The Scandals, Fr. Benedict, and Moving on… (UPDATED… AGAIN)

An interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR was recently published on the NCRegister website.  It was quickly taken down, but not before it caused quite a stir.  The Huffington post and the NY Daily News both picked up on it.  Fr. Benedict is a remarkable priest – one that I’ve looked up to for many years.  His book on Fr. Gene Hamilton helped me decide to become a priest in the early days of discernment.  His comments to the NCRegister however horrified me.

“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…”

“I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.”

No matter what the circumstance, a priest must be beyond reproach.  The priest is always, ALWAYS called to a higher responsibility.  To protect.  To serve.

The Church has done so much since the scandals first broke back in 2002.  We’ve done more than any other major corporation in the world.  The bishops should be applauded for their vigilance.

Back in 2011 Pope Benedict, Speaking to the Bishops of New York State during their Ad Limina visit said the following:

I wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise. It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself – but I’m proud of my Church.  I’m proud of my bishops for the work they’ve done to help protect children.  But the bishops can’t be in this thing along.  We need to be there supporting our bishops – every step of the way.

I thought we were beyond this. Beyond these mistakes, these wrong ideas. I thought we were better than this.    With comments like these we prove all those people right who have slammed the Church for the last 10 years – that some in the Church haven’t learned anything.

We need to move on. We need to learn.  Ultimately though, the Church will never be beyond this thing.   And we shouldn’t be.  We need to continually accept responsibility and ask for forgiveness.  We need to be constantly reminded that we are here to be instruments of God’s love and mercy.

Some people will always think of the scandal when they see a priest.  Comments like Fr. Benedict’s don’t help us move on, don’t help us to heal.

UPDATED:

This is the statement from Joseph Zwilling, Communications Director for the Archdiocese of New York, in reaction to comments attributed to Fr. Benedict Groeschel in a recent interview with the National Catholic Register.
“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.
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.”
UPDATE II:
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, his community and the National Catholic Register each issued their own statements on the website of the Register.  I’ve placed the statement of Fr. Benedict first.  See below:

Statement from Fr Benedict:

I apologize for my comments. 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. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

Editor’s Note:

Child sexual abuse is never excusable. The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize for publishing without clarification or challenge Father Benedict Groeschel’s comments that seem to suggest that the child is somehow responsible for abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize. Given Father Benedict’s stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight. We have removed the story. We have sought clarification from Father Benedict.

Jeanette R. De Melo
Editor in Chief

Statement from the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal:

The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sincerely apologizes for the comments made by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in an interview released August 27 by the National Catholic Register. In that interview, Fr. Benedict made comments that were inappropriate and untrue. 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. 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.

Fr Benedict helped found our community 25 years ago with the hope of bringing the healing peace of Jesus Christ to our wounded world. Our desire has always been to lift-up humanity and never to hurt. 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. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.

  • Maggie Goff

    I agree with you totally. I think Father’s Psychologist side came into play here. Unfortunately that’s one of the
    things that kept this problem from being thoroughly dealt with for so long. Advice from psychologists and psychiatrists. God bless you.

  • Jennifer

    Good grief… suggesting that the child is the seducer?!? Seriously? That is beyond the pale. I am truly surprised that Fr. Benedict could say such a thing. Perhaps he is not well?

    • Claire

      Did you not read where Father Groeschel was in a car accident 7 yrs ago, not expected to survive? He has cognitive problems, aphasia, where you cannot say what you want to say clearly, getting what you want to say across is very difficult. He is now getting on in age. I dont think the paper should have published this, knowing what happened to Fr Groeschel years earlier, and believe me, everyone new about it!

      • Alex

        I agree with you Claire – this was a Catholic paper and surely we should hold our papers to a higher standard of journalism – this journalist had a responsibility to the victims of the scandal, to the Church as a whole (to avoid further scandal) and to Fr Groeschel – if you interview someone with known diminished capacity when a statement is made that is clearly errant or open to misinterpretation it should be clarified or challenged and perhaps external opinion sought from superiors not just printed at the cost of those who are suffering the wounds of abuse, the Church as a whole and the person in question.
        Fr Groeschel has worked tirelessly his entire life to minister to the poor and the broken-hearted, what he said is inexcusable but knowing him personally I don’t believe for a second he communicated what he actually believes, he is a man with a heart filled with love for those who suffer and I’m sure his heart is broken for any pain, additional suffering and scandal his comments may have caused.
        Perhaps we can all take a moment to pray for those directly affected by this, for Catholic journalism and an increase in responsibility and integrity, for all priests and for Fr Groeschel and all those struggling with failures in mind and body.
        Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – have mercy on us!

  • Pingback: Archdiocese of New York responds to Fr. Benedict Groeschel

  • http://www.bede.org Stefanie

    I’m with you, Father Duffy. Enough with the psycho-babble. A sin is a sin.
    When teaching my RCIA students about the Sacrament of Reconciliation — the step-by-step approach, I tell them:” you’re not there to offer your excuses or do somehow justify why you sinned or the ‘conditions’ surrounding the sin. You are there to confess your sins and to receive absolution. Just state your exact sins in number and in kind. No excuses.” That always makes them sit up straighter.
    Today, people are encouraged to make excuses for their sinful actions. Bah. The enemy loves that approach.

  • http://www.dymphnaswell.blogspot.com Dymphna

    I was pretty horrified and pretty angry when I read those comments as well. I also really looked up to Fr. Groeschel and hoped we were beginning to get beyond this.

    I think this must show how inadequate the formation was when Fr. became a priest. This abuse crisis will affect the church for a long time to come.

    • Therese

      Stating that Fr. Groeschel’s priestly formation was inadequate is a very ignorant and arrogant comment. Anyone who has followed Fr. Groeschel over the years knows what a good and respected priest he is and they also know of his declining health including strokes which have affected his cognitive abilities. Most people are so quick to judge instead of looking at the total picture.

      • Tom

        Asserting that the formation of any priest in the past 60 years was inadequate is likely more true than false. Take stock of the poor homiletics, rampant liturgical abuse, and dearth of confession hours, etc to see the point. Yes, Fr Benedict has done much good and inspired many, but that doesn’t earn him a pass to say the things he did.

      • cathy

        i agree. this is totally out of character for fr. benedict . his formation was great. something has simply gone wrong.

  • Joen Fagan

    Even IF a child, adolescent, prostitute, or best friend’s wife or ….. makes advances, does that mean that the priest (or whoever) cannot say “no” – and indeed, as the adult, responsible person, or one who has made vows of celibacy is not morally obligated to do so?

  • Betsy

    I’ve watched Father Groeschel on EWTN for many years and he has always sided with the victims. Anyone who’s watched his show recently knows how much he struggles to communicate. His original statement is so out of character for him, I can’t believe the National Catholic Register didn’t ask for clarification. He is a good priest and I can only imagine how he is suffering for the pain his words have caused. I pray for him and for all who have been harmed.

  • Ray Noble

    ——————————————————————————–
    Two statements, the first from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the second from Fr Benedict:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 30, 2012

    Posted: 30 Aug 2012 03:59 PM PDT

    The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sincerely apologizes for the comments made by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in an interview released yesterday by the National Catholic Register, online addition. In that interview, Fr. Benedict made comments that were inappropriate and untrue. 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. 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.

    Fr. Benedict helped found our community 25 years ago with the hope of bringing the healing peace of Jesus Christ to our wounded world. Our desire has always been to lift-up humanity and never to hurt. 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. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.

    Personal Statement from Fr Benedict Groeschel:

    I apologize for my comments. 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. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

  • Michael

    Fr. Groeschel is a good priest. He clearly is dealing with cognitive decline associated with advncing age and efects of his accident. In his right mind, he never woud have said an abuse victim was the cause of his abuse. Yes, Father is still responsible for his words, but what was the reporter and editor of the NCR thinking? They obviously had to thst Father’s communication skills have declined dramatically. Any fair journalist would have aked Father to clarify his remaks. The editor shoud have shown greater courtesy and understanding also.

  • Thomas R

    Although I can be sympathetic that he’s suffering from cognitive impairment/confusion maybe he shouldn’t have even agreed to an interview. Or someone in his order should have talked him out of it. Or was this something where they e-mailed him and it just “happened” without an agreement to talk beforehand?

  • bill bannon

    Who in the world knows what it’s like to be 80 years old after having been in a major car accident and then having a more recent event of falling also. And…some elderly clergy go easy on sinners after decades of hearing incredible things in confession. John Paul II and Benedict expressing in lower venues both that we don’t know if Judas is in hell for certain is almost equally bizarre to me as Groeschel’s words… given that Christ’s words about Judas were all dire and inappropo of someone bound for glory in the long run. Older clergy can sometimes indulge pepetrators. Frankly I think the current death penalty position is the result of elder clergy’s inordinate indulgence toward perpetrators…embraced by younger clergy for Western zeitgeist reasons. Groeshel was imagining an extremely rare coincidence of a priest during a nervous breakdown being propositioned by a teen longing for de-isolation. Possible and improbable… but irrelevant to the bulk of cases.

  • Jessie

    When those who are elderly and suffering cognitive decline say or do something “wrong” or “shocking”., our first response should be compassion for them. Those who so suffer do things they would be mortified by if they had better control and should not be condemned and tossed aside simply be ause their words and actions offend us. God himself commanded us not to turn our backs on such but rather treat them with dignity. And, after all, it is a future we all face and not all have someone close enough, or quick enough, to stop us from dementia fueled behaviors.

  • Ed Hopkins

    I am a new catholic, so please give me some slack, but when does a child become morally culpable for his or her actions? In the scenario Fr. Groeschel suggests, wasn’t his point that there is a shared culpability, and that while the erring priest bears a greater responsibility, that perhaps not even such a terrible sin necessarily need be punished with prision. It does seem to me that it is possible that some 14, 16, or 18 year old sexually experienced girls could be the seducer of an immature and troubled priest or seminarian.

    • bill bannon

      Ed,
      You are correct that it is possible for a teen to want to sin sexually with a priest but administratively the Church agrees with the US law which ignores ” willingness” and sin in the younger when one sexual actor is below the legal age and one is well above that age.. Statutory rape is still rape. The scenario Groeschel gave was possible but improbable because he had both actors as breaking down in a way emotionally and simultaneously seeking non peer sexual partners agewise…and largely same sex. More common was that priests, largely with males, used their position of lopsided authority to manipulate insecure youngsters…some telling the youngsters that it was ok with God….and they were learning to be a man through sex acts with them. Read detail on cases and you’ll see a largely non empathetic crime taking place and I suspect… few breakdowns…prior to getting caught.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I too was horrified when I saw Fr. Groeschel’s comment. He may very well be ill. In fact he has to be. I think based on his health and that statement, he needs to retire for the good of the Church.

  • prayerwarrior4Jesus

    It is very easy to make assumptions, especially when no one can get into Fr. Benedict’s brain. I, too, believe strongly that victims are exactly that–victims. But it is important to know what what Fr. has said and expressed about this subject in the past. This is what Fr. Groeschel wrote in his book entitled “From Scandal to Hope,” published in 2002 before his accident: “Let me say at the very beginning that none of my remarks fails to take into account the anguish, anger, and hurt of victims, their parents, families, and friends. I am very sensitive to the victims. For almost thirty years, my full-time job has been working with priests as a spiritual director, counselor, and at times, psychotherapist. I am working with some volunteers, a few of whom are relatives of victims, to see if we can begin a prayer movement to bring some spiritual healing to these people, who have a right to expect help from the Church. As a psychologist for priests, I have occasionally spoken to the victims of priests and to their families. I can only say that I am deeply, deeply grieved. I often had to accept their anger, not directed personally at me, but at Church authorities. I did not like this experience, but I accepted it because of my firm belief that Christ founded the Catholic Church. With Him and in Him, I am willing to suffer with the victims.” Condemnation of his recent words is appropriate, even necessary, but not vilification of a faithful, godly man who has given his life to God and to the Church and has tried to live his life by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our prayers are what Fr. Benedict Groeschel needs right now. We pray God will not judge us as many are judging Fr. Groeschel. There but for the Grace of God go each one of us.

  • Claudia

    I have always been extremely inspired by Fr. Groeschel. I did not know of his accident, and I would certainly take that into consideration so that I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, I cannot get out of my mind that his comments were so very well articulated that it is hard to dismiss them as not his true thoughts. My experience has been that when someone is dealing with communication issues and knows he or she is having trouble saying exactly what they wish, they are constantly searching for the correct word, often backtrack, and finally, if they are unsuccessful, excuse themselves and say they haven’t actually said what they want to say. I don’t have specific knowledge of his particular brain issues, but from what I read, he showed no hesitancy, no stumbling or searching for words, but, in fact, offered a clarification which was the scenario of the priest with the nervous breakdown. That sounds like he was on point and knew it.


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