Jesuits say abuse accusations against priest are highly credible
ROME, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic religious order of Jesuits said on Tuesday that accusations of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse against a prominent member of the order were highly credible and that restrictions on him had been tightened.
The order said on its website that it would start an "internal procedure" against the priest, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, 69, a well-known religious artist.
About 25 people, mostly former nuns, have accused Rupnik of various forms of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia about 30 years ago, or after he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.
Rupnik has not spoken publicly of the accusations, which have rattled the worldwide order, of which the pope is a member, and the Vatican since breaking into the open in November.
His superior in the order, Father Johan Verschueren, said Rupnik had declined to meet Jesuit investigators.
In an update posted online, Verschueren said the number of people who had made similar accusations indicated that they were "very highly" credible, particularly since some of the accusers did not know each other. He said the abuses appeared to have taken place from the mid-1980s until 2018.
Repeated attempts by Reuters to reach Rupnik through his school for religious art in Rome were unsuccessful and he did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Rupnik specialises in mosaics and came to prominence when the late Pope John Paul II commissioned him to redesign a chapel in the Vatican between 1996-1999. He has since designed chapels around the world.
Some women have given accounts to Italian media saying Rupnik used his position as their spiritual director to coerce them to have sex with him.
One ex-nun told how he used what she called psychological control to force her into sexual acts, and deployed "cruel psychological, emotional and spiritual aggression" to "destroy" her, particularly after she refused to have three-way sex.
Verschueren's Italian-language statement used both male and female pronouns to describe Rupnik's accusers. The newspaper La Repubblica quoted him as saying two men had alleged abuse by the artist, though he did not specify the type of abuse.
After allegations against Rupnik were first reported, the Jesuit headquarters acknowledged that he had been banned in 2019 from hearing confessions and leading spiritual retreats.
After new accusations in the past two months, Rupnik was also banned from carrying out any public artistic activity, Verschueren said, adding that he could eventually be expelled from the order.
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