Letter from Rome

Senior canon lawyer at the Vatican revealed as sexual abuser
Letter from Rome

A file image of Pope Francis delivering his 2015 Easter message from the central loggia of St. Peters' basilica after Easter Mass. (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP)

Pope Francis has got a real mess on his hands. In just a few days he will gather the presidents of the all the world's episcopal conferences in Rome to make them understand there must be "zero tolerance" for priests who sexually abuse minors.

But on the eve of this important meeting, yet another long-serving Vatican official has been revealed as a perpetrator.

Msgr. Joseph Punderson, who has worked at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura since 1993 and its Defender of the Bond (DOB) since 1995, is expected to end three decades of service in Rome after his New Jersey Diocese listed him among those "credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor."

Punderson, 70, was one of 30 people on a preliminary list of offenders published on Feb. 13 by the Diocese of Trenton.

The news comes only two weeks after Father Hermann Geissler, an Austrian priest accused of making sexual advances on a nun, resigned his post as section manager at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

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CDF officials had known about the accusations against Geissler since 2014. But it is not clear who in the Vatican knew what about the accusations against Punderson or when they knew it.

Allegations could go back decades

The Diocese of Trenton listed his status as "Removed From Ministry" but it did not indicate when that action was taken or when the accusations were made.

However, Father John Bambrick, a dean (vicar forane) in the diocese and a nationally known advocate for abuse victims in the United States, said he believed the allegations go back decades.


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