ROME – On Friday, the Vatican’s Supreme Court announced that after an investigation, they have acquitted Father Hermann Geissler, an Austrian priest who formerly worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who was accused of making sexual advances during confession.
Geissler resigned from his post as an official in the Vatican’s doctrine office Jan. 29 after allegations against him went public, though he maintained his innocence. The same day, the congregation issued a request for a canonical investigation.
A May 17 statement from the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, said the investigation was launched and appropriate penal measures enacted once Geissler resigned.
A 5-member group was established consisting of members of the tribunal to investigate the allegations, and following a May 15 meeting they “issued the decree of acquittal of the accused.”
According to their statement, the tribunal could not prove the crime “with the required moral certainty,” and “after a thorough examination of the case,” determined that Geissler was innocent.
Geissler, 53, is a member of a community called The Spiritual Family The Work, which was investigated by the Vatican from 2013 to 2014, and as a result was required to revise its constitutions and implement recommendations from the apostolic visitation.
He had worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 25 years and had been head of its doctrinal section since 2009.
Geissler’s accuser, German theologian Doris Wagner-Reisinger, a former member of the same community, spoke of having unwanted advances from a member of the Vatican’s doctrine office at a November 2018 women’s event in Rome. In January, she told media that in 2014 she reported Geissler to officials in the congregation, saying the alleged encounter happened in 2009.
The Vatican announcement may make waves in Germany and Austria, given comments on the case made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna that led many to conclude the close papal ally accepted Wagner’s claim.
On Feb. 6, Schönborn participated in a video conversation with Wagner broadcast by the Bavarian public television network, Bayerischer Rundfunk, during which he listened to her recount the alleged incident with Geissler, as well as an alleged rape by a male superior of her former community and mistreatment by female superiors.
During the conversation, Schönborn told Wagner, “I believe you,” and though the comment was not made with specific reference to Geissler, it was taken to mean the cardinal believed everything Wagner had said.
Schönborn was asked about the comment in a separate April 14 interview on the German television program “Pressestunde,” replying that belief is not a binding statement but a “sign of confidence.”
“I have spoken quite often with victims of abuse, and I have also accompanied some for a while,” he said, adding, “I know one of the greatest wounds is that they are not believed, or that people criticize them.”
However, Schönborn said his comment to Wagner was not “a legal act,” and therefore bore no weight on the guilt or innocence of the parties. Although Schönborn said he trusts what Wagner recounted, “I am not a judge who must decide in a case of law.”