Father Benedict Groeschel, a familiar name in Catholic media, has apologized for saying child molesters are the prey of their young victims during an interview with the National Catholic Register.
“People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to—a psychopath. But that’s not the case,” Groeschel explained. “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.”
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,” he continued.
Groeschel called the abuse “an understandable thing,” and pointed to Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who he called a “poor guy.”
It’s not just that Groeschel,79, is the popular host of the devotional show Sunday Night Prime. He’s a psychologist—and a professor of psychology at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, a Catholic graduate school in Virginia.
At first, Groeschel’s ease in formulating a situation where an adult would be lured by the wiles of a young boy made us ill. (It also reminded us of the right-wing theory that gay men simply crave the love of a father figure.)
Then we read more and got angry:
“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.”
Groeschel pointed out that “sexual difficulties” were rarely prosecuted 10 or 15 years ago, and now if “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,” he added.
After the understandable outcry, the Register took down the interview and replaced it on Thursday with apologies from editor in chief Jeanette R. De Melo, the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and from Groeschel himself.
“My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be,” wrote Groeschel in his mea culpa. “I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible.”
The Friars of the Renewal, an order which Groeschel helped found, explained he has been ill:
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.
Sorry, we’re having trouble buying it.
Groeschel wasn’t incoherent, senile or talking to an empty chair. He was articulating an argument that has been made by molesters—and priests—before.
And if it actually is true that Groeschel’s failing health is to blame for what he said, then why was he giving interviews to the press? Knowing the decades of abuse that has been uncovered—and the lives damaged and destroyed by it—Groeschel shouldn’t be apologizing. He should be donning a hair shirt and flogging himself.
Interesting thing about the Catholic Register: Before it was purchased by the Eternal World Television Network last year, it was owned by the Legion of Christ, an order that has had its own brushes with abuse.
It was founded by Father Marcial Maciel, who, before his death in 2008, sexually abused several female minors and fathered at least three children. (After a decade denying the women’s allegations, the Order acknowledged Maciel had undertaken “reprehensible actions.”)
In recent years, archbishops in Baltimore and Minneapolis have banned the Legion from counseling people under the age of 18 in their districts because of its methods for persuading high-schoolers to accept a priestly vocation.
Does any of this stuff stick to the Church—or is the Vatican made entirely out of Teflon?