Priest in Key Vatican Position Resigns, Another Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Assault To Follow

After an allegation of sexually assaulting a woman in a confessional surfaced publicly months ago, a high-ranking Vatican official has finally stepped down from his prominent role today. Church officials now say the allegation will be "examined formally." We cannot help but feel that this was only in response to continued media coverage of the case, not out of concern for vulnerable parishioners.

At a Nov. 27 event in Rome, ironically focused on giving voice to women survivors of clergy sexual abuse, Fr. Hermann Geissler was publicly accused of sexually assaulting a woman during confession in 2009. Despite these very serious allegations, as of January 18th Fr. Geissler was still listed by the Vatican “as head of the doctrinal section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).” Given that the CDF is where bishops from across the world send the abuse reports they receive, continuing to have Fr. Geissler work for this body greatly compromised its integrity, not to mention undermining the credibility of next month’s Vatican summit on abuse. 

Doris Wagner says that she was abused in 2009 and that she reported those claims to the CDF in 2014. She also says that she was told Fr. Geissler admitted the accusation and asked for pardon. Yet he apparently did not receive any further discipline for this serious infraction. It was only after receiving public pressure from news outlets like the National Catholic Reporter that Vatican officials finally acted. Moreover, the priest was allowed to resign with little to no consequences for this gross violation of the confessional, with yet another investigation of the incident to follow.

If someone like Fr. Geissler can be accused of something so serious and still remain in his powerful role for years after the fact, it belies the claim that top Catholic officials are taking cases of abuse seriously. If they are still continuing to protect priests over parishioners, it calls into question just how effective next month’s abuse summit will be. We recommend that anyone who suffered, witnessed or suspected crimes or misdeeds by Fr. Geissler contact independent sources of help like police, prosecutors, therapists, attorneys or support groups like ours.

Fr. Geissler should have been removed from his role years ago, or at the very least when Ms. Wagner spoke up again in November. The Vatican can address this outrageous oversight by disciplining both the priest, and any and all employees who were responsible for this inaction. 

In the meantime, the world is watching to see if the Vatican is really serious about reform.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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