A papal interview made real waves in the news this week, for the first time in a good while and for very good reason.
The really big piece of news from the AP interview was the pope’s claim he knew nothing about either Fr. Marko I. Rupnik, SJ’s alleged predations, or about the way Vatican justice handled the celebrity artist-priest’s case.
More broadly, the responses Pope Francis gave to the AP’s questions regarding l’Affaire Rupnik suggest a confused state in Francis’s thinking when it comes to the crisis of abuse and coverup in the Church, especially insofar as vulnerable adult victims are concerned.
“With the abused vulnerable adult,” Pope Francis told the AP, “it is the same as if he were a minor, practically.” Only, Francis said he has very different approaches to cases, according to the victims the cases involve. “I do not tolerate the statute of limitations when there is a minor involved,” he said.
“Of course, I lift it right away.” He never quite says that he doesn’t ever lift the statute of limitations when the victim is an adult, but he does not have to say so. We know he does. At least, we know that the Church’s ordinary organs of justice do waive such statutes very frequently.
Pope Francis did not waive the statute of limitations in the case of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, even though Rupnik is credibly accused of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing at least nine women who were members of a religious congregation he had founded in his native Slovenia, and had been found guilty of “absolving an accomplice” in a “sin against the Sixth Commandment” – i.e. giving sacramental absolution to someone with whom he had engaged in sexual relations, for the sin of the sex act the confessor and the penitent committed together – which is a very serious crime according to Church law.
That’s a mouthful, a real doozy of a sentence.
Pope Francis said he had nothing to do with the Rupnik case. Nada, he said. Francis used the first person to explain his intolerance of statutes of limitation when minors are involved, and also that cases involving vulnerable adults are “the same” as cases involving minors. If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which refused to lift the statute of limitations in Fr. Rupnik’s case, has a different view, then Francis can rectify the situation with a memo.
Now, statutes of limitations exist for a reason. Francis is not wrong to note that they exist alongside other legal guarantees to ensure that the accused receive the substance of justice through due process.
In other words, statutes of limitation exist to protect the integrity of a legal system, as much as they do to protect persons accused within the system itself. In a system like the Vatican’s, which allows for the waiving a legal prescription, the question is neither solely nor even primarily the age or condition of the victim at the time the crime was allegedly committed, but the real possibility of giving the accused a fair trial.
In Rupnik’s case, there was mountainous evidence and ample opportunity for defense counsel to confront witnesses.
In any case, Pope Francis’s response to the AP’s queries not only left much unanswered, but also created new layers and levels of perplexity. He said he did not intervene in the case, but then said that he had something to do with “a small procedural thing” that was before the CDF at some point. “How ‘small’ a procedural matter?” is a fair question, at this point. So is: “What kind of procedural matter was it, more precisely?”
Before those, however, it is fair to ask: “Which is it: Did you have ‘Nothing’ to do with the Rupnik business, or did you have ‘something’ to do with the Rupnik business?” Because, what Pope Francis described sounded like it could have been something, however small, and senior churchmen close to Francis have strongly suggested that Francis had pretty much everything to do with the management of it.
Pope Francis also spoke of the Rupnik business being before the “normal court” – which would be the CDF/DDF court – even though he had earlier praised the Jesuits for keeping the business in-house, and farming out the investigation of certain allegations to the Dominicans.
“I’ll have to see if Fr. Rupnik appeals,” Pope Francis said.
CDF refused to lift the statute of limitations, so Fr. Rupnik never faced trial on actual abuse charges. He only saw his excommunication declared in 2020 and then lifted within a month of its declaration. One wonders: What does Fr. Rupnik have to appeal?
“Se puede hacer esperar más transparencia del Vaticano en estos casos?” the AP asked Pope Francis. The question could be rendered, “Can people expect more transparency from the Vatican in these [kinds of] cases?”
It’s worth noting that “expect” has the double-sense of waiting and hoping. The Spanish, Hacer esperar, could be either “give people hope,” or “make people wait.” In answer, Pope Francis said: “It is what I desire.”