So, former Jesuit Marko Ivan Rupnik, the priest dismissed by the Society of Jesus after it was determined that charges of his sexual “misconduct” with between nine and 20 or more women, and at least one man, were credible, has been incardinated as a priest in Slovenia’s Diocese of Koper.
To be clear, the Jesuits themselves said they cut Rupnik loose not because of the many allegations of his spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse of people over whom he had spiritual authority — the credibility of which the Jesuits deemed “very high” — and not even for his self-excommunicating (or “latae sententiae”) act of bestowing absolution upon one of the woman with whom he had sexual relations, but “due to stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience” after the finding. Because, heaven knows, the Society (and the church) might allow their predatory confrere to live and work among them even after making a mockery of the Gospels and his priestly vows, but disobedience is the line!
The news of Rupnik’s incardination comes just as the first monthlong Synod on Synodality — the synod that is meant to be all about listening, and about hearing the voices of the entire church — is winding down and has issued its “Letter to the People of God.”
Will the synod’s letter address sex abuse?
I’d been warned not to expect much from this document on the issue of sexual abuse. A friend in Rome who’d been observing the synod told me that we folks in the pews could expect little mention of the sexual abuse of minors, seminarians, adult layfolk and religious in their letter. “There were some perfunctory remarks made early on” in the synodal process, I was told, but nothing substantial, nothing with any meat.
The letter’s great pronouncement on the soul-crippling, church-destroying issue of sexual abuse? Here it is, folks: “Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.”
See, they even mentioned the word “abuse.” Once. So, that’s covered, right?
Apparently — despite breathtaking stories (and numbers of victims) from Canada, South America, Oceania, Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Slovenia and elsewhere — my Roman friend was correct. The matter of predator priests victimizing the people they are meant to serve has created tensions between Rome and the very hierarchs Pope Francis has put in place to address the crisis, leaving some — myself included — to wonder whether the issue is yet being taken seriously enough by the ecclesial authorities, those who are meant to shepherd and teach, or the “princes” of the church, who really, really should consider that Peter’s Pence, among other revenue efforts, gets its largest contributions from the United States.
Well, ladies and gentlemen of the synod, speaking as a “person of God” — and a priest by virtue of my baptism — I was hoping for a stronger condemnation of the ongoing, never-fully-repented-of scourge of sexual abuse and “misconduct” perpetrated upon all of us people of God; in fact, not just a condemnation but a seriously constructive examination of what material, spiritual and liturgical reparation could and should look like.
Without that, the synod’s letter to the people of God seems a toothless and deficient thing. Nothing to write home about.
Where’s the transparency?
Since 2002, when the reality of ongoing sexual abuse being perpetrated and hidden within the church was brought to light, there has been plenty of discussion about clericalism as being a key component of abuse and its concealment by bishops or heads of religious congregations (because sadly, yes, religious brothers and sisters live under this umbrella of culpability and fiendish guilt, but somehow the stories of their enormous financial payouts to their victims don’t bring lasting headlines).
But then again, our church leaders, guilty or not, have all lived under the shelter of ecclesial and religious privilege for a very, very long time and those habits of privilege, which — never forget — means “private law,” die hard.
Marko Rupnik — excuse me, I cannot bring myself to call him “Father” — is still a priest; he is still able to publicly celebrate Mass, and hear confessions and give absolution and offer last rites. Perhaps he will not, once again, prey upon those who have put their spiritual well-being into his hands, but I have no reason at all to believe that. Sexual “misconduct,” just like sexual abuse, is about power, not sex. The credible allegations against this man suggest he has demonstrated repeatedly that this particular power feeds him. Furthermore, Rupnik’s artwork is still on display in sacred prayer spaces all over the world, and the Vatican still puts forward its offerings featuring images born out of his hand and mind. This fact alone gives rise to a suspicion that this is an arrogant man who feels untouchable — empowered by a private law requiring nothing of him — because, yes, he is in fact protected.
Tell that to victims…
At a time like this, it might be tempting for church leaders to tell the people of God that we perhaps do not understand the concept of mercy, or atonement, or forgiveness. But tell that to the victims; tell it to the whole church that still reels under the shame and feckless betrayal we have lived with — trying to keep the faith, even as we wait, and wait, and wait for the day our church is finally able to emerge from this heaviest weight through the repentance and humbled leadership of our shepherds.
The first installment of the Synod on Synodality is about done, and its “Letter to the People of God” contains lots of heady (and necessary) words about listening and unity and discernment. Nice words.
But it must be noted that at the news of Rupnik’s incardination, not one of the bishops participating in the event has yet come outside — into the arena where things are not always safe — and declared this breathtaking news to be what it is: an outrageous betrayal of the people of God; utter perfidy thrown into the faces of the royal-priesthood-victims who have bravely come forward; a complete treachery to the concept of truth and the Gospels that guide us in it.
Unless someone can come forward and acknowledge that truth, unless this Synod on Synodality can demonstrate conclusively that its participants actually understand the concept of listening and hearing that they are advancing when it comes to this urgent and still-festering wound within the Body of Christ, then I’d say it is more than done. It is finished.