When I was making my journey into the Catholic Church, I listened to Father Groeschel pray the Rosary on his "The Rosary is a Place" CD. Those were the most meditative, gentle and calming prayers I'd ever heard. I also watched Fr. Groeschel's TV show on EWTN. Fr. Groeschel was preeminently kind, compassionate and reflective. Today, my heart is broken after reading his recent comments regarding the priest sex scandals wherein he blamed children for seducing priests:
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.
Fr. Groeschel also added that he didn't think first-time abusers should be jailed because "their intention was not committing a crime."
Fr. Groeschel's interview with the National Catholic Register were quickly taken down and replaced with an apology, including these words from the Editor in Chief:
The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize for publishing without clarification or challenge Father Benedict Groeschel's comments that seem to suggest that the child is somehow responsible for abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize. Given Father Benedict's stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight.
Mark Shea--prominent Catholic writer and apologist--chimed in asking for mercy on Fr. Groeschel and also including an official apology from Fr. Groeschel's religious order.
As I mentioned, my heart is broken. The Church's inability to root out the sin in its midst--especially as it pertains to protecting children--was a huge factor in my recent disillusionment.
As a woman who experienced abuse inside a church, might I offer some ideas for how Catholics can graciously handle this situation?
- Take full responsibility. No caveats. No rationalizations. No blame shifting (aka, "the media is unfairly attacking us!"). I'm talking to you, Mark Shea. Yes, there is a time for mercy, but blaming the "feeding frenzy" instead of the actual horrific comments is not merciful, it's dishonest.
- National Catholic Register's apology dodges full responsibility. By saying Fr. Groeschel's comments only "seem to suggest" victim-blaming, NCR hedges its complicity in promoting such harmful, abuse-enabling tactics.
- Furthermore, is NCR sorry for Fr. Groeschel's harmful opinions or just sorry they didn't edit his comments?
- Alleged senility is no excuse. If Fr. Groeschel is truly senile, why was he giving an interview to a huge Catholic media outlet in the first place?
- Catholic apologists should refrain from downplaying priest sex scandals by saying hey! Abuse happens everywhere! That is irrelevant and evasive.
- The Catholic Church and its ministers are not above the law of the United States of America. A first-time child sexual abuser ABSOLUTELY should go to jail.
- Children are NEVER responsible for being abused.
- Instead of being surprised by Fr. Groeschel's comments, perhaps Catholics need to examine more closely the culture of silence and complicity which fosters victim-blaming and excuses perpetrator responsibility.
- Examine our own consciences and think about the ways we elevate our heroes and refuse to hold them accountable. Which is to say, I'm guessing this isn't the first time Fr. Groeschel has expressed such horrific ideas--it's probably just the first time he got caught.
- Ask our bishops and Catholic leaders to forcefully and publicly renounce these harmful ideas and institute true, transparent changes in how clergy interacts with children.
For my part, I need to go cry for a bit. Nothing--and I mean, nothing--breaks my heart more than exploitation of children. I've written extensively about the abusive methods of Mike & Debi Pearl and I saw change happen. But honestly, the catastrophic victimization of children in the Catholic Church just overwhelms me. I feel discouraged. Is the Church even capable of righting these wrongs? God have mercy on us all.