A prominent Catholic priest says he believes “youngsters” are often to blame for sexual abuse by priests and that priests who are first time offenders should not be jailed for their crime.
Father Benedict Groeschel, founder of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, is well known as the host of Sunday Night Prime with Father Benedict Groeschel, a weekly show on Catholic television network EWTN. It was not what he said on his television show that has sparked controversy however, it is comments he made in an interview with the National Catholic Register that has outraged many.
According to a UPI report, Groeschel told the newspaper "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."
Groeschel continued by saying "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."
The New York Times quotes Groeschel as saying he was “inclined to think” that priests who were first-time abusers should not be jailed because “their intention was not committing a crime.”
Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR greeting visitors to the Nativity Scene inside St. Patrick's Cathedral
Sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has been widely reported throughout the world, with the countries of Canada, Ireland, United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia receiving the most attention. The United States and Ireland are the only countries that conducted nation wide inquiries.
According to Catholic News, sexual abuse of children was not viewed as a significant social problem until the 1970s or '80s. There was a series of sexual abuse accusations against priests in the 1980's. In 1981 Father Donald Roemer, from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to felonious sexual abuse of a minor. In October of 1985 Gilbert Gauthe, a priest in Louisiana, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. According to Religious Tolerance it was not until 2002 that the moral outrage over sexual abuse in the church reached a head and reports alleging widespread child sexual abuse by priests became common place.
A Reuters report says the decades of abuse accusations and subsequent cover up attempts has plagued the Catholic Church for decades, and that billions in settlements to abuse victims has bankrupted several U.S. dioceses. The church is not the only institution that has received extensive coverage regarding child sexual assault however. Most recently, Penn State University was rocked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over the course of 15 years.
Groeschel referenced the Penn State scandal in his interview as well according to the Reuters report. He referred to Sandusky as "this poor guy" and wondered how Sandusky's attacks went on for so long. He then said "Well, you know, until recent years, people did not register in their minds that it was a crime."
The Raw News is reporting that the article containing Groeschel interview has been removed from the National Catholic Reporter website. Digital Journal staff confirm that the interview is no longer viewable on the website. A blog article by NCR editor at large Tim Roberts entitled Note to Fr. Groeschel: It wasn't the kids' fault is viewable however.
On Thursday, National Catholic Register Editor in Chief Jeanette R. De Melo posted a statement on the website stating:
“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." Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize.”
A New York Times story says Groeschel "deeply regrets" his comments. The article quotes Groeschel as saying “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.”
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, released the following statement on their website: "The comments made by Father Benedict Groeschel
The Cathedral of St. Patrick, seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
that appeared on the website of the National Catholic Register are simply wrong. Although he is not a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, what Father Groeschel said cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. The sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and whoever commits that crime deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The harm that was done by these remarks was compounded by the assertion that the victim of abuse is responsible for the abuse, or somehow caused the abuse to occur. This is not only terribly wrong, it is also extremely painful for victims. To all those who are hurting because of sexual abuse or because of these comments, please know that you have our profound sympathy and our prayers.
The Archdiocese of New York completely disassociates itself from these comments. They do not reflect our beliefs or our practice."
Attempts by Digital Journal staff for further comment went unanswered.
EWTN and Father Groeschel did not respond to Digital Journal staff's request for comment.