical criminal investigation.

The Diocese of Rome's statement praising the Aletti Center drew widespread condemnation from Rupnik's victims and across the Catholic world, with the victims stating they were "left speechless" by a statement that "ridicules [their] pain." But it is unlikely that the Vatican- and Francis- will much notice or care. All that matters is the bottom line-- Francis's friend, Rupnik, an icon of post-Vatican II Catholicism, has been protected.

By now, traditional Catholics are familiar with the abuse and corruption of the Francis pontificate. But Francis's naked, open rehabilitation of the appalling abuser Rupnik marks a new low point for the papacy, and creates a new wound for the Church. One shudders to think what the next outrage will be.