Pope Francis has ordered a review of the Church’s handling of the case of an internationally known religious artist who was expelled from the Jesuit religious order after being accused of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse of adult women.

A statement on Friday said the pope had asked the Vatican’s doctrinal office to review the case of Father Marko Ivan Rupnik and had lifted any statute of limitations, meaning he could eventually face a Church trial and be removed from the priesthood if found guilty.

It said the pope made the decision after a Vatican commission on the prevention of sexual abuse “brought to the pope’s attention that there were serious problems in the handling” of the Rupnik case, as well as a “lack of outreach to victims”.

About 25 people, mostly former nuns, have accused Rupnik, 69, of various types of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia about 30 years ago or since he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.

Allegations against Rupnik began surfacing in Italian media late last year, after which the Jesuit headquarters acknowledged that he had been banned in 2019 from hearing confessions and leading spiritual retreats.

The order expelled him in June for disobeying superiors.

Victims complained about not having been believed at first years ago and more recently expressed outrage after he was allowed to work as a priest in the diocese of Koper, in his native Slovenia. The diocese said he had been accepted because he was not convicted in either a Church or civil court.

The Vatican commission that asked the pope to consider reopening the case said in a separate statement on Friday that the Church had to face the “inadequacies” in disciplinary processes and would “remain watchful in ensuring the adequate administration of justice”.

Rupnik has never publicly responded to the accusations against him, which the Jesuits said last February were “very highly” credible.

One ex-nun told an Italian newspaper how he used what she called psychological control 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.

The Jesuits, the Vatican’s doctrinal department have come under criticism for their handling of the case. There has also been Italian media speculation that the Vatican bureaucracy gave him special treatment because the pope, too, is a Jesuit.

The order disclosed that in 2020 the Vatican’s doctrinal department excommunicated Rupnik for “absolution of an accomplice,” referring to when a priest has sex with someone and then absolves the person in confession. Rupnik repented and the sanction was lifted after only a month, an unusually short period.

Rupnik specialised in mosaics and came to prominence when the late Pope John Paul II commissioned him to redesign a chapel in the Vatican between 1996 and 1999. He later designed chapels around the world.