AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

Jesuit Father James Martin, on his Facebook page, gives further details:

After the Chicago Provincial traveled to Rome for a General Congregation, he asked his "socius," that is, his secretary, to serve as "acting provincial," which basically means keeping the paper flow going, but not making any big decisions. Father Geisinger was asked to be "acting socius," that is, acting secretary for the "acting provincial"--for 14 weeks. (Not throughout the 1990s, as the article leads one to believe.) No big decisions are ever taken until the Provincial returns. So the "acting provincial" has almost no authority. The "acting socius," his temporary secretary, then, has zero authority. Basically, he is tasked with tasked with handling his letters and emails of the acting provincial, as Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, notes in his response to the AP's questions.

In other words, when the Globe claims Geisinger was "the second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s," it is being, well, Jesuitical. It inaccurately characterizes both the level of responsibility Geisinger had and the length of time he had such responsibility.

None of this is to say Geisinger did what he should have when abuse claims were brought to his attention, either when he was the acting socius or later on, when, as Winfield notes, he became the Jesuits' top canon lawyer in Rome. As Rod Dreher observes,

The point is not that Fr. Geisinger was directly responsible for McGuire’s discipline, only that he knew all about McGuire’s crimes, and did little or nothing. That doesn’t make Geisinger any different from anybody else in the Church administration in those days, but it seems to me this is far from irrelevant in judging Geisinger’s fitness to serve as the Vatican’s top sex crimes prosecutor.

Still, having myself suffered abuse, I'm angry when reporters and editors push through sensationalistic stories like the Globe piece without asking all the questions that need to be asked. Victims are not served by anything less than the truth. Based on the information we have so far about Geisinger, I have to agree with Martin:

The Society of Jesus has far from a perfect record when it comes to sexual abuse crimes. But blaming someone for something he had zero authority over, as the original story did, does not help us confront the tragedy of the crimes of sexual abuse.


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