It’s victim-blaming at its worst. Last week, Father Benedict Groeschel, a fairly prominent religious figure who is, among other things, the director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, said some utterly appalling things about the victims of sexual abuse by priests.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Groeschel declared that some of the victims were likely “seducers,” and expressed sympathy for ”poor” Jerry Sandusky, and suggested that abusers “on their first offense … should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.”
After the comments spurred outrage, the NC Register took down the interview. Here are the relevant sections, which I found reposted by an appalled columnist on the right-wing RenewAmerica site. The whole thing is awful; I’ve highlighted some of the worst parts.
[Interviewer]: Part of your work here at Trinity has been working with priests involved in abuse, no?
[Father Groeschel]: 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.
[Interviewer]: Why would that be?
[Father Greoschel]: 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: this poor guy — [Penn State football coach Jerry] Sandusky 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.
In the place where the interview originally ran, the National Catholic Register posted apologies from the paper’s editor-in-chief, the The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and Groeschel himself. The statement from the Friars was at best a half-apology, and offered this “excuse” for his comments:
About seven years ago Fr. Benedict was struck by a car and was in a coma for over a month. In recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing. 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.
I’m pretty sure getting hit by a car doesn’t make you think that victims of sexual abuse are the ones responsible for that abuse. It doesn’t put that attitude in your head, though it might make you think it’s acceptable to say such things out loud in an interview.
And if Groeschel is indeed so cognitively impaired that he can’t be held fully accountable for the words coming out of his mouth, why was he giving interviews to the press in the first place? How was he still capable of running the Office for Spiritual Development for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York? And why did the editors of the NC Register publish the comments without challenge in the first place? Presumably none of them have been recently hit by a car.
In their apology, the Friars also said:
He never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims.
Really? How exactly is suggesting that 14 year old boys are “seducers” preying on the weaknesses of old men NOT intended to “excuse abuse [and] implicate the victims?”
They also say:
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.
They might as well have replaced their entire “apology” with this sentence, which reflects what seems to be their main concern here – that is, Groeschel looking bad, and making them look bad.