Worcester Telegram & Gazette
A prominent priest has become the Todd Akin of Catholicism for voicing troubling views about sex abuse that were — and apparently still are — quietly held by some members of the clergy.
The interview last week in the National Catholic Register, in which the Rev. Benedict Groeschel called Jerry Sandusky a “poor guy” and suggests that priests can be victimized by seductive teens, was so disturbing that the magazine removed it from its website. It also shows that, a decade after the clergy abuse scandal exploded on the front page of The Boston Globe, some church leaders still haven’t learned the right lessons.
Rev. Groeschel, 78, is hardly a fringe figure. A well-known psychologist and host of a television talk show, he is the director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. He has since apologized, as has the magazine. Meanwhile, predictably, the head of the Catholic League claimed that the priest’s remarks were taken out of context.
So lest I also be accused of misstating Father Groeschel’s comments, I print them verbatim here:
(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 are 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 Groeschel) 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 …
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, 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 …
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.
We need to digest this tripe, folks, because Father Groeschel’s opinions were for years the standard reaction whenever a priest was accused of sexual abuse — the priest was the victim, and it was no big deal. The surprise is that he uttered these staggering sentiments out loud, in 2012, when he should know that childhood sexual abuse is never excusable, and the underage teen is never responsible.
Last week, I wrote a column about pedophilia and included recent research suggesting that the urge is based in biology. I also drew a line between pedophilia and child molestation, saying that some pedophiles spend their lives resisting their sexual attraction to kids — as they should.
Many readers were upset and accused me of condoning or excusing childhood sexual abuse. I did neither, but said that the more we know about the problem, the better chance we have of protecting kids.
Similarly, it’s important to realize that, even now, apologists exist who suggest that the poor priest who is seduced by a teen should not be punished. Interestingly, Father Groeschel was one of the most vocal critics of the Globe when it broke the clergy scandal, accusing the newspaper of — you guessed it — Catholic bashing.
In its apology, the National Catholic Register stated that it published the interview without its usual oversight, based on Father Groeschel’s “stellar history.” But no apology is needed. If anything, the magazine performed a public service, by reminding us that some priests still don’t get it, and that vigilance remains the watchword.
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