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.
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