An American Jesuit appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the prosecution of priests accused of sexually abusing minors allowed a Chicago priest to remain in the ministry for years after learning of his history of sexual abuse towards young teenage men, reports The Boston Globe.
The Rev. Robert J. Geisinger, selected by the Pope in September to be the Vatican’s “promoter of justice,’’ was the second-in-command among Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s when allegations of sexual abuse complaints were levied against the Rev. Donald J. McGuire.
McGuire was convicted in 2006 by a Wisconsin jury of molesting two boys who reported him to civil authorities. He was also convicted on federal charges in 2008 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
In September 2013, Jesuit officials in Chicago paid $19.6 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by six men who claim they were molested by a former priest.
According to court documents, the Jesuits failed to notify police or take effective steps to prevent McGuire from molesting minors.
Church records produced during lawsuits filed by McGuire’s victims, show that Geisinger had extensive knowledge of the complaints made against McGuire as early as 1995 and advised officials in Chicago on how to discipline McGuire as late as August 2002.
Despite complaints, McGuire continued to befriend and travel with young teenagers, often sharing rooms with them on trips.
In a memo written by Rev. Richard H. McGurn to Geisinger in 2002, McGurn mentioned six complaints against McGuire and asked for Geisinger’s counsel in taking disciplinary measures that stopped short of dismissing McGuire.
Responding to the memo, Geisinger advised restricting McGuire’s ministry to the Chicago Archdiocese and detailed the steps necessary to remove him, if need be, but did not suggest reporting McGuire’s conduct to law enforcement.
Geisinger also made clear he was aware of the accusations against McGuire, noting that he wrote a Feb. 17, 1995, letter to McGuire outlining complaints against him — including one from the mother of an alleged victim who “most vehemently requests that you have no further contact with her son.”
“It’s astonishing that, for such a high-profile, sensitive position, the Vatican wouldn’t want someone whose background is unassailable, in the sense that there shouldn’t even be questions raised,” said Philip F. Lawler, the editor of Catholic World News, who has been a forceful critic of the church’s neglect in handling the sex abuse crisis.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office, defended Geisinger in a statement, saying the Jesuit had “voiced concerns regarding McGuire’s conduct” while working with the Chicago Jesuits.
Lombardi credited Geisinger with presenting the case for McGuire’s expulsion from the priesthood in 2008, noting that the- Pope Benedict acted on Geisinger’s request in less than two months.