A Franciscan friar in Westchester, N.Y., apologized Thursday for shocking comments he made to a Catholic newsletter, where he appeared to defend not only child sex abuse, but also disgraced former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Father Benedict Groeschel, 78, said boys without fathers are often the ones to approach their abusers.
“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,” Groeschel,who is part of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, said.
“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,” he added.
On the subject of Sandusky, who was convicted on multiple counts of child sex abuse, Groeschel expressed sympathy.
“Here’s this poor guy — Sandusky — it went on for years. Interesting. Why didn’t anyone say anything?” Groeschel asked.
He also said he doesn’t think child sex abusers should be prosecuted for their first offense.
“I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail — because their intention was not committing a crime,” he said.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the order to which Groeschel belongs, told Metro Thursday they are not planning to reprimand him for the comments.
Groeschel did, however, issue a statement of apology Thursday afternoon:
“I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”
He hit his head?
Groeschel, 78, was recovering from a fall where he hit his head when he gave the interview to the National Catholic Register, said Father Glenn Sudano, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
“He is a counselor and he is very dedicated to the poor, and the oppressed, and actually people who are victims of everything,” Sudano told Metro of Groeschel. “This is why it’s shocking that he even said this. It doesn’t even sound like him.”
Sudano would not disclose Groeschel’s whereabouts.
When asked whether Groeschel would face any consequences for his actions, Sudano replied, “He is recuperating. I can imagine him being confused, and frankly, knowing him, when it sinks in, he is going to be devastated that he hurt people.”
Sudano said that since Groeschel is not in a position of authority within the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, there will be no disciplinary action taken against him.
“It’s almost like your grandfather, what do you do?” Sudano asked. “There is no disciplinary action that logically could be done.”
Sudano said that only in extreme circumstances, when a crime is committed, will a friar be dispensed from his vows. Since the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal take a vow of poverty, there can be no monetary consequences for Groeschel, Sudano said.
Editor of Catholic newsletter apologizes
The National Catholic Register issued a statement of apology for printing Groeschel’s comments and removed the interview from its website.
“Child sexual abuse is never excusable,” Editor-in-Chief Jeanette R. De Melo said in a statement. “The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize for publishing without clarification or [challenging] Father Benedict Groeschel’s comments that seem to suggest that the child is somehow responsible for abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Condemned by New York Archdiocese
The Archdiocese of New York condemned Groechel’s comments and disassociated itself with them.
“The harm that was done by these remarks was compounded by the assertion that the victim of abuse is responsible for the abuse, or somehow caused the abuse to occur,” spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. “This is not only terribly wrong, it is also extremely painful for victims.”