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2 Alleged victims of Fr. Marko Rupnik speak out in Rome 

Two women, alleged victims of Fr. Marko Rupnik, gave their testimony at a press conference in Rome.

© I.MEDIA

I.Media - published on 02/22/24

The women, former members of a religious community co-founded by Fr. Rupnik, shared horrifying details of abuse and called for justice and transparency.

Two former religious from the community founded by Fr. Marko Rupnik, the famous mosaicist accused of serious abuse, gave a press conference in public in Rome on February 21, 2024. The women asked the Vatican for “transparency” regarding the ongoing investigation, demanding justice after what they described as years of “omertà” [silence] and cover-up “at the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy.” They compared the case to that of notorious sexual abusers such as former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick. 

Jesuit Fr. Rupnik, whose mosaics adorn numerous Catholic shrines around the world —Lourdes, Beirut, Damascus, Aparecida, the Vatican, Fatima, Częstochowa … — is at the heart of a major scandal revealed in November 2022. He is accused of having spiritually and sexually abused 41 women — according to the charges brought against him — in the years 1980-2000. Because of the statute of limitations, he was never brought before the civil courts.

Gloria’s long ordeal

Now in her 60s, Gloria Branciani, a former religious sister of the Loyola community (co-founded by Fr. Rupnik, and now disbanded) has agreed to testify openly for the first time about the sexual abuse she allegedly suffered for years under the Jesuit’s influence. 

The Italian, now an educator, left the community in 1994 when she experienced “an almost total loss of [her] identity and [her] humanity.” With a lump in her throat as she recalls this “very dark” period in her life, she recounts that she met Fr. Rupnik in Rome when she was 21 years old. He very quickly became her spiritual father and confessor. Then, the charismatic Jesuit began to “dominate” this highly sensitive young woman who had “very low self-esteem.”

A game of “manipulation” began. Under the guise of spiritual growth, the mosaicist initiated inappropriate gestures, particularly during painting sessions or during Mass, forcing her to kiss him. “If I objected [to these gestures], he would tell me that I couldn’t understand the substance of his art … and that it was an aid to my personal integration. […] I was disoriented,” she reports.  

A downward spiral of abuse

As her relationships with friends and family deteriorated, Gloria became increasingly “dependent” on Marko Rupnik. He brought her to the community in Slovenia, where the abuse became more violent, culminating in the loss of her virginity. Using theological arguments, he forced her into a three-way relationship with another sister, “in the image of the Trinity.” If she refused, he accused her of being “egocentric, envious, and jealous.”

Back in Rome in 1991, the sister was subjected to increasingly “aggressive” encounters, with Fr. Rupnik forcing her to watch pornography, which he compared to “an art form.” Moved to tears in front of journalists, Gloria Branciani described an “attack on [her] integrity, a profound humiliation of [her] whole being, body, soul, and spirit,” which led her to consider “death as the only way out.”

Gloria opened up to various people in 1993, but the omertà around her was general. Neither the co-founder, nor Marko Rupnik’s spiritual father, nor the Archbishop of Ljubljana — where the community’s head office is located — reacted. For years, she lamented, “Rupnik has been protected from everyone, complaints minimized or denied, and victims discredited.”

Breaking the circle of solitude and silence

Although the road to liberation was long, “I forgave myself and Rupnik years ago. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to move forward,” Gloria Branciani said in a calmer voice.

Wishing to “break this circle of solitude and silence,” the former religious, who was joined by many others who are still anonymous, wished “for the truth to be recognized.”

“We want the documents to be made public, and we want to know how the trial at the dicastery [for the Doctrine of the Faith] is progressing. We hope that our testimony can foster transparency,” she added. 

At her side was Slovenian former religious Mirjam Kovac, who left the community in 1997 after noting the members’ lack of freedom. She also condemned the institution’s “wall of silence” which “repels any attempt” to denounce abuse. Their lawyer, Laura Sgro, denounced “a form of incest” in Rupnik’s actions, adding that she was studying the possibility of pressing charges for these illegal acts, and calling for a prison sentence for the priest, who now lives in Slovenia. 

Investigation still underway at the Doctrine of the Faith

There have been several twists and turns in this affair. Rupnik’s case was examined in 2020 by the dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, without the priest being officially dismissed, although he was briefly excommunicated.

Then, although the Society of Jesus expelled him in June 2023, it became public that he had been incardinated into the Slovenian Diocese of Koper in August 2023. It is in this country that most of the abuse of which the Jesuit is accused was allegedly committed. 

A diocesan canonical visit to Father Rupnik’s mosaic workshop in Rome, the Aletti Center, presented its findings September 2023. It denounced “seriously abnormal procedures” but appeared to come to his defense by criticizing the media treatment of the case.

Several victims sharply criticized the visit’s report, and Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations on October 27, asking the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to examine the case. 

To date, the results of the investigation are still awaited. In recent months, “the Doctrine of the Faith has contacted the institutions involved in various capacities in the case in order to receive all available information,” the Holy See Press Office told I.MEDIA. The dicastery will now “study the documentation acquired in order to identify the procedures that it will be possible and useful to implement.”

Last October, the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life issued a decree dissolving the Loyola community due to “serious problems linked to the exercise of authority and community life.” This decision must be implemented within one year.

Church hierarchy called into question

Speaking to the press, Anne Barrett Doyle, director of the victims’ advocacy group BishopAccountability.org, said that Rupnik had been covered up “at the highest levels of the Church.” Five years after the abuse summit held at the Vatican (February 21-24, 2019), “little has changed” and “the Church continues to protect abusers,” she lamented. She compared the Rupnik case to one of the “most notorious cover-ups” in the Church, that of former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick, reduced to the lay state in 2019.

“Like McCarrick, Rupnik is powerful and charismatic, a friend of the popes. Like McCarrick, his crimes had been known for decades by high-ranking ecclesiastical authorities in every jurisdiction, but his victims were ignored and he was protected. Also, like McCarrick, he was given restrictions on his ministry which he seems to have ignored, and paid no penalty for it,” she explained. 

Anne Barrett Doyle lamented in particular that Pope Francis had received the director of the Aletti Center, Maria Campatelli, who publicly supports Father Rupnik, while the Pontiff had not responded to the victims’ request for an audience with him in an open letter. She hoped that, as in the McCarrick case, the results of the Vatican investigation would be published.

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AbuseRomeVatican
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