Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Was blogwatcher gagged on the Groeschel affair?

Michael Mullins' 'blogwatcher' column over at Cath News has become a fairly predictable affair.  Pretty much inevitably pretty much dominated by what can only be viewed as blogs on the broadest possible definition of the word (ie they are on the internet!), such as America Magazine, the Tablet and associated liberal rags.

So I was certainly expecting that his coverage of the Fr Groeschel comments (where the Franciscan Friar of the Renewal sympathised with a secular abuser, repeated the old hoary that priests were far less likely to be abusers than the general population - certainly not true in particular dioceses such as Newcastle! - and suggested that many victims were in fact 'seducers' of priests) would be extremely partial.

The surprise though, is on which side he comes out, namely a rather sympathetic tone!

Mullins on Groeschel

He writes:

"The Register was itself the news this past week following its publication and later retraction of the “blame the victim” comment of legendary New York Franciscan counsellor Fr Benedict Groeschel. Groeschel, who has counselled many priests accused of sexual abuse, had asserted that many of them had been “seduced” by their young victims."

Yes, the Register certainly was the story, with many secular newspapers picking up the issue.  And more than a few catholic ones.

Mullins continues:

"Bloggers are shocked but understanding. Catholic Lane says “his mission was to heal. At the very heart, that meant a high degree of connection, empathy and love.” Mark Shea writes on Groeschel as himself a victim, of the media..."

The take on Groeschel

Shocked but understanding? 

I don't think so.

In fact views fell into two main camps, the appalled and the apologists.


The 'not particularly understanding at all' camp - of which I am a paid up member  (some odd bedfellows I know, but sometimes...) - made a range of points.

First there was the normal Cath News favourite, the National Catholic Reporter who wrote a 'Note to Fr. Groeschel: it wasn't the kids fault.  The article was no doubt carefully vetted for possible defamation.  But that didn't mean it couldn't include a section reminding us at some length that the Register used to be owned by the Legion of Christ, and thus of a(nother) saintly-appearing priest's horrible history.

Similarly, America Magazine pointed to swift responses condemning the comments by the Archdiocese of New York, Fr Groeschel's order, and others.

Other bloggers, such as The Deacon's Bench were similarly shocked and appalled, including at the Register's apparent lapse of journalistic and editorial judgment.

Why doesn't Mullins mention any of these?  One can only speculate...

Then there were the apologists....

Others defended what I personally think was indefensible, either arguing that he was right, that he was ill/old, and/or holy, so we should give him a break:

The Crescat   - "Poor Fr. Groeschel. He’s 78, you know. Even at 36 I find it hard at times to fully articulate what I’m trying to convey. It happens to the best of us...Personally, I don’t think he had a single thing to apologize for."   

 Abbey-Roads asked - Can fourteen year olds be seducers?  Well yes, Terry answers, and commenters over there seem convinced that Fr Groeschel is being lynched for speaking the truth..

Mark Shea asked for prayers for him, because he is a 'good man'.

Then there is the 'he's senile' defence, over at The Deacon's Bench (admittedly a note from a reader; the Deacon himself was initially shocked by the comments).

Where does the truth lie?

The problem of 'pop-star priests' who have a huge cult-like following in the US amongst conservatives keeps coming back to bite I think.  In this particular case, fortunately, the virtue of obedience seems to be intact, and the swift apologies and pulling of the article has short-circuited the debate to some degree.

Yet the underying issue remains: Fr Groeschel, as a psychologist who practised in this area, seems to have been part of the discredited establishment response response to the abuse crisis.  He hasn't apologised for that.

His comments reflected a mindset that few bishops would now publicly espouse. 

But do they still think it?

And do Australian libeals like Mullins really stand with the old guard on this issue? 


Anonymous said...

Time to end this new clericalism of celebrity clergy on Catholic airwaves who gas on endlessly without boundary or scrutiny. How many times is EWTN going to be bitten by this particular malady?


Steve Kellmeyer said...

The 1983 Code of Catholic Canon law says 14 year old women and 16 year old men are eligible to marry.

Square your statements with canon law.

Fr. Groeschel can. Can you?

Kate Edwards said...


The issue about Groeschel's comments was not whether or not teenagers can be sexualised and thus attempt to seduce priests, but the lack of recognition that this fact is absolutely irrelevant to whether or not child abuse took place.

In most States and countries, sex at 14 or even 16 years of age would be statutory rape regardless of the view of either party as to what was occurring. Moreover, in most cases we are not talking about heterosexual sex, but same sex.

I'm not disputing that priests, teachers and anyone else who works with children can indeed be the subject of sexual advances. But it is the responsibility of the other party - the adult - to say no and take appropriate steps to address the problem.

It surely reasonable to expect that priests (and adults in positions of power generally) are alert to the possiblity of these kinds of problems occurring and prepared to deal with them.

This is particularly important where there is a power imbalance between the parties.

Even more problematic was Fr Groeschel's contention that this occured in 'many cases'. In reality in the abuse was typically an abuse of power as well as of sexuality and to suggest otherwise is an insult to all those who were victimised. It surely reflects the rationalisations of predators.

For these reasons, I really can't see the relevance of the age canon law permits marriage here - we are not talking about marriage but committing a sin.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


1) Since this is Fr. Groeschel's area of study, and since, as a counselor, he has undoubtedly had a lot more experience with individual cases than you have, either directly or through the case studies, I tend to believe his rendition of "many" over your denial of same.

2) Given that
a) the Church for centuries set the age of consent at 12, and has only had it as high as 14 for about a century,
b) most of the world sets the age of consent lower than 18 (see this, for instance),
c) Fr. Groeschel stipulated that the priests were often suffering from psychological problems themselves,

none of your assertions seem to hold up.

There is no clear evidence that American age of consent laws are just - they don't seem to be in harmony with human nature as recognized by the Church for two millennia. Furthermore, those who are mentally incapacitated are not, in justice, held to the same standards of behaviour as the general population. Someone not fully responsible for their own actions can still commit evil, but they cannot commit sin. Sin is being personally culpable for evil committed, and that takes a sound mind. An unsound mind is not fully responsible, therefore not culpable.

So, while we are definitely talking about violating civil law, and while we may be discussing the commission of evil, it is not at all clear that we are discussing sin.

Kate Edwards said...

This kind of outrageous nonsense is why the Church is in trouble at the moment.

First one can never consent to sin. There is no age at which it is permissible! Certainly not to sodomy, which well over 80% of abuse cases were/are.

Secondly the cop out claim that those concerned were mentally unbalanced is entirely a modern concept that would either would never have been accepted for most of the last two meillenia, or seen one confined to an asylum (for the last two centuries) so clearly not in accord with 'human nature' on the logic you are suggesting.

Modern consent laws (which are common throughout the Western world) reflect our better understanding of child development. In Australia the age of consent is even higher in the case of teachers and others in positions of power over the teen.

And the ability of people to rationalise bad behaviour and claim that 'they wanted it' is well documented, and goes to many crimes, including rape more generally.

The reality is that it is the idea that psychologists can properly assess such illnesses and 'treat' them that is the innovation and one that has no support whatever in the form of actual evidence.

And are you really claiming that almost 10% of priests in some dioceses were mentally unbalanced?

Please, give it up.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


One can commit evil without committing a sin. If my two year old grabs a knife and cuts me, he has committed evil, but no sin - he didn't know it would do that and/or didn't intend it.

The Church has long recognized insanity, both temporary and permanent, as a legitimate defense against the charge of sin.

Civil law has zero bearing on sin. I can break civil law without committing a sin, I can keep civil law and go to hell for having done so.

Fr. Groeschel did NOT say ALL cases or even MOST cases were explainablein this way. He said SOME cases were.

Notice, that given the content of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Groeschel COULD HAVE argued that ALL might have involved some level of consent, and used the Code as support. But he didn't make that claim. You should stop pretending he did.

If we grant that a 14, 16 or 18 year old is capable of consenting to sex - which the Church insists is true (see canon law) - then we must likewise grant that those same 14, 16 or 18 year olds are likewise capable of seduction to sex.

That doesn't mean the sexually active priest didn't sin. It just means the 14-16 or 18 year old sinned as well - it truly could have been consensual, despite what the civil law erroneously holds.

Civil law has been wrong before, and modern civil law does not match 5000 years of human practice in terms of marriageable age. So were all those who for most of human history married prior to 18, were they all sinners or rape victims? The 21st century does not have a lock on human knowledge. You seem to think it does.

Kate Edwards said...

I'm not continuing this debate here, but let me just make a few final points here in relation to issues you have raised.

1. You've claimed that Fr Groeschel didn't say most or even many cases. In fact he claimed that teenagers were the aggressors in 'many cases'.

2. This claim is not supported by the court files, which make it clear that in the overwhelming majority of cases the child concerned did not give any form of consent, and even where they did it was at best dubious consent (implicit or explict threats; the inherent power imbalance between a child and a priest; the differing levels of knowledge of what was involved, and the less developed brain of a teenager in both physiological and psychological terms).

3. There is a big difference between consent to a marriage that was typically arranged by and required the permission of parents and was a public event, and engaging in sinful and immoral activity in secret.

4. In reality the evidence submitted in court cases is that most cases victims were threatened with dire consequences (even death) if they said anything, and not believed, even being subjected to severe punishments when they did.

5.If the priests concerned were insane, why aren't they loked up in psychiatric institutions so that they can do no further harm? That after all has been the practice of thousands of years? But of course modern psychology claims to know better - so why do you accept it on this but not on anything else? The reality is that all too many of Fr Groeschel's first time offenders have gone on to commit further crimes thanks to the advice of psychologists (including Fr Groeschel, see the cases mentioned on bishop accountability and linked to in my post' Fr Groeschel has a track record') that they did not really present a danger to children (consider for example the advice given to Bishop Finn in the Fr Rattigan case which nearly landed the bishop in jail and did earn him a conviction).