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.