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The Pope & Priest Sexual Abuse

I want to bring you up to date on a couple of stories we’ve been talking about a lot on this blog in the past few days.

First, I want to thank a reader for sending me this story as a follow-up to the earlier Boston Globe report about the Vatican’s new sex prosecutor, appointed by Pope Francis. Excerpt:

The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican’s new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order’s handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globereported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits’ Chicago province in the 1990s.

Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

After his brief stint in the province, Geisinger worked for the Chicago archdiocese and in 2001 moved to Rome to become the top canon lawyer for the Jesuits worldwide.

Court documents show that while in Rome, in 2002, Geisinger advised the Chicago Jesuits about disciplining the priest, the Rev. Donald McGuire. But the province only moved to dismiss McGuire after he was convicted in criminal court in 2006. Geisinger processed the paperwork and McGuire was defrocked within two months, the Vatican said.

That said, you should re-read the Globe story. The point is not that Fr. Geisinger was directly responsible for McGuire’s discipline, only that he knew all about McGuire’s crimes, and did little or nothing. That doesn’t make Geisinger any different from anybody else in the Church administration in those days, but it seems to me this is far from irrelevant in judging Geisinger’s fitness to serve as the Vatican’s top sex crimes prosecutor. Then again, is there anybody in the Church capable of doing this, who has not been compromised by the system?

Why yes there is: Canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger. 

On his Facebook page, Jesuit father Jim Martin writes:

The AP has corrected a deeply flawed story in The Boston Globe.

The original story, on the front page this weekend, tried to pin responsibility for covering up sex abuse crimes on Robert Geisinger, SJ, a Chicago Jesuit who is now the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of abuse crimes. The Globe article implied that Father Geisinger, by virtue of his being “second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s” had the authority to make various decisions about an abusive priest. That is inaccurate.

After the Chicago Provincial traveled to Rome for a General Congregation, he asked his “socius,” that is, his secretary, to serve as “acting provincial,” which basically means keeping the paper flow going, but not making any big decisions. Father Geisinger was asked to be “acting socius,” that is, acting secretary for the “acting provincial”–for 14 weeks. (Not throughout the 1990s, as the article leads one to believe.) No big decisions are ever taken until the Provincial returns. So the “acting provincial” has almost no authority. The “acting socius,” his temporary secretary, then, has zero authority. Basically, he is tasked with tasked with handling his letters and emails of the acting provincial, as Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, notes in his response to the AP’s questions.

The Society of Jesus has far from a perfect record when it comes to sexual abuse crimes. But blaming someone for something he had zero authority over, as the original story did, does not help us confront the tragedy of the crimes of sexual abuse.

Again, I did not read the story as Father Martin did, but I wanted to make you readers aware of the Jesuits’ response to the Globe story, and of Father Martin’s. Thanks to the reader for sending this in.

Also, a couple of you have posted in the comments a recent story that reflects well on Pope Francis’s behavior in the abuse scandal. Excerpts:

Pope Francis said on Tuesday he had personally ordered an investigation into a case of sexual abuse of a minor by priests in Spain because he felt the church should not hide the truth.

Three Spanish Catholic priests and a lay person were arrested in Granada on Monday. The case emerged after a man wrote to the pope telling him of how he had been molested when he was an altar boy.

“I read it. I called the person and I told him ‘go to the bishop tomorrow’ and then I wrote to the bishop and told him to start an investigation,” Francis said in response to a question by a Spanish reporter on his plane from Strasbourg, France, where he had addressed the European Parliament.

“I received this news with great pain, very great pain, but the truth is the truth and we should not hide it.”

I wish the Pope had said not “go to the bishop” but “go to the police.” Reportedly, so, in retrospect, did the Pope. More from America magazine:

After speaking with the pope, the young man denounced the abuse to the archdiocesan authorities and the archbishop then carried out an investigation and suspended the three priests, but did little else.

Last October, the Pope phoned the young man a second time the Spanish media said. But when he learned how little the archdiocesan authorities had done he was not pleased and, it seems—though there is no confirmation from the Vatican—that he encouraged the young man to make a denunciation to the judicial authorities. Subsequently, the young man went to the public prosecutor of Andalucía and told the full story. This led to the investigation now under way and to today’s arrest of the three priests and a lay person.

The accused priests, by the way, are all members of a self-styled conservative Catholic clerical cult called “Los Romanones.” Anyway, if Pope Francis really did encourage the young man, a 24-year-old Opus Dei supernumerary, to go to the secular authorities, that’s great news, and I hope this will have been an education for Francis.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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