By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY (Reuters) – A senior Vatican official has resigned after a former nun accused him of soliciting sex from her a decade ago while hearing her confession, in another potentially embarrassing case of abuse for the Holy See.
The Vatican said on Tuesday that Father Hermann Geissler, an Austrian section head in the Vatican doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had submitted his resignation but denied the accusation against him. The cardinal heading the CDF accepted his resignation, it said.
The case comes at a time when more nuns, encouraged by the MeToo movement, have been coming forward to describe abuse at the hands of priests and bishops. Last year, the International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 500,000 Catholic nuns, urged their members to report abuse.
“Fr. Geissler decided to take this step to limit the damage already done to the Congregation and to his Community (religious order),” the Vatican said in a statement. “He affirms that the accusation made against him is untrue.”
The Vatican statement said a Church investigation of the case was underway but did not comment on the accusations made against Geissler.
Geissler could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Doris Wagner, a German who entered a convent when she was 19, made her accusation at a November conference in Rome on giving a greater voice to women survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Wagner said she had been propositioned by the priest during confession in 2009, when she was 25. She said the priest told her how much he liked her and he believed she liked him and that, although they could not marry, there were “other ways”.
Wagner, who is now married with a child, said the priest tried to hold and kiss her during confession but she ran away.
Although she did not name the priest during the conference, Wagner said he was a section head at the CDF and a member of the same religious order to which she also belonged, Familia Spiritualis Opus (FSO). Geissler was the only section head at the CDF who belonged to the FSO, which Wagner left in 2011.
In an email to Reuters on Tuesday, Wagner confirmed that the priest was Geissler and said that if a Church investigation was underway that deals “with ‘my’ case, I would like to be a part of it”.
Wagner provided Reuters with a copy of a 2014 letter to her from a German Church official which said the priest had been admonished for “imprudent gestures on two occasions that he admitted and for which he asked pardon”.
Solicitation is a serious crime under Church law. It refers to when a priest uses the pretext of the sacrament of confession to commit an immoral act with a penitent or seeks to commit one. It is punishable by expulsion from the priesthood.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)