Recently, Rev. Benedict Groeschel, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, gave an interview during which he stated that the victims of sexual abuse often took part and were to blame for their own abuse. Furthermore, Groeschel said that priests should not be jailed for their first offense of sexual abuse. His statements are reflective of the vicious cycle that occurs when the focus is placed on blaming the victim and helping the abuser instead of the other way around.
In the interview with the National Catholic Register, Groeschel claimed that when it came to sexual abuse allegations against priests, “A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.” He gave every excuse he could think of to absolve the priests of any responsibility: What if the priest were on the brink of a nervous breakdown? What if the child came from a broken home and was searching for a father figure? He even went so far as to refer to Sandusky as “the poor guy” and added that priests should not be jailed for their first offense because they did not “intend” to commit a crime.
His lack of logic is astounding, but he is not the only person with this attitude. These statements speak to what is at the heart of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal. Rather than punishing and helping to prosecute priests who sexually abused children, many church officials chose to simply move the priests to other parishes where, oftentimes, the priests continued to abuse children. Shifting the blame from the abuser to the victim and claiming that first time offenders don’t intend to commit a crime only opens the door to more abuse.
I think the most sickening part of this is Groeschel’s position in the Catholic community: he is a counselor who treated priests accused of sexual abuse at the Trinity Retreat House in New York. Though the treatment center currently deals with priests who are dealing with issues like alcoholism, Groeschel spent decades counseling priests who were “credibly accused of sexual abuse.” If this is his attitude about the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, how effective could his counseling have been? It’s clear that he has only helped to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and victim blaming that causes the Catholic church to hide these priests instead of help prosecute them.
The Archdiocese criticized Groeschel for his statements but cannot take any action to punish him. Since he is part of a religious order, the Archdiocese has no jurisdiction over him. It doesn’t make much sense to send priests to receive counseling from Groeschel since the Archdiocese has no way to discipline him. Groeschel recently stopped teaching pastoral counseling at St. Joseph’s Seminary, where he taught for over 40 years, due to his “advancing senility and other medical problems.” I can only hope that the Archdiocese ceases putting priests in his care since no one around him seems to hold him accountable and he is clearly unfit for the position.
The interview has since been taken down and Groeschel issued an apology in which he stated that he “did not intend to blame the victim” and that “a priest…who abuses a minor is always wrong” (essentially the opposite of what he said in his interview). His fellow friars came to his aid (“Poor Father Benedict,” one said), blaming the statements on a car accident that occurred years ago. Making such excuses for Groeschel seems counterproductive and, again, is helping someone who did something wrong rather than holding him responsible for his actions. Unfortunately, this approach to sexual assault is not unique to the Catholic church. It is important to recognize this attitude as harmful to all victims of sexual abuse as well as rape and sexual assault. Claiming that victims are responsible in any way for their own abuse only helps abusers.