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Pope Francis’ Commission for the Prevention of Abuse calls on Vatican authorities not to use Rupnik’s artwork

Pope Francis’ Commission for the Prevention of Abuse calls on Vatican authorities not to use Rupnik’s artwork
Pope Francis’ Commission for the Prevention of Abuse calls on Vatican authorities not to use Rupnik’s artwork

Less than a week after the head of the Vatican’s communications department vigorously defended his office’s continued use of artwork by alleged serial abuser Father Marko Rupnik, the president of the abuse prevention commission appointed by Pope Francis has sent a letter to all Vatican departments urging them not to use artwork by alleged abusers.

“We must avoid giving the impression that the Holy See is unaware of the psychological distress of so many people,” says the letter that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston sent to the heads of the Vatican dicasteries on June 26.

“Pastoral prudence would prevent artworks from being exhibited in a way that might suggest either an exoneration or a subtle defense” of the alleged abusers “or express indifference to the pain and suffering of so many victims of abuse,” the letter says.

Excerpts from the cardinal’s letter were included in a June 28 press release from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. O’Malley, who sits on the Pope’s Council of Cardinal Advisers, has been president of the commission since its creation in 2014 and has long been considered a reformer in the field of abuse prevention.

According to its statement, the commission has been in contact with a number of abuse victims and survivors who expressed their “frustration and concern” about the continued use of Rupnik’s artwork by several Vatican offices, including the Dicastery for Communications.

During a June 21 speech at the Catholic Media Conference in the United States, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, was asked directly about his office’s continued use of Rupnik’s art.

Ruffini insisted that the removal of Rupnik’s artwork was “not a Christian response.”

“As Christians, we are called not to judge,” he told conference participants, adding that the Vatican’s investigation into Rupnik is still ongoing. “In our opinion, anticipating a decision is not good.”

The Dicastery for Communications often uses Rupnik’s art to complement its online liturgical calendar, including earlier this month for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 7.

During the Catholic media conference, Ruffini was asked in particular about what impact the continued use of the artwork could have on the victims.

“I don’t think we should throw stones because we think this is the path to healing,” he said.

“Do you think that I am closer to the victims if I remove an art photo from our website? Do you think so?” he asked the journalists. When Ruffini answered in the affirmative, he replied: “I think you are wrong.”

Over the years, the extremely productive and sought-after Rupnik received commissions for his artwork in basilicas and chapels all over the world, including from the Vatican.

In 2023, the Jesuit order expelled the Slovenian priest from its congregation following reports of repeated sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse over a 30-year period. Despite allegations of abuse from at least two dozen women, he was reinstated in his home diocese of Kosper in Slovenia.

After mounting pressure last fall, Francis lifted the statute of limitations and reopened the investigation into Rupnik. At the time, the Vatican acknowledged in a statement that there had been “serious problems” in the handling of the case and cited concerns raised by the Vatican’s Commission Against Abuse about “a lack of involvement of victims.”

Since then, there has been heated debate about the continued use and exhibition of his art. Some of Rupnik’s alleged victims also argue that they were abused by the artist during the creation of his artworks.

A decision by the Catholic bishops in France on whether to keep Rupnik’s mosaics in the Basilica of Lourdes is expected soon. There are also loud calls for his artwork to be removed from the Pope John Paul II Church in Washington DC. Even in Rome, the Vatican’s Synod Office has banned the use of Rupnik’s artwork in its materials.

Ruffini’s dogged defense of Rupnik’s artwork, in contrast to O’Malley’s plea against its continued use, creates a stark contrast between the two Vatican offices in an institution where disagreements between senior officials rarely become public.

“Pope Francis has asked us to be sensitive and to show solidarity with those who suffer from any form of abuse,” O’Malley wrote in his letter to the heads of the Vatican dicasteries. “I ask you to take this into account when choosing images to accompany the publication of messages, articles and reflections through the various communication channels available to us.”

Ruffini did not immediately respond to NCR’s request for comment on whether the Communications Dicastery would reconsider its policies regarding the continued use of Rupnik’s artwork.

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