Westchester, N.Y., Aug 31, 2012 / 12:22 pm (CNA).- Father Benedict Groeschel and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have apologized for his comments that appeared to blame sex abuse victims for their abuse while excusing their abusers, with his religious order calling the remarks “completely out of character.”
“I did not intend to blame the victim,” Fr. Groeschel said in an apology posted on the National Catholic Register website. “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. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”
Fr. Groeschel, who has hosted television shows on EWTN and has authored numerous books, discussed sexual abuse in part of a National Catholic Register interview published Aug. 27. He said that when people think of sexual abusers they have a picture in their minds of “a psychopath.”
“But that's not the case,” he said. “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.”
“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,” he said.
Fr. Groeschel said he was inclined to think that abusers on their first offense should not go to jail “because their intention was not committing a crime.”
The Westchester, New York-based Catholic priest has a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University and has taught seminars at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, a Virginia-based Catholic graduate school. He is the founder of the 25-year-old religious order the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
The Archdiocese of New York on Aug. 30 said it “completely disassociates itself” from Fr. Groeschel’s comments, calling them “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.”
The archdiocese said it is “terribly wrong” and “extremely painful” to victims to assert that an abuse victim is responsible for the harm they received.“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 said.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal apologized for Fr. Groeschel’s “inappropriate and untrue” comments.
“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.”
The Friars said the priest “never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims.” The order noted that Fr. Groeschel is in “declining health” and unable to care for himself, citing the 2004 accident in which a car struck him and left him comatose for a month.
“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.”
The friars promised prayers for those hurt by Fr. Groeschel’s comments, especially sexual abuse victims.
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said it is “scurrilous” to label Fr. Groeschel a defender of sexual abuse. He pointed to other comments in the interview where the priest said that sexually abusive priests “have to leave.”
The Catholic League head noted the priest’s “impressive record” in counseling “some of the most mentally and socially challenged people in our society” and in screening men for the priesthood.
However, Donohue said Fr. Groeschel’s car accident has “definitely taken a toll on him.”
“I’ve read his books, listened to his tapes—on sexual abuse—and have come to know a great priest,” Donohue said Aug. 30. “To condemn him for one part of one interview is wholly unjust.”
The National Catholic Register pulled the interview from its website. Editor-in-Chief Jeanette De Melo apologized for publishing his comments “without clarification or challenge.”
“Given Father Benedict's stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight,” she said.
“Child sexual abuse is never excusable.”