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Cardinal De DonatisVideo screenshot

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has removed the cardinal-vicar of Rome and one of the city’s auxiliary bishops, in a move which is suggested to be due to personal conflicts and objections to the Pope’s handling of the Father Marko Rupnik case. 

Announced by the Holy See Press Office bulletin April 6, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Angelo De Donatis as cardinal-vicar of Rome, to become Apostolic Penitentiary.

This was announced along with resignation of one of Rome’s auxiliaries, Bishop Daniele Libanori who is now moved to become an assessor of the Pope for consecrated life.

Not named in the resignation list, but de-facto included by virtue of De Donatis’ appointment, was 79-year-old Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who has led the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary since September 2013, being styled as “one of the first illustrious victims” of the Francis pontificate, after he was removed from his position as prefect of Congregation for the Clergy some months after Francis became pope. He is due to receive his pension later this year, upon attaining his 80th birthday.

Italian site Messa in Latino (MiL) predicted the immediate announcement on Friday, with well-sourced rumors having been in circulation for some weeks.

Exiting vicar of Rome

De Donatis was appointed one of Rome’s several auxiliary bishops in 2015 and then raised by the Pope to become the the cardinal vicar of the diocese in 2017. The Italian was made cardinal in June 2018.

It was De Donatis who announced on March 12, 2020 that all the Catholic churches in Rome would be shut in relation to COVID-19. The decision was reversed the next day, with parish churches and mission seats again open for private prayer and devotion. De Donatis said the decision was made only “after consulting our bishop, Pope Francis.”

De Donatis also oversaw the implementation of the Pope’s severe restrictions on the traditional Mass in the Diocese of Rome in 2021. The cardinal wrote to priests saying that, in an “exercise a lively pastoral charity,” he was banning “the Roman Ritual and the other liturgical books of the ‘ancient rite’ for the celebration of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., the Ritual for the reconciliation of penitents according to the ancient form).”

The 70-year-old cardinal has come into more international recognition and scrutiny in the last few years, arguably chiefly due to the case of the disgraced ex-Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, who is based in the Rome Aletti Center.

The Rupnik case, as LifeSiteNews has extensively reported, has been marked throughout by alleged cover-up and inaction, with accusations that Francis has been directly involved in protecting the alleged serial abuser priest. Though Francis has denied this, on the single instance a journalist has asked him about it, the accusations have continued. 

READ: Disgraced Fr. Rupnik continues to live at his Rome art center where alleged abuses took place

Rupnik – based out of the Rome art center, though under the authority of his Jesuit order until his expulsion in 2023 – received continued promotion by the Diocese of Rome for many years, both in his art work and in his own person. De Donatis has been described as being “a good friend” of rupnik, by Il Messagero’s respected Vatican correspondent. 

But after the scandal became public and international in December 2022, De Donatis issued a statement on December 23, 2022 in which – among other remarks described as “ranging in credibility from improbable, through implausible and on to almost certainly false” – he appeared to deflect responsibility for Rupnik’s favored treatment to Francis. 

The statement was described as stating in the “curialese” fashion “that Pope Francis is calling the shots on this one, and that Pope Francis has Fr. Rupnik’s back.”

Francis has been accused by a number of well-placed sources for MiL and Il Messagero of having directly intervened to lift Rupnik’s automatic excommunication. 

The relationship between the Pope and his cardinal vicar have been increasingly tense for some time, with Francis appearing to snub De Donatis by not including the cardinal on the Pope’s visit to Rome’s clergy. 

Even in recent days, fresh reports have emerged appearing to suggest that De Donatis has engaged in denigrating discussions about the Pope, which have subsequently been reported to Francis by some of the cardinal’s staff.

Bishop Libanori: investigator of Rupnik

The 70-year-old Italian bishop entered the Jesuits in 1991, and has been one of Rome’s auxiliaries since his appointment in November 2017.

Libanori somewhat opposed the decision to close the Roman churches in COVID-19, though asked if protests “against the closing of churches is animated by faith or not rather by a religiosity to be purified.”

Once again, Libanori’s main publicity has come due to his recent involvement in the Rupnik case. 

MiL wrote April 5 that “recurring rumors speak that the removal [of Libanori as auxiliary] has to do with the Rupnik case, in which Libanori has always defended abused women and would have collided with the great defender of the former Slovenian Jesuit, Pope Francis.”

It was Libanori who led an ecclesiastical procedure against Rupnik in 2021, upon the instigation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). This led to Rupnik’s superior imposing fresh restrictions on the priest: during this time, the case still had not broken into the public sphere. 

Yet, despite the investigation finding that there was a “case to answer” and recommending a “penal process,” some months later, the CDF dropped the case, citing the statute of limitations.  

On December 19, 2022 – some weeks after the Rupnik scandal became public – Libanori was revealed to have written to priests informing them that the allegations of serial abuse of multiple forms against Rupnik are true.

In a February 2023 interview, Libanori only added to the number of unanswered questions surrounding the case, when he stated that he did not have “any information” to give as to why the CDF acted the way it did. When asked how he explained the CDF’s “conclusions,” Libanori replied: “I don’t have any information to answer your question, much less to pass judgment. I know what the newspapers reported, as far as they were able to reconstruct the case with authentic documents.”

Commenting on Rupnik, Libanori stated: 

How is it possible that in the space of almost thirty years, no one ever had any doubts about the doctrine he preached, which, according to some chilling testimonies, served to legitimize the behavior attributed to him? We are indeed confronted with a mixture of spirituality, mysticism and deviant sexuality that is sadly present in groups and movements with the involvement of well-known individuals.

Then in June 2023, the co-founder of Rupnik’s Loyola Community and former Rupnik confidante Sr. Ivanka Hosta was quietly disciplined by Libanori. She was removed from her position as head of the community, accused by the bishop-investigator of “exercising a style of government detrimental to the dignity and rights of each of the religious who make up the community.”

Hosta has been accused of aiding Rupnik’s abuse, and alleged Rupnik victims from the Loyola Community wrote on September 19 last year that “the victims of Ivanka Hosta’s abuse of power (who for 30 years covered up Rupnik’s nefarious deeds, and spiritually enslaved those who opposed his designs of revenge) have been waiting for a definitive, clear, maternal answer for more than a year. But they have only received silence.”

Pope Francis did not name a new cardinal-vicar of Rome or a replacement for Libanori.