Last week Father Benedict Groeschel, a prominent Catholic priest, found himself in the eye of a controversial storm after he made statements blaming children for sexual abuse. Reactions to his his comments were swift and fierce.
Last week Groeschel's comments from a EWTN interview became public. In the interview he said:
"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."
He also referred to Jerry Sandusky as "this poor guy".
Many organizations and individuals expressed their outrage over Groeschel's comments, as well as asking why leaders within the Catholic Church have called his statements wrong, but have issued no form of disciplinary action for the remarks. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement calling for Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Daniel Conlon to immediately censure Groeschel. The statement went on to say "Dolan should speak not only because he is the Catholic leader of America, but also because both Groeschel and his order are based in New York, thus falling under Dolan’s supervision. Conlon should speak because he is the chair of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, and should know firsthand the devastation that sex abuse wreaks on a child."
Mark Crawford, leader of the New Jersey SNAP office, issued the following statement:
"Benedict treated many priests with credible allegations of clergy abuse. If the Archdiocese of NY was so quick to distance themselves from his [Groeschel] remarks, then what are they doing about all the priests he “cleared” for return to the ministry, because they were seduced by young boys?
The Salesian who molested me and many other boys was counseled by Benedict Groeschel before the abuses we now know about. I know there were others which were never disclosed publicly and perhaps that is why he was sent to Benedict in the first place.
With Benedict Groeshel’s reasoning made public we can see why so many diocese and religious orders sent men [to Trinity House], where they were returned to ministry “as it wasn’t their fault” they were seduced by a young boys.
Lastly Fr. Benedict once called a James Hanley [a priest accused of abuse] victim and told him to stop harassing James Hanley who Benedict also treated and returned to ministry."The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the religious order Groeschel belongs to, issued a statement calling the comments "inappropriate and untrue" and said they "sincerely apologize" for the comments made by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in the National Catholic Register interview. They went on to say "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."
Reactions from many individuals were very critical of Groeschel as well. Joy J. responded to the comments by saying "I can't help but wonder how many lines he's crossed and who he's damaged in his days. Any sane person wouldn't call a pedophile a "poor man" or play down a victim of sexual abuse as a "consenting adult". I don't think the Catholic church, or any religion should be allowed to hide behind their leaders. If you comment a crime, it's no longer in the hands of the church, but the law of the state. Yes, God will judge them in heaven, but that doesn't mean their exempt from the laws of man.
1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right."
Rob S. expressed his feeling by saying "I cannot express the level of contempt I have for this man and his opinions."Catholic News Agency announced on Wednesday that Groeschel has stepped down as host of EWTN’s “Sunday Night Prime” television show. The announcement quotes
Father Groeschel's Sunday Night Live
Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, as saying
“Father Benedict has led a life of tremendous compassion and service to others, and his spiritual insights have been a great gift to the EWTN family for many years. We are profoundly grateful to him and assure him of our prayers. At the same time, we ask our EWTN family to pray for all those who have been affected by this painful situation and in particular those who have been victims of sexual abuse.”
In a Patheos article regarding Groeschel's departure from EWTN Kathy Schiffer writes:
"Yes, sadly, I agree that it was time for Father Groeschel to retire and to focus on prayer, as his age and his physical frailty have impacted his verbal acuity. I’m sorry that he, EWTN or his religious community had not recognized the problem two weeks ago, before his reputation was sullied by his misstatement on this critical issue. I’m sorry that the National Catholic Register didn’t anticipate the firestorm that would follow the friar’s incendiary remarks and edit the interview to reflect more kindly on this gentle soul.
It is painful to realize that his long career as a teacher and helper of souls has ended so ignominously, that readers and viewers may disregard his wise counsel because of a single lapse in judgment. Even if it was compassion that drove him to defend the priests whom he has guided through addiction and personal failure, the issue of clerical abuse is a flashpoint for Americans, and the public enforcement of a “zero tolerance” policy is universal."
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal attempted to explain Groeschel's comments by claiming medical incompetency, telling the Huffington Post that Groeschel was in a car accident approximately seven years ago that resulted in a month long coma. They went on to say that his memory and cognitive ability have been failing in recent months.
According to BrainLine.com, traumatic brain injuries can cause individuals to have communication problems and difficulty expressing information in some of the following ways:
- Difficulty thinking of the right word.
-Trouble starting or following conversations or understanding what others say.
-Rambling or getting off topic easily.
-Difficulty with more complex language skills, such as expressing thoughts in an organized manner.
American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) states traumatic brain injuries can cause cognitive thinking issues. These issues include an awareness of one's surroundings, attention to tasks, memory, reasoning, problem solving, and executive functioning (e.g., goal setting, planning, initiating, self-awareness, self-monitoring and evaluation).
This Digital Journalist allowed 30 people to read Groeschel's comments, along with the information from BrainLine.com and ASHA. Each individual, including 3 who are in the medical profession, was then asked if the comments appeared to have been made because of cognitive or communication issues brought about by a traumatic brain injury. Two individuals said it was possible or they were unsure, while the other 28, including the 3 in the medical profession, said they believed his comments were organized, well though out and they did not suggest any type of mental defect due to injury.
Whether the fall out from the Groeschel controversy will result in any changes within the Catholic church remains to be seen. What is clear is that many find his comments insensitive and without merit, as well as having serious doubts regarding the validity of his explanation.
A request for further comment from EWTN went unanswered. Rape-Abuse-Incest National Network and Cardinal Dolan did not respond to this journalist's request for comment.