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Catholic Priest/Psychologist: It’s The Kids’ Fault (UPDATED)

Jim Burroway

August 30th, 2012

[UPDATE: When this post was originally written, I didn’t have access to the full portion of the interview. The web site Renew America however has the unedited version. I have replaced the original truncated the fuller version. Because the National Catholic Register removed the interview from their web site, I think it is important to preserve it here, particularly since in the broader context, I find his remarks even more shocking.]

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, the 79-year-old founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, is not just a curmudgeonly New Jersey-born and -accented Capuchin monk. He is also a long-time television personality on the Catholic television network EWTN and popular speaker among American Catholicism’s conservative set.

But he’s not just a Franciscan priest, he’s also Dr. Benedict Groeschel, having earned a Ph.D in Psychology from Columbia University back in 1971, when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by the APA. At the invitation of New York’s Terrence Cardinal Cooke, Groeschel helped to found Courage, the Catholic ex-gay ministry, with Fr. John Harvey in 1980. In 1988, Groeschel wrote The Courage to Be Chaste, a guidebook for living with “same-sex attraction,” and in 1996, he wrote the introduction to Harvey’s Truth about Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful and 2007′s Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.  As one of the Church’s acknowledged “experts” on sexuality, Groeschel was called upon by east coast dioceses, including the Boston Archdiocese, to perform psychological screenings to candidates for the priesthood. He has also been called upon to counsel Catholic priests who were accused of sexual improprieties — including those who had sex with minors – with disasterous results. Nevertheless, he was honored in 2011 by the Catholic Psychotherapy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

I think it’s important to understand all of that before reading what Groeschel told the National Catholic Register this week:

[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: 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.

The Register yesterday removed the article from its online presence yesterday, but not before Tom Roberts at the other NCR, National Catholic Reporter, got wind of it:

The paper in which the interview appeared – the National Catholic Register – was once owned by the Legion of Christ. Don’t go looking into their files for any truth on the life of the late Marciel Maciel Degollado, founder of the order, at least while the publication was under control of the Legion. It has since been sold – part of the selloff of the order’s assets – to EWTN. …

Certainly Fr. Groeschel knows that Maciel, who lived a variety of lives and was ultimately sanctioned by the Vatican, not only molested his own young seminarians, but had children by at least two women.

The testimony of Maciel’s victims is abundant. His behavior was monstrous, and not because little boys were seducing him. He exemplifies that side of the clerical culture that is both calculating and deceptive – he had many fooled, including a pope – and that is far more the heart of the problem than seductive kids.

Moments ago, the Register’s editor placed the following note at the URL where the interview was originally posted:

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

But since Groeschel’s unedited comments is now news, why not make them available alongside whatever correction or clarification that he wishes to make? I’m not sure who it is that Ms. De Melo’s sincerely apologizing to: the readers who learned something new about Groeschel, or to one of EWTN’s more popular television personalities himself.

Comments

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Lucrece
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

I saw him on tv with an equally curmudgeony nun. He was detestably didactic. The nun spent the whole program brown-nosing him.

tristram
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

Jim – Groeschel is just saying (without the usual euphemisms and obfuscation) what Benedict and most of the American bishops think. He is the RCC’s Akin. His little screed deserves a line-by-line exegesis. You are eminently qualified to undertake this necessary task; I hope you will

Timothy Kincaid
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

So when the kid earlier this month was running down the street trying to get away from the priest who was in his underwear chasing him… that was just the kid being coy and flirtatious.

Jim Burroway
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

C’mon Timothy! Are you going to tell me you’ve never tried that? ;-)

Timothy Kincaid
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

Oddly enough, when I run down the street screaming, people just seem to let me keep running. Sometimes they avert their eyes.

I guess it doesn’t work once you get out of adolescence.

Priya Lynn
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

“So when the kid earlier this month was running down the street trying to get away from the priest who was in his underwear chasing him…”.

For real? Did that really happen?

Timothy Kincaid
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

I guess we didn’t cover that story. But it certainly happened

tristram
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

ps – I think you should get rid of the ellipses. The piece is more damning when read as a whole.

Jim Hlavac
August 30th, 2012 | LINK

I recall that during the molestation fracas in Dallas and in Lafayette Louisiana, more than a decade ago, that some of the defense attorneys did indeed try to blame the kids for luring the priests into the confessional or sacristy to make the priests molest the boys. It was a twist on the “gay panic” defense. So powerful were the minds of the incipient little gay kids that they lured rational adults to give up their ghost. The Judge did not buy it. The church is still paying damages.

Meanwhile, while no formal study has been undertaken, it seems off hand that 100% of the kids molested by priests are heteros (albeit with relationship problems) — they are all at the news conferences with their wives. So, in an unscientific informal study, it is now obvious that molesting boys doesn’t make them gay at all. So much for that canard, eh?

Soren456
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

It’s hard to keep a straight face anymore.

These poor priests were seduced by children. And then were seduced again and again, in different parishes.

Jim Burroway
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

UPDATE: When this post was originally written, I didn’t have access to the full portion of the interview. The web site Renew America however has the unedited version. I have replaced the original truncated the fuller version. Because the National Catholic Register removed the interview from their web site, I think it is important to preserve it here, particularly since in the broader context, I find his remarks even more shocking.

E. Manhattan
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

When I was in my early 20s, I was one of the few openly gay men in town. And several underage teenagers, the youngest 14, the oldest 17, aggressively pursued me looking for sex.

My taste runs to men older and hairier than that, and I definitely didn’t want the legal trouble I could have gotten into by playing with them, so I just said no – over and over until they finally believed me.

If I had decided to have sex with them, though, I can’t see any ethical barrier – they most definitely knew what they were doing, and consent was an issue with me, not with them, since they were definitely the initiators.

So – coerced sex, forced sex, sex entered into as a result of fraud, is wrong at all ages. When a sexual predator succeeds, he should be punished and prevented from repeating the offence. But not all interactions between underage men and older men are instances of abuse, and it’s just factually wrong to assume that underage, post-pubescent males are ignorant about sex and unable or unwilling to seek it out.

Richard Rush
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Is anyone else old enough to remember the movie, Summer of ’42?

http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/47639/Summer-of-42/overview

Jarred
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

But not all interactions between underage men and older men are instances of abuse,

I disagree. There is an inherent imbalance of power between an adult and a minor. That imbalance of power leaves way too much room for manipulation and other forms of abuse. Therefore, such interactions should remain prohibited, no matter how “willing” the minor is.

Jarred
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

I’ll note that goes double in cases where the adult has increased power and influence, like by virtue of being a priest.

homer
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Living a life of celibacy is unnatural. Living a “celibate” life eventually screws up your head.

Jarred
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Homer: Only for the vast majority of people (including, I suspect, the vast majority of priests) who are not asexual. However, let’s not forget that as rare as they might be (I’m not sure of the exact statistics), asexual people actually do exist.

E. Manhattan
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Jarred –

You said: “I disagree. There is an inherent imbalance of power between an adult and a minor. That imbalance of power leaves way too much room for manipulation and other forms of abuse.”

As you can see if you re-read my note, I said “coerced sex, forced sex, sex entered into as a result of fraud, is wrong at all ages”. That should be the significant question – “Did abuse happen?” not “What age was he?”.

If you assume that the older person is always the initiator, always the controlling person, you are acting out of ideology, not facts. The evidence in real men’s lives is much more complex and varied than that.

How would you evaluate my friend Jerry’s gay uncle, who was ambushed in a basement by Jerry and his cousins when they were underage – they told the uncle that he had to show them his rather large and impressive dick or they’d tell their parents he’d propositioned them. He didn’t have any choice – the parents were people like you, who would not have believed the uncle. Clearly Jerry and his cousins were in a position of power (handed to them by people who share your beliefs), and coerced the poor uncle into activity he didn’t want to do. And that was not a unique situation.

You are operating out of an Ozzie and Harriet mindset if you think all teenage boys are subservient to grown men, and that being over 18 automatically gives you substantial authority over teenagers.

Kevin
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Didn’t Larry Kramer made similar statements in an essay in his book Reports from the Holocaust? I seem to remember that from back in the Day.

Jarred
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Jerry’s uncle, did have a choice. He could have refused. Yes, Jerry and his friends might have told awful lies about them, but they would have been lies. Because of that fact, there would have been no evidence, and I do believe we live in a society where an accusation needs to be backed up with evidence.

You are assuming that I would believe an unsupported accusation. You make that assumption in error.

Jarred
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

And in all seriousness, if you think people are automatically going to believe a group of boys who make accusations against a man, I’m guessing you haven’t looked into what happens in most cases of abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. A great number of people bend over backward trying to give the accused abuser the benefit of the doubt and even drag the alleged victims through painful scrutiny and even mud-slinging.

Chris McCoy
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Jarred said:

Therefore, such interactions should remain prohibited, no matter how “willing” the minor is.

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the reality of human sexuality.
Also, the significant variability in what constitutes a “minor”, a shown in the lack of uniformity in the Age of Consent laws, not only in the US, but around the world, should serve as a reminder that not all adult/”minor” relationships are automatically non-consensual.

E. Manhattan
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Jarred, I see that you DO live in an Ozzie and Harriet world, where unjust accusations are always found out, and gay men are always given the benefit of full due process.

I have lived for many decades in a very different America – it’s full of unpleasant facts. In the America I live in, Gay people are rarely treated with fairness when they are accused of sexual crimes. And many Gay men have ended up in prison or have been beaten, tortured and/or killed, or have had their houses burned – just because they were gay, and someone else imagined or pretended that the gay guy had committed a social or legal crime. I know that these things are incomprehensible to you, but I have seen them happen to people around me. And these things definitely still happen in many parts of the U.S.A., including parts of New York – they are not ancient history.

I wish you well, and I hope you make sure you stay in sheltered communities where everyone knows you, so that you can remain safe from the real America. The one in your head is much nicer.

jerry
August 31st, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, I was going to make a comment I hoped would be humorous about you running down the street in your underwear, but you put the link if for the story and after reading the story I didn’t think my intended comment would have been funny at all. Thanks for saving me from embarrassment.

JCF
September 1st, 2012 | LINK

“If I had decided to have sex with them, though, I can’t see any ethical barrier – they most definitely knew what they were doing, and consent was an issue with me, not with them, since they were definitely the initiators.”

With a 14 year-old?! That’s crazy. It’s illegal AND unethical. The rational decision-making part of the brain is the LAST to develop. A teenager can be 6’4″ 200 lbs—or be able to solve problems in quantum mechanics—and not have the cognitive and emotional maturity capable of giving consent to sex. Do NOT Go There—whether they’re hairy or not!

BSL
September 1st, 2012 | LINK

I’ll preface my comments by stating that the opinions offered by Fr. Groeschel are horrific. When I heard a Catholic priest had made these comments I was disturbed. Then, I heard it was Fr. Groeschel and things seemed to fall into place a bit. I have seen him on EWTN off and on…for years. I saw him recently on one or two occasions again…after an illness. I was shocked at the changes in the loss of his ability to articulate thoughts. He was frail, appeared almost incoherent at times and if he was a TV or Hollywood personality would likely have a “handler.” I had a great respect for the man…and there is no positive spin to put on this situation. Either he made these comments with full use of his faculties…a very sad situation. Or
he is suffering from onset of Alzheimers or Dementia. If I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I suppose I’d choose the latter.

E. Manhattan
September 1st, 2012 | LINK

JFC said: “and not have the cognitive and emotional maturity capable of giving consent to sex”

Please do remember that I was discussing young, underage men who propositioned ME. And I said no. These were not young men “giving consent” to sex, or “willing to have” sex. These were underage strangers who had seen me at public Gay Liberation events, and who had taken the initiative to track me down and insist on having sex with me, with no encouragement at all from me.

Humans are certainly able to decide whether or not they want to have sex before they are 18, no matter what psychologists may witter on about. Evolution made sure of that.

I had sex with other teenagers when I was a teenager, and we all thought sex was great. And if surveys can be believed, the majority of the commenters here either had sex with other people or wanted sex with other people when they were teenagers. So I understood the younger men when I was in my early 20s, I was just not interested.

And if you tend to believe whatever theory is current in the mental-health industry, about sex or anything else, you would benefit from taking some logic classes and adopting a more skeptical mindset. They have a very long history of getting it wrong, then coming up with a new theory and saying “no, no, we got it right this time” – and then finding out that they were very wrong again.

Jarred
September 4th, 2012 | LINK

E. Manhattan: If you cannot make your case without making derogatory insinuations about me personally, please don’t address me.

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