Senior cardinal asks Vatican to stop displaying art by priest accused of abuse

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis poses with Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley during a private audience at the Vatican

By Matteo Negri

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A prominent cardinal has asked Vatican authorities to stop displaying the artwork of a Jesuit priest accused of abusing nuns and other women, to avoid a suggestion of indifference to the victims' suffering.

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, whose mosaics adorn about 200 churches and chapels around world as well as the Vatican, was expelled from the Jesuit order last year.

About 20 people, mostly former nuns, have accused him of various types of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in Slovenia about 30 years ago or after he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.

He has not commented on the allegations, which the Jesuit Order said last year were "very highly" credible.

Five women who accused Rupnik of sexual and psychological violence had asked bishops around the world to remove his mosaics from churches to avoid offending the feelings of the faithful.

"Pastoral prudence would prevent displaying artwork in a way that could imply either exoneration or a subtle defence" of alleged perpetrators of abuse, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, said in a letter to Vatican officials.

"We must avoid sending a message that the Holy See is oblivious to the psychological distress that so many are suffering."

The letter dates from Wednesday but was published on Friday after the lawyer of some of Rupnik's alleged victims questioned the appropriateness of keeping his artworks in places of worship, causing possible disturb to the faithful.

The lawyer said in a letter addressed to more than 80 bishops from various dioceses that some women were abused during the creation of the mosaics, when posing as models or participating in the installation of the artworks.

The head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, opposed the removal of the artist's works, considering that was not the right way to help the victims.

"I don't think we have to throw stones, thinking it is the way of healing someone," Ruffini said last week at a Catholic media conference, whose video footage was obtained by The Pillar. "The Christian faith is saying other things."

Still, some dioceses are considering the possible removal of the Jesuit priest's paintings, including Lourdes, where a mosaic by Father Rupnik adorns the façade of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. A decision is expected shortly.

(Editing by Gavin Jones, Alex Richardson and Timothy Heritage)