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. 
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