ROME — An Austrian priest under canonical investigation stepped down as an official at the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in an effort “to limit the damage already done to the congregation and to his community,” the doctrinal office said.
The priest, Father Hermann Geissler, “affirms that the accusation made against him is untrue and asks that the canonical process already initiated continue. He also reserves the right for possible civil legal action,” the office said in a note released by the Vatican press office Jan. 29.
The 53-year-old theologian, who is a member of a community called The Spiritual Family The Work, submitted his resignation Jan. 28 to the prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who then granted his request. He had worked at the congregation for 25 years and had been head of its doctrinal section since 2009.
Doris Wagner-Reisinger, a German theologian, told the National Catholic Reporter Jan. 21 that, with the help of a canon lawyer, she reported to doctrinal congregation officials in 2014 that the priest had propositioned her in 2009 during confession — a serious crime reserved to the doctrinal congregation for judgment.
She told NCR that after her accusation, “I got a response that stated that Father Geissler had admitted, and had asked pardon, and was admonished.”
She had talked about the unwanted encounter at a November event in Rome, which featured three women survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Without naming the priest involved, she told her audience that the priest had been her confessor when she was a nun with The Spiritual Family The Work.
“He told me how much he loved me, that he knew that I loved him and that, even if we did not have the right to marry, there were other ways,” Wagner-Reisinger said.
“He tried to keep me back and kiss me, but I fled from the confessional,” she said.
At the Rome event in November, Wagner-Reisinger also talked about being raped by another unnamed priest of the community — the superior of the house — after he came into her room one night in 2008. She said she felt confused and powerless to resist him and added that she did not tell anyone about the assault because she feared the community would “blame me.”
Wagner-Reisinger left the congregation in 2011 and published a book about her ordeal of being “controlled, manipulated (and) sexually abused.” She said she decided to speak out because, for many years, she believed she was “the only nun ever to have been raped in the church,” and she wanted to prevent other women from suffering similar experiences.
The Vatican conducted an apostolic visitation of the community from 2013 to 2014, which called for a revision of its constitutions and the implementation of its recommendations.