ROME (AP) — Five women who say they were psychologically, spiritually and sexually abused by a famous ex-Jesuit artist asked Catholic bishops around the world on Friday to remove his mosaics from their churches, saying their continued display in places of worship was “inappropriate” and retraumatizing to victims.

Through their lawyer, the women sent letters to bishops from Brazil to Lebanon and dioceses in between where chapels, churches or basilicas feature some of the nearly 230 mosaics designed by the Rev. Marko Rupnik and his Centro Aletti art studio.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, marked the latest salvo in the long-running scandal over Rupnik, whose mosaics decorate some of the Catholic Church’s most-visited sanctuaries but whose reputation has been marred by allegations of abuse by more than a dozen women.

The Rupnik scandal has been making headlines for two years, after the Jesuit religious order admitted that the Slovene priest had been excommunicated briefly for having committed one of the Catholic Church’s most serious crimes: using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activity.

The case continued to create problems for the Jesuits and Pope Francis, since a dozen more women came forward saying they too had been victimized by Rupnik. The Vatican initially refused to prosecute, arguing the women’s claims were too old.

Nevertheless, after hearing from more victims, the Jesuits expelled Rupnik from the order and Francis — under pressure because of suspicions he had protected his fellow Jesuit — waived the statute of limitations so that the Vatican could open a proper canonical trial.

To date Rupnik hasn’t responded publicly to the allegations and refused to respond to his Jesuit superiors during their investigation. His supporters at the Centro Aletti art studio have denounced what they have called a media “lynching.”

To Rupnik’s victims, the issue of what to do with his mosaics goes beyond the argument of separating art from a problematic artist, since some say they were abused by Rupnik precisely while he created his art: One nun on the scaffolding as a mosaic was being installed in a church, another as she posed as his model.

“Notwithstanding the years that have passed, the trauma that each suffered has not been erased, and it lives again in the presence of each of Father Rupnik’s works,” said the letter, which was signed by attorney Laura Sgro on behalf of her five clients.

In many ways, their appeal is the #NunsToo position in the “cancel culture” debate about whether to boycott Woody Allen films or Bill Cosby comedy sketches, after they were accused of misconduct. But because the Rupnik artwork itself was allegedly a conduit for the grooming and abuse, victims and their advocates say the question is more nuanced and problematic than the age-old debate about whether art, literature, music or film can still be appreciated when its creator is not.

“The continued use of Rupnik’s art is incredibly hurtful to many abuse survivors, who see this as emblematic of an ongoing lack of concern for the needs of all survivors,” Sara Larson, executive director of Awake, a survivor support and advocacy organization, said in an email. “This controversy has been especially painful for the many women abused as adults, who hear in these conversations a dismissal of their suffering and a reminder that their testimonies may not be believed.”

The Vatican trial against Rupnik is ongoing — Sgro says she hasn’t been contacted to provide testimony of her clients — and Rupnik’s many defenders in the Vatican and beyond say it’s important to withhold final judgment until the Vatican makes its ruling.

But the scandal was revived last week when the head of the Vatican’s communications department, Paolo Ruffini, was asked at a Catholic media conference why the Vatican News website continues to feature an image of a Rupnik mosaic.

Ruffini defended using the image, saying he was in no position to judge Rupnik and that in the history of civilization, “removing, deleting or destroying art has never been a good choice.”

When it was pointed out that he hadn’t mentioned the impact on victims of seeing Rupnik’s artwork promoted by the Vatican, Ruffini noted that the women weren’t minors and that while “closeness to the victims is important, I don’t know that this (removing the artwork) is the way of healing.”

When the reporter, Paulina Guzik of Our Sunday Visitor News, suggested otherwise, Ruffini said: “I think you’re wrong. I think you’re wrong. I really think you’re wrong.”

In their letter to bishops, the five women essentially argued that Ruffini was wrong.

“Let us be clear, this missive doesn’t constitute a judgment about the works of Father Rupnik, but merely a reflection about the appropriateness of their presence in consecrated spaces, dedicated to Our Lord,” the letter said.

They said they didn’t want to prejudge the outcome of the Vatican’s canonical trial or ask that the mosaics be destroyed. Rather, they asked that they be moved out of places of prayer, as a sign of respect for victims and the sacred spaces themselves, so they “don’t cast a shadow over the spirituality of the faithful.”

Removal, however, is no simple matter since some of the mosaics cover entire basilica façades (Lourdes, France); entire interiors (the Vatican’s own Redemptoris Mater chapel); or, in the case of the St. Padre Pio sanctuary in southern Italy, the entire floor-to-ceiling gilded smaller church.

The mosaics are also a big, expensive undertaking for the churches that commission them: Last month, the basilica at Aparecida, Brazil – another major shrine for Catholics – inaugurated its Rupnik-designed façade with a huge Hollywood-style song and dance production and a nearly two-hour documentary about its construction.

Other churches have smaller-scale mosaics but they are still prominent. The Rupnik-designed mosaics inside the Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Fatima, Portugal are so integral to its artistic and iconographic importance that the shrine is seeking status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But other churches are reconsidering. Bishop Jean-Marc Micas, whose diocese includes the Lourdes, France shrine, announced the creation of a study group last year to consider what to do with Rupnik’s mosaics on the Basilica of the Rosary façade. He acted after victims sent letters seeking a “gesture” from Lourdes and describing Rupnik’s mosaics there as an additional source of pain as they seek healing from their abuse.

“Their distress is great in front of the Rev. Rupnik’s mosaics in this same place: We cannot ignore it,” Micas said in a statement at the time, vowing to put victims first. A decision is expected soon.

A reflection is also taking place at the Knights of Columbus’ St. John Paul II National Shrine, which it built in Washington D.C. in 2011 and features Rupnik mosaics.

In a statement, the Knights said they were “deeply disturbed by and strongly condemn all instances of sexual abuse.”

“We continue to pray for victims and are carefully considering the best course of action concerning the mosaics that were installed at the shrine.” The statement added that the outcome of the Vatican’s canonical trial against Rupnik would be “an important factor in our considerations.”

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