Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tom Rastrelli Headshot

A Response to Father Benedict Groeschel's Apology

Posted: Updated:

The condemnations and apologies have been forthcoming since Father Benedict Groeschel, a founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, told the National Catholic Register that some teenage victims of sexual abuse seduce their priest perpetrators. He also referred to convicted sex felon Jerry Sandusky as "this poor guy" before implying that Sandusky's victims should have spoken out sooner.

The National Catholic Register removed the interview from its website and posted an apology explaining the publication of Groeschel's "comment was an editorial mistake." In addition, the Register "sought clarification from Father Benedict," as if Groeschel's 468 word "comment" wasn't clear enough.

The Archdiocese of New York quickly condemned Groeschel's statements, acknowledging the harm that such comments cause victims of sexual abuse and offering "profound sympathy" and prayers to those hurt by Groeschel's words. Their communications director stated, "The Archdiocese of New York completely disassociates itself from these comments. They do not reflect our beliefs or our practice."

As I write this post, Father Groeschel is listed on the faculty of St. Joseph Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York, where he is entrusted with the task of teaching pastoral psychology to future priests. The website of Trinity Retreat House (also in the archdiocese) greets visitors with a letter penned by Groeschel. If their statement of disassociation had any merit, would they not fire Groeschel?

But before that might have happened, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal responded to the Register's request for a "clarification." They called Groeschel's statements "inappropriate and untrue ... He never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims." They explained the illogic of his statements claiming medical incompetency:

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.

Groeschel's apology recycles the same excuse: "My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be."

If this is the case, why was Groeschel interviewed at all? Why is he teaching at a seminary and providing services at a retreat house?

If he is so incapacitated, how was he able to attend the events on his public calendar, which reveals since mid-May he's spoken at nine different church events? Some recent engagements include the "Defending the Faith Conference" at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and "Renewing the Priesthood: An Annual Conference for Diocesan Priests" in Louisville, Ky. "Sunday Night Prime with Father Benedict Groeschel" airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Groeschel's itinerary of professional engagements does not paint the picture of someone who has been incapacitated by an accident that took place in 2004. It reveals that Groeschel is a trusted voice of Catholic wisdom and leadership whose counsel is in high demand. He's an industry.

Perhaps, the National Catholic Register, which is owned by EWTN, was told to pull the Groeschel interview. It would have been in the network's interest to protect its investment.

Fatherbenedict.com features more than 50 products, including books, audio CDs, and DVDs written by or featuring Groeschel. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have a financial stake in Groeschel. Saying the old man is out of his mind preserves Groeschel's reputation and lucrative legacy.

Some will no doubt say that I'm unjustly reading into things, that my questions are out of line and preposterous. Perhaps they are. Perhaps there is a simpler explanation for Father Groeschel's statements: He didn't misspeak. He told the truth as he sees it, as many Catholic bishops were inclined to see it before The Boston Globe blew open the sexual abuse scandal in 2002.

Groeschel's conclusion seems a flashback to the good old days of justifying the shuffling of abusive priests:

Well, you know, until recent years, people did not register in their minds that it [Sandusky's abuse of children] 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. ... 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.

The simpler explanation is some Catholic clerics still believe this. An element of contemporary clerical culture continues to excuse and nurture this preposterous and outdated understanding of sexual abuse.

This would explain Father Angel Perez of the Archdiocese of Portland who last month (dressed only in his underwear) failed to chase down the 12-year-old boy he'd plied with alcohol, fondled and photographed, before driving drunk to the victim's home to demand his parents' forgiveness. This might cast light on Archbishop John Vlazny's surprise at the outrage generated by his granting Perez an open-ended loan to pay for the best defense attorney Catholic funds can buy rather than letting a public defender represent Perez.

This might explain how Cardinal Dolan could lie about having paid hush money to pedophile priests and how Cardinal Egan recently rescinded the church's apology for the sexual-abuse scandal.

Groeschel's original conclusions make sense in a church where it took until 2011 for the Vatican to allow the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to apply the federal legal age of minority as under 18 when defining child pornography, rather than the Vatican's definition of minor as being under 14.

Or maybe it's just easier to blame statements such as those made by Father Benedict Groeschel on senility and misspeak.

Update: Religion News Service reports that Father Benedict Groeschel "has given up his longtime spot on the conservative cable network EWTN following comments in which he appeared to defend clergy who abuse children while blaming some victims.