Rodimer: Psychologist Gave Me Bad Advice

By Maya Kremen
Herald News
March 4, 2003

The Diocese of Paterson is now placing some of the blame for an alleged serial abuser on a spiritual counselor who said he was fit to return to ministry.

The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a prominent New York Franciscan friar and psychologist, treated James T. Hanley, during the 1980s, after Hanley allegedly abused more than 15 boys in a Mendham parish. Groeschel said at the time that Hanley's problem was alcoholism, not a tendency to abuse minors, according to Marianna Thompson, the diocesan spokeswoman.

The diocese removed Hanley from ministry in 1986, 10 months after Mendham parishioner Mark Serrano revealed that the priest abused him when he was a minor. Bishop Frank J. Rodimer then allowed Hanley to serve in an Albany hospital in 1987.

Over the past year, Rodimer has apologized numerous times for his mishandling of the situation. He said he would like to see Hanley in jail. He recognized in a statement that he was wrong to follow the advice given to him at the time.

Now, through his spokeswoman, he has pointedly named the source of that bad advice.

"'I acted upon advice given me at the time, and that advice all stems from Benedict Groeschel,'" Thompson quoted the bishop as saying in a private conversation.

Groeschel could not be reached for comment at his residence or his workplace. He is the director of the Archdiocese of New York's Office of Spiritual Development in Larchmont. He is also a professor of pastoral psychology at St. Joseph's Seminary, and the head of the Trinity Retreat for Clergy, also located in Larchmont. He is nationally renowned as a religious leader and has been called by some "the male Mother Theresa" for his work with poor children in Harlem. He has also counseled hundreds of priests, according to a recent interview on a Catholic Web site.

Hanley elected to be defrocked in June 2002, after U.S. Bishops passed new, harsher rules for abusive priests. He was never charged with a crime because the statute of limitations for child abuse had passed by the time the case was investigated. His alleged victims, who have come to be known as the Mendham Survivors, are some of the most outspoken proponents of the victims' movement in the country.

Two of the Mendham Survivors, who for months blamed Rodimer for failing to control Hanley's abuse, have shifted some of their blame to Groeschel. Buddy Cotton said his anger was sparked when he read an article published Feb. 19 in The Metro West Daily, a Massachusetts newspaper. The article quoted Groeschel saying that 98 percent of what was put forth in the media about the church wasn't true.

"I think Groeschel's more to blame than Rodimer at this point," said Cotton. "He's the person the Church turned to. Even today, he has this horrific arrogance. At least Bishop Rodimer is humble and recognizes that this damage was done."

Serrano said that he had been wary of Groeschel since the mid-1980s.

A few months after he filed a civil lawsuit against the diocese in the spring of 1986, Serrano said, he got a phone call from Groeschel.

According to Serrano, Groeschel was calling to get background information about Hanley, whom he was treating at the time. But Serrano also said that Groeschel encouraged him to distance himself from the Hanley case. Groeschel also treated the Rev. John Picardi, who was transferred from Boston to Pequannock after he had been accused of raping a man. The Diocese of Paterson said that it was never made aware of the accusation.

Boston Archdiocesan records obtained by the Herald News show that in 1992, shortly before Picardi was transferred, Groeschel called the Boston Archdiocese to ask if the accuser was "still angry" and "still in a litigious stance." Groeschel identified Picardi's problem as "an acute emotional stress reaction," and indicated that he "would not be surprised that within a few months (Picardi) would be ready to return to active ministry," the records show. In 1995, Picardi was accused of inappropriately touching a girl in Pequannock, and he was transferred back to Boston.

The Rev. Patrick D. Browne, another priest Groeschel treated, was transferred to the New York Archdiocese in the mid-1990s after allegedly having affairs with two women. In New York he allegedly had an affair with a woman he was counseling for marriage therapy, the archdiocesan spokesman confirmed Monday.









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