I’m sorry to return once again to this story, but this is the kind of thing that must not pass. A Catholic friend and survivor of sexual abuse passes on to me this EWTN link to the audio of a 23-minute talk Father Benedict Groeschel gave in 2002, about the scandal. It indicates that the statement Fr. Groeschel gave in the National Catholic Register interview, the one that caused him to be retired and his interviewer to be fired, was not an aberration, as has been claimed, but was consistent with what Fr. Groeschel has always said about the scandal.
To be clear, Groeschel says near the beginning of his remarks:
I have talked to victims and their families, and I can only say that I am deeply, deeply grieved — one bishop used the word ‘anguished’ — by what they say.
But then he says that priests, even those guilty of sex abuse, are also hurting; he calls sex abusers “some of the most penitent people I’ve ever met” — and then cites the case of the late Archbishop Eugene Marino, who abused no one, only had an affair with a woman, and was publicly disgraced over it. It’s an odd case to bring up, because however immoral and scandalous Abp Marino’s conduct was, it’s hardly in the same universe as child rape. But by telling a genuinely sympathetic story about a penitent archbishop, Groeschel frames the scandal about clerical child rapists in an emotionally appealing way, setting his listeners up to pity the priests who raped children:
While one deeply, deeply sympathizes with the victims, one must never refuse to allow a person the opportunity for repentance, especially if that person failed in the pursuit of a difficult vocation. I don’t think anybody was ever ordained with the idea of causing sexual scandal. But in the difficult and confusing years of the last three decades, which I will trace out, these things happened.
Right. This is theologically correct, but the emphasis is completely, maddeningly wrong. Remember, this talk was given in the spring of 2002, when the revelations of the scandal were just getting started. And Groeschel delivers a speech that is shot through with clericalism — that is, with the idea that the real victims here are the priests, and that the laity must focus on forgiving priests, who, after all, fell in the pursuit of a difficult vocation.
He goes on to blame the culture (the post-Vatican II, sexual revolution craziness), the gays, the psychiatric profession, the media, victims’ lawyers, the media, and above all, hatred for the Catholic Church. What’s interesting about this speech is that much — but by no means all! — of what he says is true. The scandal didn’t happen in a vacuum.
And yet these are all truths marshaled to serve a lie, and a monstrous lie: that priests who molested children are victims as well, and so is the Church, besieged as she is by enemies who hate her. You will not hear in this speech anything but a pro forma sympathy for victimized children and their families. For Groeschel, the scandal seems to really be about the enemies of the Church tearing priests down and taking advantage of clerical weakness. Taken in total, this is a bunch of clericalist claptrap, delivered by one of the Church’s foremost moral authorities, at a crucial moment in time, when Catholics were reeling from the revelations, and eager to hear Church authorities explain to them how on earth this could have happened. Groeschel’s explanation, while partially true, demonstrates a breathtaking lack of sympathy for victims and awareness of the terrible failures of the institutional Church. It exonerates by implication the hierarchy — in fact, he even speaks sympathetically of the suffering of an unnamed bishop who made “mistakes” (you can tell from the context that he’s talking about reassigning priestly predators). The focus of this speech is almost entirely on the poor, poor bishops and priests.
Again, this is no different in substance from what he told the Register in 2012. I think that is important to remember at a time when people sympathetic to Fr. Groeschel, given all the good he has done over the years, write off his statement in that interview to his advanced age and debility. He was saying the same things when he wasn’t old and frail.
My Catholic friend also passes along this old clip from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, speaking on the subject of “false compassion.” Here is bold, uncompromising, hard truth — a truth that Fr. Groeschel and his defenders ought to listen to.
UPDATE: A conservative Catholic friend passes on this from a review of the Leon Podles book “Sacrilege”:
Podles is not saying anything new in Sacrilege by bringing to light the fact that men sin, and that the clerical state makes a sin committed that much more ghastly. Where Podles breaks new ground in this book is in his insistence that the problem of ongoing abuse of the young by a single priest would not be extant if it weren’t for the complicity of the laity. Podles recounts hundreds of cases of abusing priests being aided and abetted by their congregations — e.g., of parents disregarding their children’s claims of abuse, of families of the abused being threatened by their fellow parishioners, of priests seen as above reproach. This book brings to light an attitude found among much of the laity that an abused child would simply “bounce back” from grave sexual abuse once he grew up, that it really wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. Surely not big enough to prevent Father from preaching his wonderful, self-esteem-boosting sermons.
Added my Catholic pal:
The enemy, my friends, is us.
Which is good news – for we can more easily fix “us” than fix “them”. In other words, [a priest] would not have been able to insulate himself in a clericalist bubble if fathers and mothers — who are the life of the Church — got some real life in them and put an end to this nonsense. If we can’t defend our kids, what good are we? If we can’t defend our kids, of course we won’t be able to keep the mobs away from our foreign embassies. If we can’t defend our kids, of course our culture will fall. If we can’t defend our kids, we’re don’t deserve the name “human beings” much less “Christians”.