Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now dissolved Loyola community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal, as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life, but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper, and more intimate “abuse of conscience,” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body,” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters, spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Father Rupnik, who she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

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