The Vatican, Saint Joseph, and Father Rupnik’s Blasphemy

The Vatican, Saint Joseph, and Father Rupnik’s Blasphemy March 21, 2024


a white lily, the symbol of Saint Joseph
image via Pixabay

The feast of Saint Joseph was a particularly horrible day to remember that the Catholic Church doesn’t care about victims of sexual abuse.

This week was the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the husband and protector of Christ and the Virgin Mary, someone I often pray to for victims of clerical abuse. I think that Saint Joseph is a patron for anyone who is vulnerable or in danger, and I love invoking him when I feel afraid. So it was especially horrific to find that the Vatican had illustrated their official Vatican News post for the solemnity with an icon from none other than the disgraced artist Marko Rupnik.

For those of you not familiar, Rupnik is a former Jesuit and an artist who became famous for his googly-eyed mosaics. These mosaics have been copied for countless kitschy calendars and prayer cards; they decorate churches such as the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington.

In the past year or so, Rupnik has also become famous for being a serial abuser.

There’s no such thing as a good or understandable sexual abuser, but Rupnik’s deeds are especially shocking. He abused over 20 religious sisters, manipulating them into perverted sex acts that he claimed were for their spiritual growth. His control over their minds was that of a cult leader. These sisters were trapped under his sway for years. When they tried to get help, they were rebuffed.  One of the sisters ran away from the convent intending to “die in the woods” and another fell and broke her arm trying to fight him off.

For the most part, Rupnik has not been punished. He was briefly excommunicated for giving absolution to one of his victims, but that was lifted after a mere two weeks. The Jesuits dismissed him for his disobedience, but he hasn’t been defrocked. He is a free man, incardinated in Slovenia and still a priest. The Pope, to his credit, has lifted the statute of limitations to investigate his atrocities, and we’ll see how that works out. But it’s not enough.

And these religious sisters were used as models for his art. His art studio was where the grooming process began. If what he said to his victims can be believed, Rupnik considered what he was doing to them to be part of the same spiritual movement that was producing his artwork. The sister who spoke out in detail says that her “descent into hell” began when Rupnik asked her into his studio and had her bare her collarbone as a model for Jesus’s collarbone. Remember that when you’re looking at one of those gaudy mosaics. You’re looking at the opposite of an icon. Icons are supposed to be works of meditation, opening windows into Heaven by the hand of the prayerful iconographer. Rupnik’s artwork was the visible product of these women’s hell on earth.

And this is the clip art that the Vatican chose to illustrate their post for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, a holy man who lived with and protected the Virgin Mary without touching her sexually for her entire adult life. Saint Joseph, the patron saint of priests, fathers, families, pregnant women and children. Saint Joseph who the Divine Praises calls “Most Chaste.”

All Rupnik icons are blasphemous, but it seems particularly foul for him to portray Saint Joseph.

It’s not as though the Vatican doesn’t have a great many pictures of Saint Joseph to work with. There have been thousands of portrayals of Saint Joseph through the centuries.  Whoever posted that picture could have walked to the Basilica of Saint Peter and snapped a photo of the Altar of Saint Joseph. I searched a public domain website for pictures of Saint Joseph and got lots, free of charge.

And it seems especially offensive when Rupnik’s mosaics aren’t even good art. They are cliched and tacky. There’s no reason to showcase them, except to remind victims of abuse that the Vatican doesn’t care.

It is exhausting to be reminded, on the solemnity of a great saint, that the Church still doesn’t care about victims. She is a cruel mother who likes to rub in her children’s faces how little they matter.

I am exhausted.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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