What happened to NCRegister’s controversial interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel?
Earlier this week the National Catholic Register posted an interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, in which he reflected on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Franciscan Friars of Renewal. The interview attracted a good deal of attention for comments Groeschel made alleging that many abusive priests were seduced by their minor victims — and calling Jerry Sandusky a “poor guy.” That interview has vanished from the Register‘s website. I’ve contacted the paper’s managing editor to find out why. If I hear back, I’ll let you know. [The editor's statement is reproduced below.] In the meantime, let us harness the power of the Google to retrieve the interview from the memory hole. Should that link go bad, you can read the controversial part after the jump.
Update: Archdiocese of New York spokesman Joseph Zwilling has denounced Groeschel’s remarks.
Update 2: The paper’s editor offered the following clarification, which now stands in place of the interview online:
Child sexual abuse is never excusable. 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. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize. Given Father Benedict’s stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight. We have removed the story. We have sought clarification from Father Benedict. Jeanette R. De Melo Editor in Chief
Update 3: And now the Franciscan Friars of Renewal disavow Groeschel’s remarks:
The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sincerely apologizes for the comments made by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in an interview released yesterday by the National Catholic Register, online addition. In that interview, Fr. Benedict made comments that were inappropriate and untrue. 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. Fr. Benedict has dedicated his life to helping others and these comments were completely out of character. He never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims. We hope that these unfortunate statements will not overshadow the great good Fr. Benedict has done in housing countless homeless people, feeding innumerable poor families, and bringing healing, peace and encouragement to so many.
Fr Benedict helped found our community 25 years ago with the hope of bringing the healing peace of Jesus Christ to our wounded world. Our desire has always been to lift-up humanity and never to hurt. 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. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.
And Groeschel apologizes:
I apologize for my comments. 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.
From the interview:
Part of your work here at Trinity has been working with priests involved in abuse, no?
A little bit, yes; but you know, in those cases, they have to leave. And some of them 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. Why would that be? 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. A lot of priests leave quickly, get civilly married and then apply for the dispensation, which takes about three years. 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 — [Penn State football coach Jerry] 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. Parents wouldn’t touch it. People backed off, for years, on sexual cases. I’m not sure why. I think perhaps part of the reason would be an embarrassment, that it brings the case out into the open, and the girl’s name is there, or people will figure out what’s there, or the youngster involved — you know, it’s not put in the paper, but everybody knows; they’re talking about it. 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.
What has the Church learned in terms of preventing this?
We’ve been screening seminarians for decades. That’s nothing new. I’ve been doing it for 40 years, for our old community — the Capuchins — for the diocese, for our small religious community. … It takes a lot of time — four or five hours — to do a psychological screening, and I don’t have a lot of time. There were times in the past when I’d do 30 of them. I’d do it for our community and our sisters. Also, it’s very expensive. Now, I never got a nickel, but it costs between $800 and $1,200 for a psychological battery. I used to teach psychological evaluations. You know, we’ve reduced considerably the number of seminarians, and the Church is going to be in plenty of trouble as time goes on — one pastor for two or three parishes. So permanent deacons, laypeople, deaconesses — if you don’t want to call them that — you’re going to need a lot of people helping to keep the parish going. And that may not be a bad thing at all. Years ago, in the New York Archdiocese, you were an assistant for about 25 or 30 years before you became a pastor. We’re making men pastors with five years’ experience. It was too long before, and it’s too short at present.
There have been a number of high-profile priests in recent years who have gone astray. As a prominent priest yourself, would you say there’s something about fame that goes to the heads of priests like this?
It could. I wouldn’t want to say about any particular person, but people could be foolish enough to take themselves too seriously. It’s true: I’m reasonably well known, and that’s because I broadcast and I write. I don’t write and broadcast to be well known. It’s the opposite. For many years, I was happy as the chaplain of Children’s Village. I’ve written 45 books, but the vast majority of my books are written for devout people [holding up a copy of a recent book, he continues]: Now, this annoys me, when they put my picture on the cover. But it’s also very good to be coming close to death. I just passed, three years ago, the average age of when a man in the United States dies: 75. I’m pushing 79. … When you start getting close to the age where you start thinking about where you’d like to be buried … you do think about the Church’s, the Christian belief — and largely the belief of many other religions — that the individual, as a person, goes through death, and they have to some degree memory and will. What’s missing when you have a dead body? That’s what’s there. The whole personality is gone. That’s on the other side. The Christian belief of the saints … they’re on the other side. I’m looking forward. I’m fascinated by what’s coming next. We’re passing through this valley, and, for a great many people, life has been difficult. Not just for the poor. There’s a sign I put up there on the wall: Be calm and carry on. I am immensely grateful to God that I knew when I was 6 or 7 years old that I was supposed to be a priest — and a friar or a monk when I was 13 or 14. A poem that we had by Longfellow, called The Legend — beautiful — about a monk who had seen a vision of Christ; and he had to leave the vision because the bell was ringing, and the poor people were there to be fed. And he didn’t know — Should I go or should I stay? Should I go to the ragged people at the gate? And he goes, and he feeds the poor for several hours. And he comes back and opens the door, and Christ is standing (there), and Christ said to him, “If thou had stayed, I must have fled.” The nuns taught it to us in the eighth grade. It put it in my mind to be a monk. And I look back — and I didn’t know much about priests. We had very nice priests in the parish. I knew nothing about priests not getting married. Father O’Donnell, a big Irishman who walked up and down every street in the parish every day — one of the great old priests, in Our Lady of Victory in beautiful Jersey City. I was there and very happy. John Burger is the Register’s news editor.
Tags: Sexual-abuse crisis