The Archdiocese of N.Y. has issued a statement condemning the comments of Franciscan Father Benedict Groeschel. If you missed his observations in an interview with the National Catholic Register that's no surprise. The entire interview was scrubbed last night ftom NCR's website after Father Groeschel thoughts on the psycholoigy of priest sexual abusers began to provoke widespread outrage. His comments, which seemed to excuse some priest pedophiles suffering "nervous breakdowns" and "seduced" by teens, came right out of the dark ages of the sex abuse crisis. Groeschel goes well beyong blaming the victim and excusing people who should have known better from reporting sexual assaults of children. He even offered an understanding heart for Penn State's "poor" (I kid you not) Jerry Sandusky.
In a statement released today, Joseph Zwilling, Communications Director for the Archdiocese of New York, said, "The comments made by Father Benedict Groeschel that appeared on the website of the National Catholic Register are simply wrong. Although he is not a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, what Father Groeschel said cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. 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."
Groeschel was "inclined to think" first time offenders shouldn't be sent to jail "because their intention was not committing a crime."
Zwilling continued: "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 Archdiocese of New York completely disassociates itself from these comments. They do not reflect our beliefs or our practice."
While it's hard to understand how Groeschel, a practicing psychologist of all things, could believe the things he said in his interview, it's harder to understand how National Catholic Register, a paper associated with the Legionaries of Christ and the thoroughly disgraced Rev. Marcial Marcel, could not perceive any possible harm in publishing them. (The Legion sold NCR to EWTN, which has prominently feautured Groeschel.)
Mercy and redemption are part of what makes this faith wonderful, but, like too many clerics before him, Groeschel fails to preserve the proper measure of the same for the victims of creeps like Sandusky and priest-abusers. Think I go too far? Take a look below at some of what Groeschel had to say; preserved fully, thanks to Google, here in digital amber (h/t Grant G.@commonweal):
Part of your work here at Trinity has been working with priests involved in abuse, no?
A little bit, yes; but you know, in those cases, they have to leave. And some of them profoundly — profoundly — penitential, horrified. People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath. 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.
Why would that be?
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?
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.
If you go back 10 or 15 years ago with different sexual difficulties — except for rape or violence — it was very rarely brought as a civil crime. Nobody thought of it that way. Sometimes statutory rape would be — but only if the girl pushed her case. Parents wouldn’t touch it. People backed off, for years, on sexual cases. I’m not sure why.
I think perhaps part of the reason would be an embarrassment, that it brings the case out into the open, and the girl’s name is there, or people will figure out what’s there, or the youngster involved — you know, it’s not put in the paper, but everybody knows; they’re talking about it.
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.
Update: Fr. Groeschel, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and National Catholic Register apologize here.