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Posts for August, 2012

Priest/Psychologist Apologizes for Blaming Sex Abuse On Victims While Catholic Paper Censors His Offending Remarks

Jim Burroway

August 31st, 2012

On Monday, The National Catholic Register published an interview with popular Catholic speaker and television personality Fr. Benedict Groeschel in which the Capuchin friar blamed much of the Church’s sexual abuse scandals on the young boys themselves. “A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer,” he told The Register’s interviewer. These were remarkable statements coming from Groeschel, who has a Ph.D in psychology from Columbia University, has taught psychology at several Catholic Universities, and who has counseled priests accused of sexual misconduct as well as provided psychological screening for applicants to Catholic seminaries. On Wednesday, The Register removed Groeschel’s interview from its web site, and sometime late yesterday, replaced it with the following statements from the order that Groeschel founded and from Groeschel himself:

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.

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.

The National Catholic Register pulled down its interview with Groeschel and replaced it with statement from Editor in Chief Jeanette R. De Melo, calling the decision to publish the interview “an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize.” It is still unclear exactly what De Mel0 is apologizing for however. Is she apologizing to The Register’s readers? I cannot imagine how that should warrant an apology. It’s the journalistic responsibility of every news organization to not censor the people they interview, which The Register certainly didn’t do (at least not until they chose to pull down the entire interview). As far as The Register is concerned, the interview happened, but readers now don’t get to read it to see what the fuss is about. It seems instead that De Melo is apologizing to Groeschel for publishing his remarks uncensored — or perhaps to EWTN, the Catholic television channel which airs Groeschel’s programs and owns The National Catholic Register.

At any rate, when I wrote yesterday’s post, I could only find an edited, condensed version of Groeschel’s remarks on underage sexual abuse. Late last night, I found his remarks in their full context at the ultra-conservative Renew America web site. Because The National Catholic Register is behaving less like a newspaper and more like a propaganda organ by not allowing its readers to read the original interview alongside Groeschel’s apology and the statement from his order, I am repeating Groeschel’s full remarks below:

[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.

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.