Rupnik case demonstrates total failure of Pope Francis’ reforms aimed at stopping clergy abuse
Earlier this month, members of ECA from 25 countries and 5 continents gathered outside the Vatican to call on Pope Francis to remove then-Archbishop, now Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, from his position as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office responsible for investigating and ruling on abuse cases globally. They also demanded the Pope rescind Fernández’s elevation to the position of cardinal at the 30 September consistory. Survivors and advocates warned this appointment would lead to a continuance of the Vatican’s practice of returning known-abusers to ministry. Instead, Pope Francis additionally appointed Fernández as a member of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, the Vatican body that directs the interpretation of canon law – including laws pertaining to sexual abuse.
|HEAD IMAGE – Members of ECA, including Diego Perez (third from left), whose abuse case was covered up by Fernández, hold signs at a press conference demanding Pope Francis remove Fernández as head of the DDF
(SIMONE PADOVANI/ENDING CLERGY ABUSE)
|ECA members march with signs in English and Spanish reading, “He knew and did nothing/Lo sabían y no hicieron nada,” “Fernández must go/Fernández debe irse,” and photos of Fernández with abuser priests.
(SIMONE PADOVANI/ENDING CLERGY ABUSE)
Cardinal Fernández’s record as the Archbishop of La Plata from 2018 to 2023 is deeply troubling. There have been several documented instances of his involvement in covering up for abusive priests. Diego Perez, a victim of Rev. Eduardo Lorenzo, the late priest who was “publicly defended” by Fernández after multiple allegations of abuse, said at a 2 October press event, “There will be no justice in my case, but I still want justice to be done in the case of the man responsible for the cover-up operation…I came here to ask the Pope to understand what we are suffering and act accordingly.”
It is now clear that survivors’ fears have been confirmed. One of the first decisions made by Fernández, who is in charge of all abuse cases reported to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope Francis, who is the only person with the authority to remove from the priesthood any cleric who has committed acts of sexual abuse, was to allow a serial abuser and fellow Jesuit, Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik, to remain in ministry – even after a lengthy investigation by the Jesuits unanimously convicted Rupnik, determining the fifteen reports against Rupnik were “highly credible” and formally expelling him from the Jesuit order.
In defiance of this ruling by the Jesuits, Francis and Fernández have authorized Rupnik to work unsupervised as a priest in the Diocese of Koper in Slovenia.
“Pope Francis has taken credit for historic inclusion of women in the Synod, but when it comes to the women who are victims of Rupnik,” said Sarah Pearson, an ECA member based in the United States, “he supports upholding the legal protections favorable to priests that he ‘always’ waives for minors and ‘vulnerable adults.’ When a world-renowned artist and theologian psychologically and sexually abuses religious sisters and novices under his authority, to whom he acts as a spiritual guide, how is this not considered sexual exploitation of ‘vulnerable adults?’”
In July, victims of Rupnik released a letter saying, “‘Zero tolerance on abuse in the church’ was only an advertising campaign…There is no place in this Church for those who remember uncomfortable truths.”
In response to these developments, ECA is calling for the following:
- Pope Francis must immediately remove Rupnik from the priesthood.
- Pope Francis must remove Cardinal Fernández as head of the DDF and a member of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts.
- Survivor-led advocacy organizations must be involved in the process to appoint a qualified and experienced lay person to oversee all investigations and rulings concerning clergy with abuse allegations and ensure their enforcement.
- The Jesuits and the DDF must release full documentation of the charges and investigation against Rupnik, redacting names and identifying information of his victims to ensure their privacy.
- Pope Francis must sign ECA’s proposed binding and universal Zero Tolerance law into effect, implementing key recommendations to the Holy See from the 2014 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – particularly an update to Canon Law that puts the internal law of the Church in compliance with the CRC Convention relating to “children’s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.”
The Catholic Church boasts that Canon Law, comprising 7 volumes and 1,752 canons, is the oldest continuous legal system on earth. Every bishop in the world is charged with enforcing these binding and universal laws. Of these 1,752 laws, there is no law that mandates permanent removal from the clerical state for any priest or religious who has raped, sexually assaulted, or abused a child or vulnerable adult. Currently Church law protects the wrong person – not the victim, but the offender. This is why a universal Zero Tolerance law that enshrines and codifies the fundamental human rights of every person in the Church needs to be embraced, enacted, and enforced.
ECA has proposed a binding and universal Zero Tolerance law, drafted by canon lawyers who are recognized experts on the issue of abuse within the Church. This law mandates permanent removal from the priesthood for any cleric found guilty of abusing a child or vulnerable adult, as well as any bishop found to have institutionally concealed such abuse. It provides a legal mechanism to protect the most vulnerable and a clear path toward justice and restitution for survivors of clergy abuse.
The Pope’s refusal to make clergy sexual abuse a central issue at his ongoing Synod and his rejection of a Zero Tolerance law is an error of profound consequence. This decision undermines the very essence of synodality, which should encompass open, honest, and transparent discussion on issues of utmost moral and ethical importance. The Synod on Synodality must be a platform to address clergy sexual abuse comprehensively and decisively. The Pope’s failure to do so constitutes a grave injustice against survivors and perpetuates the abusive culture inside the Catholic Church.
|United States – English
Peter Isely, ECA Founding Member
|Tim Law, ECA Founding/Board Membertimalaw@aol.com
|Canada – English
Gemma Hickey (they/them)
Pathways Foundation Founder/ECA Board Member
|Europe – German/English
Matthias Katsch, ECA Founding Member
+49 178 1674838
|Latin America – Spanish/English
Adalberto Méndez, ECA Founding/Board Member
+52 55 3653 3007
|Argentina – Spanish
Sergio Salinas, ECA Board Member
+54 9 2615 11-6963
|Italy – Italian/English/Spanish/Portuguese
Simone Padovani, ECA Founding/Board Member
+39 392 1454211
Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) is a worldwide organization of human rights’ activists and survivors from over 21 countries and 5 continents who focus on children’s and victims’ rights to compel the Church to end clerical abuse, especially child sexual abuse, in order to protect children and to seek effective justice for victims. ECA demands the end of the Church’s structural mechanism that allows abuse. Visit ECA’s Website for more information.