In an interview that would appall any mature adult, a Catholic friar named Benedict Groeschel has explained that many of the priests guilty of sexually abusing minors are themselves victims of adolescents who "seduce" them. The 78-year-old Groeschel went on to question the criminalization of sex between these men and boys, and to argue that priest offenders "should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime."
Although it's hard to fathom that after 30 years of scandal any churchman would still be so confused about the criminality of adult priests committing sex acts with juveniles, we should also be grateful that Groeschel gives us the chance to review the Church's problem with sex and power.
As long ago as 1970, psychiatrists Conrad Baars and Anna Terruwe warned about the sexual and emotional immaturity of celibate Catholic clergy, bringing their studies directly to authorities in Rome and to the American bishops. When the U.S. hierarchs then asked Eugene Kennedy and Victor Heckler to investigate, they found that too many priests "do not relate deeply or closely to other people" and use the institution and their status as "cover-ups for psychological inadequacy." Their report described them as men whose "growth had been arrested" and who "function at a pre-adolescent or adolescent level of psychosexual growth."
Coming, as it did, in an era of openness, the work of these experts could have prompted serious efforts to address the developmental problems of priests. Instead the Church turned away from the issue under Pope John Paul II. Given one last chance by the groundbreaking research of former priest Richard Sipe, who reported rampant sexual confusion among priests in a 1990, the authorities closed their eyes again. What followed were abuse scandals around the world, the incarceration of nearly 500 American priests, billions of dollars in settlements paid to victims and the collapse of public respect for the Church.
Now we have the spectacle of an elderly friar, who leads a small, conservative, breakaway order, blaming the victims and defending the adult perpetrators of crimes that can have devastating consequences for the minors who are violated. Remarkably, Groeschel is a professor of psychology at the seminary of the archdiocese of New York, which means he has the opportunity to share his perspective with priests in training.
By sharing point of view, Father Groeschel is practically screaming-out an explanation for those who cannot fathom why the sexual abuse scandal in the Church never seems to end. Institutional Catholicism has failed to deal with its crisis because it has failed to grow in its understanding of sex and psychology. Others recognize the troubling aspects of Catholicism's punishing, negative obsession with sex. We know why as few as 2 percent of priests are truly celibate and we understand what the abuse scandal reveals about men who claim authority in this domain. We should thank the friar for reminding us.