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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Fifteen new victims have come forward to testify against celebrity artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, a Jesuit who has been accused of sexually abusing at least 20 nuns.
"The degree of credibility" of the testimonies "seems to be very high," since "many of these people have no knowledge of each other and the facts narrated concern different periods," Fr. Johan Verschueren, the delegate overseeing Jesuit houses in Rome, has concluded.
Three lay professionals appointed by the Society of Jesus as part of the Referent Team accepted submissions from 12 women and 3 men who accused the mosaic artist of improper touching and rape in the context of psychospiritual manipulation.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Fr. Verschueren said that Rupnik was given an opportunity to defend himself to the investigation team set up by the Jesuits but did not respond to the directive of his superiors.
"Father Marko Rupnik, was informed of the nature and content of the allegations, and was also informed of the decision," said Verschueren, the current general councilor and delegate for houses and interprovincial works for the Society of Jesus in Rome.
Verschueren revealed that the new victims include members of the Loyola Community and also single people who say they've been spiritually and psychologically abused or sexually harassed by Rupnik. Also among the new accusers are people who have been part of the Aletti Centre founded by the artist.
The major superior told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the Jesuits were also interested in "Father Rupnik's old lectures on sexuality," since "they do contain elements that can legitimize transgressions or actions that are not right."
Verschueren described Rupnik's behaviors as occurring in "various periods between the mid-1980s until 2018" and covering "a period of more than thirty years."
"As a precautionary measure," the Society of Jesus "has tightened the restrictive rules" against Rupnik by forbidding him "under obedience from any public artistic exercise, especially in religious structures (such as churches, institutions, oratories and chapels, retreat houses or spirituality)," the statement noted.
"These restrictions are added to those already in force (prohibition of any public ministerial and sacramental activity, prohibition of public communication, prohibition of leaving the Lazio Region)," it added.
In an interview with ACI Prensa earlier in February, Verschueren admitted that the sanctions inflicted so far on the Slovenian Jesuit had not worked, since the weakness of the restrictions lay in "the interpretation by the local superior."
"Hence the last public appearances of Fr. Rupnik were in accordance with the measures. The local superior allowed it," Verschueren confessed. "We are aware of this issue, and we are honestly upset about it."
"It is obvious that we have to correct the weakness of these measures, as they were taken in the previous decree; we're working on it," he added.
Verschueren said that the Jesuits would launch an internal procedure where Fr. Rupnik "can provide his own version of the facts."
Disciplinary measures may include imposing "limited or total ministerial restrictions" on the abuser or "forcing him to move to a specific place for a specified or indefinite period of time," the delegate announced.
According to canon law, a major superior can decide to initiate a procedure for dismissal from the Society of Jesus, Verschueren explained, adding, "Of course, the person concerned has the right to be assisted and to defend himself in this proceeding."
"If it is a matter of an optional reason for dismissal, he also has the possibility of repenting after having received the admonition established by canon 697. In this case, the dismissal procedure cannot go ahead," the major superior said.
Questions continue to be raised over whether Pope Francis personally intervened to lift Rupnik's excommunication after it was imposed by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to punish the Jesuit for sacramentally absolving a sexual accomplice.
"One aspect that is little noted is the fact that the Holy Father usually meets every week with the prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and other superiors of the dicastery upon need," canonist Marc Balistreri told the National Catholic Register.
"It is inconceivable that Pope Francis was not informed by the prefect, Cdl. Ladaria Ferrer, of the status of the conviction of Fr. Rupnik, or his petition to be absolved from his excommunication, unless Fr. Rupnik had succeeded in bypassing the congregation and obtaining directly from Francis absolution from his declared excommunication," the canonist said.
"Given the celerity with which Father Rupnik obtained the absolution from his excommunication, it is entirely possible that he simply approached Pope Francis directly and had his request mercifully granted without any further ado," Balistreri added.
The circumstances surrounding the lifting of Rupnik's excommunication remain unclear. Journalist and political scientist Riccardo Cascioli lamented, "Jesuit leaders are so aware of the lie that they avoided a press conference by entrusting manipulated statements to two newspapers, Repubblica and Associated Press, to avoid awkward questions."