A famous Roman Catholic priest in New York told a news reporter for a Catholic publication that many of the child victims of pedophile priests are often to blame for their rapes. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who is 79 and hosts a weekly TV show on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television network, told the National Catholic Register that in a “lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.” After much outcry, the National Catholic Register removed the story from the site and offered an apology.
What follows is nothing short of incredible. For decades the Catholic Church has not only had a raging pedophile priests problem that has directly touched thousands upon thousands of children around the world. And now we learn that for decades, the attitude of the Church’s leaders and gatekeepers has been to say “poor guy” — to the rapists, not their victims.
Fr. Groeschel, who is a member of the American Psychological Association, admits that he’s been screening priests to avoid potential pedophiles for 40 years.
“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.”
Perhaps someone in the past 40 years should have realized that the gatekeeper was a sympathizer to rapists? Did no one ever examine Groeschel’s batting average?
In the interview, Groeschel says, “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. It’s an understandable thing,”
“It’s a staggering insight into how the old hierarchy viewed child abuse: as essentially the child’s fault and no big deal. “Poor Sandusky”?”
Commonweal Magazine, “an independent journal of opinion edited and managed by lay Catholics,” published this excerpt from the extensive interview that has since been scrubbed from the National Catholic Register website:
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.
The New York Times notes:
“I did not intend to blame the victim,” Father Groeschel wrote in a statement published on The Catholic Register’s site. “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.”
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, denounced the comments as “terribly wrong.” But he said the church was unlikely to discipline Father Groeschel, in part because as a member of a religious order, he was not officially a priest of the diocese.
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