Prominent priest blames sex victims, says first-time abusers shouldn’t face jail

The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a prominent author and speaker who is especially popular with conservative Catholics and bishops, has sparked outrage by saying that priests who sexually abuse children “on their first offense” should not go to jail.

He added that in “a lot of cases,” the child is “the seducer.”

The New York-based Franciscan 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, in an interview published Tuesday (Aug. 28) by the National Catholic Register, spread like wildfire around the Internet after they were reported by Religion News Service, and they prompted comparisons to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s controversial remarks about “legitimate rape” and abortion.

They also threatened to raise more questions about the hierarchy’s response to the abuse scandal even as the bishops have been hoping to turn the corner on a decades-long scandal that has cost billions in settlements and damaged the church’s moral standing.

“It’s wrong to demonize children who were raped,” David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the leading advocacy group for victims, said Thursday. “It’s even worse to ignore such wrong doing.”

A spokesman for New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was scheduled to deliver a blessing to the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Thursday night, responded to the uproar by denouncing Groeschel’s statements as “simply wrong.”

“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,” Joseph Zwilling said in a statement released by the Archdiocese of New York. Groeschel’s community, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, is based in the Bronx. Groeschel is also an adjunct professor of pastoral psychology at the archdiocesan seminary.

“This is not only terribly wrong, it is also extremely painful for victims. To all those who are hurting because of sexual abuse or because of these comments, please know that you have our profound sympathy and our prayers.”

Groeschel’s comments became so radioactive so quickly that the National Catholic Register, a conservative media outlet, removed the story from its website within hours of posting it. [More]


RNS/Christian Century