Friday, August 31, 2012

Troubling Comments

A number of years ago, when I was discerning whether to enter the Society of Jesus, I had lunch with a Jesuit mentor. Over our meal, he shared that a mutual friend of ours was also in discernment, although he was considering joining Father Benedict Groeschel's Friars of the Renewal. Never one to miss an opportunity to un-sheath his rapier wit, Father feigned indignation and exclaimed, "Why would you want to join a group founded by a man who can't cross the street? Left, Right, Left Again -- how hard is that? At least it took a cannon ball to bring down our founder!" Later that afternoon, as we celebrated the Eucharist, Father prayed both for Father Groeschel's health and the flourishing of his congregation.

Eight years later, the echoes of his near-fatal car accident may be detected in Groeschel's own words. In an interview now removed from the internet, Father Groeschel makes some disturbing claims concerning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy:

    InterviewerPart of your work here at Trinity has been working with priests involved in abuse, no?

    Father Groeschel: 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.

    InterviewerWhy would that be?

    Father Greoschel: 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.

The outcry against these comments has been swift and severe. The National Catholic Register, owned by EWTN, has scrubbed the story and put up in its place an apology. I have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincerity of Father Groeschel's apology and I do believe that he misspoke. The New York Times even quotes a co-founder of the Friars of the Renewal who attributes the comments to advancing age and the car accident.

It is sad that a man who has done great good throughout the world would sully his reputation by these comments. Even if they didn't express exactly what he wanted to say, I simply cannot interpret his words in any way that does not lay some of the blame at the feet of the victims. To my mind, there is simply no conceivable situation where a minor can be blamed for the sexual indiscretions of an adult.

It would be my hope that ill-informed words not stifle conversation about the roots of sexual abuse. If you read more of the interview, it is worth noting that Father Groeschel acknowledges that sexual abuse cannot really be reduced to (1) sexual psychopaths or (2) homosexuality. Had he focused more on the screening of candidates, formation of seminarians, and ongoing support of clergy and helping them to live psychosexually integrated lives, his interview would have been profoundly helpful. Unfortunately, by intimating that some victims may share some of the blame, we risk losing out on his great wisdom.

When I lived in New York, I came to know a few of the CFR's and I admire their work tremendously. I think Father Groeschel has led an admirable life and has responded generously to respond to the needs of the poor. It is my sincere hope that the good work - and good humor - of Father Groeschel is not completely blotted out by these remarks and that this prove to be a spark for further and deeper discussion into a subject that is so important to understand. 

3 comments:

bill bannon said...

" Poor Sandusky" was the worst part to me. Some older clergy seem indulgent to sinners to a fault.
Both John Paul II and Benedict expressed that we can't know that Judas is in hell for sure. Augustine, Chrysostom, and yours truly disagree. Christ stated in prayer to his Father "not one of them perished but the son of perdition".
He said that before Judas' betrayal- half repentance ( Aquinas ) - suicide. St. Justin Martyr said that past tense predictions in the Bible are certain....e.g. Isaiah's " and we have seen him and there is no sightliness in him."
Unfortunately Groeschel is not Pope and so is being reckoned among sinners with some reason as Christ
was for no reason. I suspect also that his consciousness is tired of hearing that the older victims
are always in every case innocent in these incidents. I remember from Catholic High School, a tough guy student in a tough city who made $25 per incident by giving oral sex to gays in his neighborhood at about 15 or 16 years old. The Church says post age of reason, he is sinning...legally and mediawise, he was a victim. Now if a priest came on to him, he would charge the
priest $25 and yet the newspapers would list him as a victim. And he could sue the diocese. Groeschel though by not parsing loudly between real victims and teen sexual sinners, came across as excusing clergy as victims which ironically Fr. Schanley did years ago in a speech to the " Man Boy Love Association".

jamez said...

I do not look at Fr. Groeschel's comments so much as his own particular short-coming but rather as just another manifestation of a centuries old inculturated system whereby the clerical brotherhood, having no official mechanism of accountability outside itself, is unable to conceive itself capable of such baseness and duplicity. Unable to face the horror of it all and needing to maintain the aura of holiness and moral authority needed to hold their place as authentic teachers of the faith, they must locate and proclaim responsibility for these heinous acts elsewhere - the victims, the media, homosexuality, encroaching secularism, relativism or anything as long as it points Away from themselves and their systemic pathologies. The clerical system as it has existed for so many centuries is no longer serving the Church well and must either be radically transformed or it will wither away into the anacronisms of history...

Mack said...

I have heard Fr Groeschel speak many times, and he is a wonderful priest. But there's no denying he is aging, and after his stroke, he might be having some problems articulating his thoughts. I think his remarks are best attributed to his age. Perhaps it's time for him to quit public speaking. Although I wasn't there, two years ago some friends of mine who attended one of his talks said there was an exchange in the question and answer session in which Fr G. seemed somewhat confused. Although he didn't say anything untoward, they had the impression his mental faculties were not as acute as they were before.