In what should come as a shock to absolutely no one, a Catholic priest in charge of investigating sexual abuse cases for the church has quit after being accused of committing sexual abuse himself.
Hermann Geissler has served as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2009, after maintaining a position within the congregation since 1993. On Monday, he resigned from his position, according to the Vatican.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responsible for investigating violations of the faith, and importantly in this case, sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy.
Geissler resigned following accusations that he sexually solicited in a nun while in confessional.
This past November, an event held in Rome called Overcoming Silence — Women’s Voices in the Abuse Crisis featured Doris Wagner. Wagner spoke about how, after moving from Germany to start her work with the church, a priest requested to be assigned as her confessor.
“He would keep me there kneeling in front of him for hours, and he would tell me how much he liked me and that he knew that I liked him and even though we couldn’t marry, there would be other ways,” Wagner said. “At some point, he would try to hold me and kiss me, and I simply panicked and ran out of the room.”
Wagner revealed that she reported the priest's behavior to one of her female superiors. She said that she asked to have another confessor assigned to her.
“When I told her, actually, I was extremely relieved that she didn’t blame me,” Wagner admitted. “Instead, she said something like, ‘You know, I knew Father has a certain weakness for women, so we kind of have to put up with this.’”
Yikes... Way to be supportive, unnamed female superior.
Wagner declined to name the priest at the event, but she revealed certain details that led several news outlets to figure out who she was talking about. She referred to him as “another leading member of the community, a priest, who to this day is working as capo ufficio [head of the office] at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
It was obvious to enough people that she was referring to Geissler.
Wagner noted that after she reported Geissler's conduct, the church's reaction was more than disappointing. "I got a response that stated that Father Geissler had admitted, and had asked pardon and was admonished. And that was all,” Wagner told The National Catholic Reporter.
Joshua J. McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter, wrote in his article that "solicitation in the confessional is generally considered very serious by the Catholic Church, which teaches that confession is a sacred opportunity for faithful to obtain forgiveness for sins and reconcile with God."
"A priest propositioning someone in the confessional is considered so serious that is labeled by the Vatican as a 'grave delict,' and judgment on such matters is reserved to the doctrinal congregation," he continued. "The Code of Canon Law prescribes that a priest found guilty of solicitation 'be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations.' It specifies: 'In graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state.'"
The Vatican reported that Geissler is maintaining his innocence, but also asking that a church-led investigation into the case continue.
If you want to see my full ongoing coverage of the Catholic Church's ongoing sexual abuse crisis, you can see that here. It really is as astonishing as it is appalling and horrifying at this point. The sheer magnitude and breadth of the church's abuse, and subsequent protection of abusers.
Hopefully bringing these stories to light can make a difference, and give the victims a chance to heal.