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Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

URGENT: Knights of Columbus to Cover Father Rupnik’s Art in DC and Connecticut

By meerna Jul12,2024
URGENT: Knights of Columbus to Cover Father Rupnik’s Art in DC and Connecticut

The Knights of Columbus announced Thursday that it will cover mosaics by accused molester Father Marko Rupnik in Washington and Connecticut, a dramatic move that represents the strongest public stance yet by a major Catholic organization on the controversial art of the former Jesuit.

The 2.1 million-member Catholic fraternal order said July 11 it will cover with fabric the floor-to-ceiling mosaics in two chapels at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington and in a chapel at the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut — at least until the conclusion of a formal Vatican investigation into alleged abuse by a Slovenian priest.


Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, told EWTN News on Thursday that the opaque material will be installed “very soon,” but he did not provide a specific timeline. The Knights said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the artwork may later be permanently hidden under a plaster covering after the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issues a ruling in Rupnik’s case.

The Knights’ decision to protect the extensive works that occupy both spaces follows a comprehensive, confidential review process that included consultations with survivors of sexual abuse and their caregivers, art historians, pilgrims who visit the shrine, bishops and moral theologians.


“The Knights of Columbus has decided to cover these mosaics because our first concern must be the victims of sexual abuse who have already suffered greatly in the Church and who may be further harmed by the continued display of the mosaics in the sanctuary,” Kelly said in a statement.

“While opinions among those consulted varied,” he said, “there was a strong consensus that the needs of victims should be prioritized, especially as the allegations are ongoing, unresolved and horrific.”


Kelly repeated this argument in an interview with EWTN News.

“Our decision-making process came down to a lot of factors. But the No. 1 factor was compassion for the victims,” Kelly said. “We had to put the victims first, above everything, above anything material. That was our primary consideration.”

The first segment of Kelly’s interview with EWTN News will air on EWTN News tonight Thursday at 6:00 and 9:00 PM ET. Additional comments will be broadcast EWTN News in detail on Friday at 8:00 PM ET.

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, about the organization’s decision to cover up mosaics of accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C. and Connecticut. Source: EWTN News

Once a renowned artist, Father Rupnik, whose mosaics can be seen in hundreds of Catholic sanctuaries, churches and chapels around the world, was expelled from the Jesuit order in June 2023.

His expulsion came after a lengthy review of what the association called “highly credible” allegations that the priest serially spiritually, psychologically and sexually abused as many as 30 nuns over decades. Some of the women say the abuse of Father Rupnik sometimes occurred as part of the process of creating his art at Centro Aletti, the art school he founded in Rome.


In late October 2023, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had waived the statute of limitations in the Rupnik case, allowing the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to conduct a canonical investigation into the abuse allegations.

The Vatican has not provided any further information about the investigation, and it is unclear whether Fr. Rupnik still lives in Rome, even though he was ordained a priest in a diocese in his native Slovenia last year.


Growing public outrage

What to do with Father Rupnik’s once widely praised works, colorful mosaics characterized by large, flowing figures and large eyes, has proven controversial in the wake of multiple accusations against him that first came to light in December 2022.

While some want to await the Vatican’s decision before taking down and reinstalling Father Rupnik’s works, many of which were created in collaboration with other artists from Centro Aletti — the art school and theological center in Rome that Rupnik founded — public outcry over demands to remove his works has intensified.

The Knights also announced several immediate changes that would be made at the shrine in solidarity with abuse victims, including providing educational materials about the mosaics, making clear that their display during the consultation “was not intended to ignore, deny or diminish allegations of abuse.”


Every Mass at the St. John Paul II National Shrine will now include prayer for victims of sexual abuse, and saints who have been associated with abuse victims, such as St. Josephine Bakhita, will be specially commemorated.

The group said it learned of the allegations against Rupnik in December 2022 — and noted that the artist, although under investigation, is still a priest in good standing in the Koper diocese in Slovenia.


“This decision is based on the Knights of Columbus’ core purpose of protecting families, especially women, children and those who are vulnerable and voiceless,” Kelly said in a July 11 statement.

This "Redeemer of Hominis" The chapel of the National Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Source: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Redemptor Hominis Chapel of the National Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Source: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The St. John Paul II National Shrine is a pastoral initiative of the Knights of Columbus, established in 2011 and recognized as a national shrine by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2014.

Father Rupnik’s mosaics were installed in the sanctuary in 2015. The Holy Family Chapel at the Knights’ headquarters has displayed Rupnik’s art since 2005.


Underscoring the evangelizing mission of the John Paul II shrine, the supreme knight said, “the art we sponsor must therefore serve as a touchstone — not a stumbling block — in faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.”

Father Rupnik has not made any statement since the allegations emerged.

Eye on Lourdes

The Knights’ decision to hide the mosaics comes just a week after the bishop of Lourdes, France, said that despite his personal feelings that Rupnik’s work at the renowned Marian shrine should be removed, he had decided to hold off on making a final decision because of “strong opposition from some.”

After a special commission was formed in May 2023, Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes announced on July 2 that more time was needed “to discern what should be done” regarding the Rupnik mosaics at the site of the Marian apparitions, because his belief that they should be demolished “would not be sufficiently understood” and “would lead to even greater division and violence” at that time.

As a “first step,” the French bishop announced that he had decided that the mosaics would no longer be illuminated at night during candlelight rosary processions held at the sanctuary.

In an interview with EWTN News, Kelly said the bishop of Lourdes’s intention to make a decision this spring motivated the Knights to act now.

In his July 11 statement, Kelly thanked the bishop of Lourdes for his “thoughtful decision” and said it “both informed and confirmed us in our own decision-making. Shrines are places of healing, prayer and reconciliation. They should not cause further suffering to victims.”

Stressing the importance of discernment based on mission and context, the supreme knight said, “Each situation is different. In the United States, Catholics continue to suffer in unique ways from the revelations of sexual abuse and, at times, from the Church’s response. It is clear to us that as a national shrine, our decision must honor this country’s special need for healing.”

The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882 by Blessed Michael McGivney, its parish priest. Dedicated to promoting the group’s core principles — charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism — its members volunteered 50 million hours of service and donated nearly $185 million to charities in their communities in 2022.

Shannon Mullen, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register, contributed to this article.

By meerna

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