Marko Rupnik and Faus’s letter

The recent open letter from the theologian José Ignacio González-Faus to his Jesuit brother Marko Rupnik, a renowned artist, and spiritual guide and who was canonically prosecuted and convicted for sexual assaults, deeply disappoints me because of what it says and what it does not say.

I will begin by briefly commenting on some points of terminology. I refer to “sexual assaults”, not “abuses” which appears in all the ecclesiastical documents and statements on the case. And which also appears in the letter from González-Faus. Words are not innocuous, and the word “abuse” does not seem to me in this case to be the right word, the one that acknowledges the facts and the victims, and, at the end of the day, the perpetrator as well, and the victimising religious institutions, for only when the truth has been recognised and told can we be set free. I concur with the new Spanish “Only yes means yes” law that eliminates “sexual abuse” and regards “sexual assault” as any act that infringes on the sexual freedom of another person without their consent. If Marko Rupnik was denounced by a score of nuns, his “spiritual directees”, it is because they did not consent, whether or not they dared to express it at the time. So we are talking about assaults, not mere abuses. Let’s call a spade a spade.

The word “sin” or “sinner”, which the theologian Faus repeatedly uses in his letter, strikes me as even less appropriate. To the ears of the vast majority of people, “sin” suggests the deliberate breach of a divine law –related in particular to sexuality–, an offended supreme “God”, personal guilt, individual secret confession to a priest, the only one vested with the power to grant divine absolution… I am familiar with and concur with the many excellent pages written by the theologian on sin, but this word strikes me as misleading and is superfluous in this specific case. The sexual assault of a woman is not what is understood as a “sin”; it is a crime, it is the inflicting of serious harm, within a social –and religious– macho framework. And it is not resolved in dark confessionals or through secret canonical processes.

That is why I find the canonical disquisitions in which Faus gets himself tangled up in strange and inappropriate: whether Rupnik was excommunicated or whether he was subject to excommunication latae sententiae, whether the excommunication was lifted or whether it was not necessary to do so as the canonical offence was time-barred 10 years after it had been committed… These disquisitions, at this point, are no longer of interest to anyone but experts in canon law, and serve only to divert attention from what really matters: to know what happened and why. It is not about canons, excommunications and the lifting of excommunications, just as it is not about sins, divine offences and clerical absolutions. It is about the intimate sores that continue to bleed and the remedies required to heal them: firstly, to heal the victims and then the perpetrator, too. It is a question of finding out why a person ended up hurting –and hurting himself– so much, and asking what essential measures are needed to prevent the recurrence of such acts –such appallingly frequent ones– in the Catholic clerical institution and in men’s religious congregations.

The clerical institution does not make its confession in confessionals, and religious congregations are not excommunicated. And yet they are co-responsible –and I would almost say primarily responsible– in each case of sexual assault. Firstly, for failing to do everything possible to prevent the events, and secondly for doing everything possible to cover them up.

Well, none of this is mentioned or implied in González-Faus’s letter; what he does not say, or what he conceals, seems to me to be the most serious thing. It positions the facts and deals with them on an exclusively personal, individual level of immoral conduct. He opens with these words: “My dear brother evil-doer”. Of the five words, all but perhaps one, “brother”, are uncalled for: paternalism and evasion are uncalled for. And I wonder: Can one really love an “evil-doer” and feel like his brother without feeling and recognising that one is in some way responsible for his actions? That is what I learned from Brother Francis of Assisi, and I do not see it reflected in this text. At first glance, he shines the spotlight on and directs his gaze solely, and completely, towards Marko, alone on the stage, an excommunicated sinner in need of doing penance. The letter opens with these words. And it closes with these others that fill me with astonishment: “God is more on your side than on ours: for he seeks to call you to do penance. (…). If you take that step, especially in the presence of the poor victims that you cajoled, I will owe you a warmer embrace than I would give to many of my loved ones.” I do not understand that omnipotent, arbitrary “God” who calls the guilty sinner to do penance nor this “brother” who promises him an embrace if he meets the conditions.

As for the clerical Church and the Society of Jesus, mum’s the word. Well, not quite, since he says to Marko: “I would like you to understand that you inflicted untold damage not only on a group of nuns (here, too, the numbers vary) but also on the Society of Jesus and on the whole Church.”  This is tantamount to saying that the Church and the Society are not responsible, they are only victims, just like the assaulted nuns. And speaking of those nuns who were assaulted, humiliated, wounded in the most intimate part of their dignity and bodies, in Faus’s text we find this phrase that has provoked such righteous indignation among many nuns and among many lay men and women: “I wonder what kind of nun she was and what training she had had, that poor girl who so easily put up with these rules of her supposed spiritual director. That may aggravate your abuse, but it also blames some women’s congregations for the lack of training of their members.” Read the sentence carefully in its context: it is unbelievable.

And I am not saying this because Faus may not be right regarding the question he is asking. But you have to ask questions about everything, and ask them in the right order. The first question, it goes without saying, should not be about the congregation of the attacked nun, but about that of the assailant, in this case the Society of Jesus, no less: What is it about Jesuit training, so qualified, personalised and highly valued as it is, that leads to cases such as that of Marko Rupnik? No one can believe that he is the only one, but the only one known to date. What has become of the discernment, and how is it that the cover-up has been going on until today? The second question, a burning question, is addressed to the entire clerical institution of the Catholic Church: How is it that, well into the 21st century, it still claims to maintain its clerical, hierarchical, authoritarian, macho constitution as revealed by “God”? How is it that, in all its teachings, it continues to propose the “Religious Life” and the vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) as the most sublime vocation and the best way to live the most perfect love, the most generous dedication, the most radical following of Jesus? How is it that those who impose and lift excommunications are still unable to recognise the obvious, namely that sexual assaults on women are closely linked to the subordination of women, and the latter to the figure of the celibate male clergy? And how is it that, after ten years into the pontificate of a “reforming” Jesuit pope, not one iota or blemish of ecclesiastical clericalism, fertile ground for so many obsessions, narcissisms and compulsions, has yet to be addressed? And the third question, an all-encompassing one for theologians, is: How is it that the vast majority of them basically continue to cling on to theological categories and images that belong to a culture, a worldview and an anthropology of a culture that has had its day?

Only then, fourthly, does González-Faus’s question make sense, and it does. Sexual assaults in the Church will not disappear as long as the conditions that enable them to be committed and covered up do not disappear. Today, it is a Jesuit, tomorrow it will be a Franciscan, and it will always be the same human condition, the same macho culture, the same ecclesiastical clerical pathology, the same institutional religious lie, which makes it possible for a Jesuit –or a Franciscan–, it makes no difference, to believe that he is entitled and empowered to have, by divine will, sexual relations with his spiritual directee against her will, in order that she may thus access the experience of the love of “God” or of the Holy Trinity?

We will not liberate ourselves from all the lies until we are able to ask all the questions and simply recognise the reality and put it into words. And we will not begin to liberate ourselves until all the cases are heard in secular courts, which are much better controlled and more reliable than the confessionals and ecclesiastical courts with their secrecy and canonical intrigue at the dictates and services of the institution. Only “the truth shall make you free”, said Jesus. And when we are free of our personal and institutional chains and delusions, we will be brothers, and there will be no need for anyone to impose or lift excommunications.

Aizarna (Basque Country), 4 January, 2023

(Translated by Sarah J. Turtle)