Why put a priest who covered up sexual abuse in charge of policing it?
That’s exactly what Pope Francis did when he appointed the Rev. Robert J. Geisinger as the Vatican’s “promoter of justice.” While the pope has met with abuse victims and pledged himself to zero tolerance, the appointment of Geisinger is a step backward. To signal his resolve on an issue that has deeply wounded so many, he should rescind the appointment.
The job calls for Geisinger, an American Jesuit, to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Yet, according to a report by the Globe’s Michael Rezendes, Geisinger was one of several Catholic officials who let the Rev. Donald J. McGuire remain in the ministry for years, despite detailed knowledge of egregious sexual abuse complaints about him.
According to legal documents obtained by the Globe, Geisinger not only knew many of the details of the charges against McGuire, he catalogued them in a 1995 letter to the accused priest. A subsequent letter written to Geisinger in 2002 seeks his assistance in dealing with McGuire “in light of the long list of complaints as to his inappropriate behavior.” Geisinger responded with specific advice — none of which included referring the matter to criminal authorities.
His recommendations in 2002 came after the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People said dioceses would notify public authorities about abuse allegations and cooperate with their investigations. Technically, the charter does not apply to priests in religious orders, but for most Catholic parents, that amounts to a distinction without a difference.
In 2006, McGuire was convicted of molesting two boys by a Wisconsin jury; in 2008, he was convicted on federal charges and is now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Despite the record, a Vatican spokesman told the Globe, “The Holy See fully expects Father Geisinger to continue to do an excellent job as promoter of justice, based on his prosecution record, his commitment to justice, and his concern for victims.”
Geisinger was appointed “promoter of justice” in September, at the same time Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was named president of an anti-abuse advisory commission. During a recent “60 Minutes” interview, O’Malley said the pope is now committed to a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual abuse. If so, Geisinger is the wrong priest for the job. He should be replaced by someone who understands the meaning of “zero.”