Groeschel on Abuse, Not So Much

I saw this NCReg interview discussed and linked at RNS, and with a bit of trepidation, I’d like to offer a few observations.

Fr Groeschel is an expert in a lot of spiritual matters. He is not an expert in psychology, addiction, sexual abuse, or victims of abuse. So I’m inclined not to take his musings with great seriousness:

A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.

Here’s this poor guy — [Penn State football coach Jerry] Sandusky — it went  on for years. Interesting: Why didn’t anyone say anything? Apparently, a number  of kids knew about it and didn’t break the ice. Well, you know, until recent  years, people did not register in their minds that it was a crime. It was a  moral failure, scandalous; but they didn’t think of it in terms of legal  things.

And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.

What constitutes “a lot of cases”? Do we look for them on tv? In scandal sheets? They get a lot of press, when a student seduces a teacher. But an adult in a position of responsibility does not send signals to potential “seducers,” and possesses boundaries adequate to deflect such attempts. If a college student or a high school student attempted to seduce me, it’s not going to get anywhere. I’m going to be careful about location. I’m going to be watchful about motivations. Even if every case of priest sexual abuse were initiated by a minor, the judgment still falls on the older person. And why? Because moral law and secular law presumes an adult can protect the innocent from harm. Attempted seduction? Be an adult.

Jerry Sandusky is a “poor guy,” and to be pitied. But let’s make sure we have a sense of proportion. Dozens of victims were impoverished by the predator. Suppose a football team is conferencing under portable bleachers and the coach leans on a support, thus collapsing the bleachers and injuring many of the team. We wouldn’t focus on the “poor coach.” We might recognize that the coach feels horrible for causing an accident, if he truly felt remorse. But we would be concerned for the victims and their recovery. Take it a step away and the coach, for whatever reason, decided to crush the players under the bleachers. Then we’re a little closer to the Penn State situation.

If one’s intention is not to sin, but one is blind to both sin and moral responsibility, then there is no grave sin, certainly. But in law, there is the principle of negligence. There is a presumption that a person who has been formed for the priesthood is aware of moral boundaries. How can a priest be a confessor if he is ignorant of crime, sin, fault, and responsibility? Who’s responsible? The bishop. The seminary. The religious community.

Bad things happen to good people and are caused by others who have little or no moral anchor. This isn’t Wall Street. There is accountability. That is why, in part, the bishops remain on the hot seat of scandal ten years after the Charter. Their moral formation and that of many clergy is deeply flawed. In this situation, they need to listen to lay people who are well-formed, who do understand their responsibilities to their children, and who have a deeper perception and insight on this matter. These clergy need to set an example, take their dressing-down, absorb the lesson. Then we can all move on and focus on protecting the innocent–living the Gospel–as a unified effort. Not as concerned parents, distant hierarchs, and passive observers.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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6 Responses to Groeschel on Abuse, Not So Much

  1. John Doe says:

    Masters in counseling, doctorate in psychology. Guess Fr Groeschel has no clue.

  2. Todd says:

    By their fruits …

  3. Brian says:

    It is so important to consider Fr. Groeschel’s comments in context. The Huffy-Puffy Post purposely makes the Catholic Church look as much like an evil empire as they possibly can. With that said, teenages do seduce but that doesn’t mean the adult complies. Not only is it a crime, it is also evil, in my opinion, to physically engage in a relationship with a minor. It hurts the minor, it hurts the community, and it hurts the Creator. The holiness of life must not be defiled or destroyed by evil, which only comes from within.

    • Todd says:

      I did try to give the best possible context: I linked to the original NCReg piece, now vanished, and I acknowledged I found a brief mention at RNS, not the HuffPo. Fr Groeschel seems to have brought this all on himself, with the cooperation of a Catholic organ otherwise regarded for its institutional loyalty.

  4. Joanne S. says:

    I read the original interview, linked to the article in NCR. Fr. Groeschel is a clinical psychologist who has counseled many abusers, so he does have some professional knowledge. What he suggested needs to be read and understood in the full context since children who’ve been sexually abused do often “act out” sexually as a result of the learned behavior. Perhaps that is what Groeschel meant, although his comments were not fully explained and did not come across totally in that context.

    I took the Virtus training now required by the Catholic Church of anyone who works with children in ministry. A video teaching on pedophiles warning how they “groom” lonely young people so they can later isolate and seduce them includes the pedophiles’ absurd claims that the victims “wanted it” or that what they were doing was somehow a loving act. I think they must tell themselves that in order to justify their actions, but I can see where a therapist trained decades ago, as Groeschel was, might be misled by his patients into buying into that. The church got into trouble in the first place because the old thinking in psycological circles was that pedophilia could be “cured,” and priests would not re-offend. We know now that that isn’t true, but that may not be the only mistaken beliefs coming from that time.

    No one wants to believe that a child could do what seemingly was suggested, but older teens who’ve been molested by older men could very well “learn” the homosexual behavior and look to repeat it with others to gain the attention and love they don’t get from absent fathers, etc. I have a feeling this is really what Groeschel was seeing.

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