Prominent priest apologizes for controversial sex abuse remarks
NEW YORK (RNS) The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a popular Franciscan friar who defended priests who sexually abuse children and blamed some victims for “seducing” them, has apologized for the controversial remarks.
Archbishop Dolan (left) with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
RNS photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Seminary Dunwoodie
Groeschel, 78, said in a statement released late Thursday (Aug. 30) that he blamed his failing health for the way he phrased the comments.
“My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be,” said Groeschel, who, with his hooded gray Capuchin habit and long white beard, is a familiar figure on conservative Catholic media.
“I did not intend to blame the victim,” he said. “A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible.”
Groeschel’s community, the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, a conservative order that he founded 25 years ago in New York, also apologized for the remarks and called them “inappropriate and untrue.” The friars added that the comments “were completely out of character” for Groeschel and resulted from infirmities stemming from a car accident several years ago and a recent stroke.
“In recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing,” the friars said. “He has been in and out of the hospital. Due to his declining health and inability to care for himself, Fr. Benedict had moved to a location where he could rest and be relieved of his responsibilities.”
Other members of the order confirmed that Groeschel, who for decades was an influential author and speaker who frequently appeared on the conservative Catholic cable station EWTN, was unlikely to be making any more public appearances.
The apologies followed a rapid series of developments following the publication of an interview with Groeschel in the National Catholic Register, a conservative newspaper that EWTN purchased last year from the scandal-tarred Legion of Christ order.
Groeschel had told the Register that priests who sexually abuse children “on their first offense” should not go to jail, and he added that in “a lot of cases” the child is “the seducer.”
He also expressed sympathy for Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was convicted in June of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in a scandal that rocked college football and dominated the news much as the clergy crisis has.
Groeschel’s comments quickly sparked outrage and were taken down from the website of the Register, replaced by an apology from the paper’s editor.
Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a longtime friend of Groeschel, also issued a sharp denunciation of the priest’s comments.
The religious community he founded, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, based in New York, also denounced the comments. The statements followed a wave of condemnation that grew in the days since the interview with Groeschel was first published.
Both apologies said the prominent priest’s declining health played a role in his comments.
Here is Groeschel’s statement:
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 that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.
The statement from his community says:
The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sincerely apologizes for the comments made by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in an interview released yesterday by the National Catholic Register, online addition [sic]. In that interview, Fr. Benedict made comments that were inappropriate and untrue. A child is never responsible for abuse. Any abuser of a child is always responsible, especially a priest. Sexual abuse of a minor is a terrible crime and should always be treated as such. We are sorry for any pain his comments may have caused. Fr. Benedict has dedicated his life to helping others and these comments were completely out of character. He never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims. We hope that these unfortunate statements will not overshadow the great good Fr. Benedict has done in housing countless homeless people, feeding innumerable poor families, and bringing healing, peace and encouragement to so many.
Fr Benedict helped found our community 25 years ago with the hope of bringing the healing peace of Jesus Christ to our wounded world. Our desire has always been to lift-up humanity and never to hurt. About seven years ago, Fr. Benedict was struck by a car and was in a coma for over a month. In recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing. He has been in and out of the hospital. Due to his declining health and inability to care for himself, Fr. Benedict had moved to a location where he could rest and be relieved of his responsibilities. Although these factors do not excuse his comments, they help us understand how such a compassionate man could have said something so wrong, so insensitive, and so out of character. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.