A Catholic friar has made a statement of victim-blaming that is shocking in it’s vulgarity. Honestly, when I was reading about Father Benedict Groeschel, I thought that it had to be a sick joke, an Onion story gone wrong. Unfortunately, it’s true that the director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York believes that young boys who have been molested and assaulted are attempting to “seduce” their attackers. It’s true that an influential man in the Catholic faith referred to Jerry Sandusky as “this poor guy.”
In a piece for the National Catholic Register, Groeschel lays out why the victims of sexual assault are really to blame. It’s a conversation that isn’t particularly original, but that doesn’t dilute the extreme views being shared. The monk, who founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, explained his views like this.
“People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath. But that’s not the case. 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.”
Just for good measure, he also took a moment to explain that first offenders for pedophilia shouldn’t be imprisoned because, “I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.” He then went on to show support and empathy for one of the most high-profile and prolific abusers of our time, Jerry Sandusky. He also explained that the children abused didn’t really see the sexual activity as a crime. “It was a moral failure, scandalous. But they didn’t think of it in terms of legal things.” I might add that obviously the opinions of Sandusky’s victims later changed because they went on to share their stories and testify against their abuser. At some point, they acknowledged it as a legal issue.
It’s infuriating, right? Like cringe-inducing, fist-clenching anger? That’s what I have going on when I read these words.
It should be noted that the National Catholic Register quickly removed the piece from it’s website and apologized for it’s content. They posted a statement saying,
“Child sexual abuse is never excusable. The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize for publishing without clarification or challenge Father Benedict Groeschel’s comments that seem to suggest that the child is somehow responsible for abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our publication of that comment was an editorial mistake, for which we sincerely apologize. Given Father Benedict’s stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight. We have removed the story. We have sought clarification from Father Benedict.”
More than anything, this apologize made me realize that no, I was not missing something in that piece. These weren’t quotes that were wildly taken out of context or distorted. This friar really did make the claims we’re all so horrified by. He really does believe that young boys “seduce” their attackers because they’re “looking for father-figures.” Once again, with the anger chills.
I am tempted to explain away this disgusting statement as the work of a senile old man who is no longer in touch with reality. I really want to think that Father Groeschel recently fell and bumped his head.
Of course the problem with that denial is that the Catholic institution has an extraordinary history of covering for and protecting those who abuse and prey on young children. It is quite possible that in his position, Father Groeschel has had the duty of handling some such circumstance. I think we can all assume that he wouldn’t call the police.
This thinking, this backwards and distorted logic, is part of the reason why monsters like Sandusky abuse children for so long. It’s part of the reason that the scandal of abuse in the Catholic Church reached such unimaginable heights. People like Father Groeschel explained the sins away. He blames the children who seduce their attackers. Others blame the criminal’s history. Others simply refuse to recognize what’s in front of their face, finding it easier to look the other way.
Opinions like that of Father Groeschel are why rape culture is so prevalent in our society today. These statements are why victim-blaming is still often seen as acceptable. They deserve to be denounced by everyone, but I also hope that they remind us just what kinds of evil are still out in the world. It’s sad that a man who has probably worked his whole life to prevent evil could spread so much of it with a single statement.
[UPDATE: Father Benedict Groelschel has released an apology for his statements. "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."]