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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican office charged with safeguarding the doctrine of the Church, as well as the Apostolic Signatura has been riddled with sexual predation scandals during the past year.
A senior canon lawyer at the Signatura, the Vatican's top court, and the section manager at the CDF have both been credibly accused of sexual abuse within two weeks of each other during the past few months.
Monsignor Joseph Punderson, who worked at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura since 1993 and served as its defender of the bond since 1995, was found credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.
Punderson's name was one of 30 people on a preliminary list of offenders released on Feb. 13 by the diocese of Trenton.
His being added to the published list of New Jersey priests accused of sexual predation and abuse ended his three decades of Vatican service. The monsignor was instructed by his bishop to resign his Vatican post late in 2018.
Information about Punderson's victim is not available on the list issued by the Trenton diocese.
"The Diocese of Trenton does not release the names of any victims out of respect for their privacy," said Rayanne Bennett, executive director of communications and media for the diocese of Trenton, who fielded the question Church Militant had posed to Fr. John Bambrick, a dean (vicar forane) in the Trenton diocese and a nationally known advocate for abuse victims in the United States.
Punderson's status is listed as "Removed from Ministry," but the site did not indicate when that action was taken or when the accusations were made.
Although Punderson was removed from the CDF for abuse of a minor, multiple alleged allegations have been made against him — and his abuse could go back decades.
"I knew [Punderson] to be an abuser," Bambrick told La Croix International. "Sometime ... in 2003 or 2004, one of Msgr. Punderson's victims called me. We spoke on the phone several times ... the victim was upset about how the Diocese of Trenton treated them."
Bambrick said he was not surprised to see Punderson's name on Trenton's list: "I was only surprised the diocese had placed his name there after all these years of denial and cover up, presumably only because the Attorney General is investigating the diocese. So, to leave him off would possibly result in criminal charges."
Bambrick's presumption was corroborated by New Jersey's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, who said in a statement that he was "pleased to see that our task force's grand jury investigation has prompted the dioceses to finally take some measures to hold predator priests accountable."
Bambrick also said that "priests said [Punderson] was sent to Rome because the bishop (John Riess at the time) needed to 'get him out of the country.' No one ever stated why this was necessary."
"Every time Pope Francis says, 'zero tolerance' I think of people like Msgr. Punderson," said Bambrick. "If he wants 'zero tolerance' he should start by cleaning out the filth in his own household."
Punderson, 70, earned a doctorate in canon law in 1988 and was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome before his ordination in 1976.
He was a seminarian there in the same era as Cdls. Blase Cupich, James Harvey, Raymond Burke, Timothy Dolan and Daniel DiNardo.
Two weeks before Punderson's expulsion, Fr. Hermann Geissler, an Austrian priest accused of making sexual advances on a nun in the confessional, resigned his CDF position on Jan. 29, 2019.
Geissler, a 53-year-old Austrian, belongs to Familia Spiritualis Opus (FSO), a congregation consisting of a "[p]riests' community and a community of consecrated women" that "lives in the world but is not of the world."
The priest was accused of making sexual advances toward a nun in 2014 while hearing her confession in 2014; that led to his resignation from the CDF post on Jan. 29, 2019 which he had held for nearly 26 years.
Geissler's FSO community announced on May 16, 2019 that five judges of the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal decided on May 15 that Geissler would not be tried for "a delict of solicitation to a sin against the sixth commandment in the context of confession."
Pope Francis requested instead that the Signatura, the Vatican office usually charged with reviewing allegations of this kind, would undertake the process.
The accusations against Geissler became public at the end of September 2018 when a now-former member of FOS claimed in an article published in the Die Zeit, a German newspaper, that she had been sexually harassed in the confessional by a member of the religious community she then belonged to, identified in the article as "Hermann G," confirming in later interviews it was Geissler.
Geissler has maintained his innocence throughout the process nonetheless stepping down from his CDF position on Jan. 29, shortly before Pope Francis' sex abuse summit in Rome in February 2019, the step having been seen as "an exercise in damage control in the run-up to the Vatican's abuse summit."
The scandals for the CDF are not new and stem back years, the case of former Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa being noteworthy.
In 2015, Charamsa, then a Polish priest and an official of the Vatican's International Theological Commission since 2009, demanded that Pope Benedict XVI revise the Catechism regarding homosexuality. He also issued a 10-point manifesto which included revision of the interpretation of biblical texts on homosexuality.
Charamsa was defrocked by Bishop Ryszard Kasyna in his home country of Poland in 2015.
According to a statement released by the bishop, the defrocking has to do with Charamsa breaking his vow of chastity — presumably with his Catalan boyfriend, Eduardo.
Charamsa had previously stated that he had not broken his vow of chastity because he "never touched a woman."