Thursday, July 04, 2024

Lourdes to no longer light up mosaics by accused priest

Victims of an artist priest accused of sexual assault welcomed Wednesday a decision by the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes to no longer illuminate his mosaics.

Slovenian priest Marko Rupnik, 69, is being investigated for psychological and sexual violence on at least 20 women over a period of nearly 30 years.

Five of the women last month asked the dioceses where Rupnik's works are displayed to take them down -- a request that the French diocese of Tarbes-Lourdes said it would honour in part.

The diocese said Rupnik's mosaics within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes -- one of the world's biggest Catholic pilgrimage sites -- would no longer be lit up during a procession each evening.

The Italian lawyer for the women, Laura Sgro, called the decision "a first step that we welcome".

But she said the mosaics will still be visible during the day and "will continue to fuel the uneasiness of the faithful and the victims' pain."

Bishop Jean-Marc Micas said he personally wanted to remove the mosaics, while cautioning that this did not have "widespread support".

More than 200 of Rupnik's mosaics adorn churches around the world, from Madrid to Washington and at pilgrimage sites including Fatima in Portugal and the Vatican itself.

Many of the women who accuse Rupnik of abuse are nuns from a convent in Ljubljana he co-founded in the early 1990s. Other accusations involve Rupnik's time at a Rome art institute he subsequently founded.

The Church briefly excommunicated Rupnik in 2020 after he absolved someone of having sexual relations with him, but reinstated him after he formally repented.

Then in June 2023, Rupnik was expelled from the Jesuit order -- of which Pope Francis is a member.

In October, Francis waived the statute of limitations on the offences, opening the way for potential disciplinary proceedings.

In Lourdes, a think-tank including bishops, art experts, victims and psychologists had been assembled to decide whether or not the mosaics be removed.