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Vatican court clears official accused of solicitation in confessional

Fr Hermann Geissler (CNS photo/courtesy FSO Rome)

The Apostolic Signatura said the case against Fr Hermann Geissler was not 'proven with the moral certitude necessary'

The Vatican’s highest court has cleared a Vatican official accused of the crime of solicitation in the confessional.

The Apostolic Signatura said on May 17 that it finished an “administrative penal process” of Fr Hermann Geissler, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who had been accused of “a grave delict.”

Five court members convened on May 15, it said in a communique, and “acquitted the defendant” because the “configuration” or appearance of the alleged crime was not “proven with the moral certitude necessary after a careful examination of the affair.”

Fr Geissler, who has publicly maintained his innocence, had resigned from his job in an effort “to limit the damage already done to the congregation and to his community” and asked that a “canonical process already initiated continue,” the doctrinal office said on January 29.

However, the Vatican court carried out an administrative penal process, which is quicker and shorter than a full judicial process; normally the accused is often presented with the evidence and given an opportunity for self-defence, but there is no trial and no witnesses are called.

Fr Geissler had been accused of a serious delict against the sanctity of the sacrament of penance — the solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment. Such serious cases are under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but the Apostolic Signatura was asked to handle the case, presumably to avoid the potential conflict of interest.

Fr Geissler, a 53-year-old theologian, is a member of a community called The Spiritual Family The Work. He had worked at the congregation for 25 years and had been head of its doctrinal section since 2009.