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Strong criticism of Father Groeschel following remarks on abuse

August 31, 2012

In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Father Benedict Groeschel said that some victims of clerical sexual abuse seduced their attackers and that first-time offenders should not be jailed.

The remarks prompted wide-ranging criticism and an apology from Father Groeschel.

“People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath,” he said in the interview. “But that's not the case. Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.”

He continued:

Well, it's not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn't have his own — and they won't be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping but not having intercourse or anything like that.

It's an understandable thing, and you know where you find it, among other clergy or important people; you look at teachers, attorneys, judges, social workers. Generally, if they get involved, it's heterosexually, and if it's a priest, he leaves and gets married — that's the usual thing — and gets a dispensation. A lot of priests leave quickly, get civilly married and then apply for the dispensation, which takes about three years.

But there are the relatively rare cases where a priest is involved in a homosexual way with a minor. I think the statistic I read recently in a secular psychology review was about 2%. Would that be true of other clergy? Would it be true of doctors, lawyers, coaches?

Father Groeschel added:

Here's this poor guy — [Penn State football coach Jerry] Sandusky — it went on for years. Interesting: Why didn't anyone say anything? Apparently, a number of kids knew about it and didn't break the ice. Well, you know, until recent years, people did not register in their minds that it was a crime. It was a moral failure, scandalous; but they didn't think of it in terms of legal things …

At this point, (when) any priest, any clergyman, any social worker, any teacher, any responsible person in society would become involved in a single sexual act — not necessarily intercourse — they're done. And I'm inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.

“There is never a time when you can blame a minor who is sexually assaulted for the crime perpetrated upon him or her,” said Deacon Bernard Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The responsibility is always with the adult. Sexual abuse of a minor is abhorrent and indefensible. It is especially heinous when the abuse is perpetrated by a cleric.”

“The Archdiocese of New York completely disassociates itself from these comments,” said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman of the archdiocese where Father Groeschel has served for decades. “They do not reflect our beliefs or our practice.”

“The sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and whoever commits that crime deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Zwilling added. “The harm that was done by these remarks was compounded by the assertion that the victim of abuse is responsible for the abuse, or somehow caused the abuse to occur. This is not only terribly wrong, it is also extremely painful for victims. To all those who are hurting because of sexual abuse or because of these comments, please know that you have our profound sympathy and our prayers.”

The National Catholic Register apologized for publishing the comments, and both Father Groeschel and his religious community offered apologies.

“Fr. Benedict made comments that were inappropriate and untrue,” the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal said in a statement. “A child is never responsible for abuse. Any abuser of a child is always responsible, especially a priest. Sexual abuse of a minor is a terrible crime and should always be treated as such. We are sorry for any pain his comments may have caused.”

The friars’ statement continued:

Fr. Benedict has dedicated his life to helping others and these comments were completely out of character. He never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims. We hope that these unfortunate statements will not overshadow the great good Fr. Benedict has done in housing countless homeless people, feeding innumerable poor families, and bringing healing, peace and encouragement to so many …

In recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing,” the statement continued. “He has been in and out of the hospital. Due to his declining health and inability to care for himself, Fr. Benedict had moved to a location where he could rest and be relieved of his responsibilities. Although these factors do not excuse his comments, they help us understand how such a compassionate man could have said something so wrong, so insensitive, and so out of character. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.

“I apologize for my comments,” said Father Groeschel. “I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible.”

“My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be,” he added. “I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”


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  • Posted by: Ken_H - Sep. 05, 2012 8:30 PM ET USA

    Yes, who's to say that an 18 year old could not be guilty of abuse? I'll repeat and say that Fr. Groeschel has been in the trenches fighting this battle for years, and he's probably witnessed many strange scenarios. Also - sometimes people commit murder and are found innocent by reason of insanity. Fr. mentioned "nervous breakdown" - I'm sure that means someone who is not completely in control of their actions. If it works for murder, why not for other things? Remarks taken out of context?

  • Posted by: Chatholic - Sep. 02, 2012 12:06 PM ET USA

    I think everyone agrees that we can never excuse abuse. That said, does anyone want to sit there and tell me that 18 year olds, especially in our culture today, never "seduce" anyone? Our children are sexualized through pop culture, movies, magazines, websites, the media, from prepubescence. Father's comments wandered into the inappropriate at times, but he still wasn't that far off the mark.

  • Posted by: brownjudith2930 - Sep. 01, 2012 10:05 AM ET USA

    NCRegister should never have published the interview. It is obvious, when reading it, that Fr. Groeschel's mind is wandering. Note how he doesn't directly respond to the reporter's questions. Nor is it like him to repeatedly point out how many works he has published, etc. We all love him and respect him for his orthodoxy, but it is time for him to withdraw from public talke (TV, print, etc).

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 31, 2012 10:08 PM ET USA

    Tremendously unfortunate. This is a no-win scenario for the Church. It will always be so. Reality must be accepted; Christ must be central in our minds and hearts. Until this fundamental conversion of hearts takes place, the disorientation will prevail. History will render a verdict. It does not have to be as bad as our spoken words after the fact will one day make it. Sometimes it is simply best to apologize sincerely and move on. St. Paul indicates we ought not speak of these things.

  • Posted by: rpp - Aug. 31, 2012 3:40 PM ET USA

    I am not certain what to make of the good father's statements. He does have a way of illustrating uncomfortable truths and he often buck "generally accepted wisdom". He certainly does have a unique communication style. One thing he has by the shipload is charity and love for all people and a heartfelt desire for all people to have the greatest good and be free of needless pain, often by addressing that pain directly. I love him, will pray for him and will stand steadfastly beside him.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Aug. 31, 2012 12:06 PM ET USA

    Father Groeschel has been a great help to me since I re-entered the Church. He has always had a great heart for the losers and cast-offs in society, and he has worked closely with priests of the NY archdiocese who were in crisis. This is so unfortunate; it breaks my heart. I think that this will be his own Calvary walk, and he has my prayers. I hope he has everybody's.