Former nun adds to abuse accusations against prominent Slovenian Jesuit priest

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -A Slovenian former nun has come forward to accuse a Jesuit priest once prominent at the Vatican of sexual and psychological abuse, at least the fourth public accuser in a case that has shaken the worldwide religious order.

The Italian investigative newspaper Domani, which has been breaking ground on the story for the past few months, on Monday published an interview with the woman, who said she was pressured into sexual acts by Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.

Rupnik, now 68, was spiritual director of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia before moving to Rome 30 years ago, where he later came to prominence as an artist when Pope John Paul II commissioned him to redesign a chapel in the Vatican between 1996-1999.

After that, he was called on to decorate chapels around the world and in 2020 he led a Lenten spiritual retreat for Pope Francis and top Vatican officials.

Sex abuse accusations against him were first reported in Italian media last November, leading the Jesuit headquarters to acknowledge that he had been placed under partial sanctions, including a ban on hearing confessions and leading spiritual retreats, in 2019.

The Jesuit order has since revealed that the Vatican's doctrinal department excommunicated Rupnik in 2020 but lifted that sanction within a month after he repented. His whereabouts have not been known publicly for months and he has not commented on the allegations. One accuser has said she believes he abused at least 20 nuns.

In the latest disclosure published by Domani, the Slovenian woman who is now 58 said that Rupnik convinced her when she was a teenager to join the community he had founded, and began abusing her in earnest when she was 22.

He used what she called psychological control over her 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.

Repeated attempts to reach Rupnik through his school for religious art in Rome have not been successful and he has not responded to messages left there.

A Jesuit official in Rome declined to respond to a Reuters' request for comment on the latest allegations, adding that anyone who had information about Rupnik could reach out via a special communications channel established last month.

There have been calls from within the Jesuits for a review of how the order and the Vatican have handled the allegations. The Vatican referred questions about Rupnik to the Jesuits.

Earlier this month Slovenia's Jesuits said they believed the allegations were true and asked for forgiveness.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Hugh Lawson)