An American priest who was appointed by the Vatican to prosecute sex-abuse cases previously played a role in the church’s failure to remove one of the most infamous abusive priests from the ministry, according to an investigation by the Boston Globe.

The Rev. Robert Geisinger, a Jesuit canon lawyer, was named the Vatican’s “promoter of justice” for U.S. abuse cases in September, a position roughly analogous to chief prosecutor. But back in the 1990’s, Geisinger was the second-highest ranking official among Chicago Jesuits just before sex abuse accusations against the now-defrocked Jesuit priest Donald McGuire became public. McGuire is currently serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison.

Court documents found by the Globe indicate that Geisinger was personally aware of multiple complaints against McGuire as early as 1995 — and that he provided advice on disciplinary matters pertaining to the priest as late as August 2002. In 2003, a former student at Loyola Academy filed a lawsuit accusing McGuire of molesting him repeatedly in 1968 and 1969.

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Although the Jesuits initially claimed that the 2003 lawsuit was the first they’d heard of accusations against the priest, evidence eventually indicated that the Chicago Jesuits knew about and concealed McGuire’s crimes for decades.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Globe that Geisinger “voiced concerns regarding McGuire’s conduct” while in Chicago, and noted that he presented the case for McGuire’s defrocking in 2008. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lombardi added that Geisinger had a “solid and proven record in child protection dating back nearly two decades.”

McGuire was an influential, globe-trotting priest who, among other things, was once Mother Teresa’s spiritual advisor. Until he became one of the highest-profile priests implicated in the church’s child abuse scandal, McGuire was prominent and respected among Catholics. He also was often seen in the company of teenage boys.

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NPR spoke to one of McGuire’s accusers, who detailed his ordeal as one of the priest’s “interns” from 1999 to 2002:

Documents show that McGuire had a pattern: He would persuade a family to let their teenage son intern with him, and quickly move the boy into his room. And then, according an alleged victim who asked that his name not be used, McGuire would give the boy a sexual education, using the sacred rite of confession.
“We underwent something called a ‘general confession,’ whereby you just lay out your sins,” the alleged victim, a young man, told NPR. “And the priest will help you, talk you through it, maybe give you some guidelines for the future. And his guidelines were to teach me about sex.”
He says the guidelines included naked showers, massage and pornography. Between 1999 and 2002, the young man says he traveled with McGuire every summer, Easter and Christmas, and lived with him at Canisius House, a residence with other Jesuit priests. He said he cannot understand how they did not catch on that a teenager was living with a priest.”

Based on the documents, the Globe writes that “Geisinger played a significant role in the Jesuits’ long, unsuccessful effort to prevent McGuire from continuing to befriend and travel with young teenagers.”

A survivors’ group blasted Geisinger’s appointment to the influential role in September and was also critical of the appointment of Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to head an anti-abuse advisory commission. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that both men had failed to do enough to stop abuse in the past.

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With the Globe’s investigation connecting Geisinger to the Jesuits’ response to McGuire, SNAP released another statement on Monday: “We hope Francis or the head of the Jesuit order will at least suspend Fr. Robert Geisinger and hire independent experts to investigate how many other alleged child sex crimes Geisinger may have hidden or may still be hiding,” the statement reads. “He should be demoted, not promoted. Francis should be ashamed for having picked him.”

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