Pope clears path for action against priest in sex scandal

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he leaves the weekly general audience at St Peter's Square in the Vatican, on October 25, 2023. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • This is a serious crime in church law, for which the priest was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church in May 2020.

Pope Francis has waived the statute of limitations for a priest and world-renowned mosaic artist accused of sexual and psychological abuse, opening the way for potential disciplinary proceedings, the Vatican said Friday.

Slovenian Marko Rupnik, 68, has twice been sanctioned by the Catholic order of Jesuits -- to which Francis belongs -- over claims of abuse against members of a community of adult religious women in Slovenia in the early 1990s.

But according to the Jesuits, the Vatican had previously said it could not put Rupnik on trial because the offences took place too long ago, meaning the statute of limitations had expired.

On Friday, the Vatican said in a statement that the commission on sex abuse, which advises the pope, had warned Francis in September of "serious problems in the handling" of Rupnik's case "and lack of outreach to victims".

Francis, 86, subsequently asked for the Vatican to review the case "and decided to lift the statute of limitations to allow a process to take place".

The case against Rupnik has sent shockwaves through the Jesuit community, at a time when the Catholic Church is still grappling with the outcry over the clerical sex abuse of children -- and subsequent cover-up.

The pope, who has vowed to stop abusers and their protectors, was determined to "listen attentively and compassionately to those who are suffering, especially those who feel marginalised from the Church", the Vatican said Friday.

Rupnik is accused of abusing a number of women at a religious community in Ljubljana in the early 1990s.

The case first emerged in the Italian media, before the Jesuits -- one of the main Roman Catholic orders, founded in 1540 -- revealed it had sanctioned Rupnik, denying him the right to hear confession.

The Jesuits later revealed that, in a separate case, Rupnik had also been convicted of the "absolution of an accomplice... in a sin against the sixth commandment" -- namely absolving someone for having sex with him.

This is a serious crime in church law, for which Rupnik was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church in May 2020.

The excommunication was lifted by a Vatican decree later that month.