A New York priest apologized Thursday after coming under criticism for saying that priests accused of child sex abuse are often seduced by their accusers and that a first-time offender should not go to jail.
The Rev. Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal made the comments in an interview with the National Catholic Register published this week. The website for the conservative independent Register then removed the story and posted an apology for publishing the comments. Groeschel and the friars did as well.
Asked about working with priests involved in abuse, Groeschel said, "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."
In expanding on his answer, Groeschel also referenced Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted of sexually abusing boys, referring to Sandusky as "this poor guy" and wondering why no one said anything for years.
He also added later that anyone involved "on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime."
Editor in Chief Jeanette De Melo posted a note apologizing 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."
Groeschel also posted an apology to the site. "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," he said.
The friars expressed regret for the remarks and highlighted Groeschel's medical history. They said he had been in a car accident several years ago, and that "in recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing." They described the comments as "out of character."
The Archdiocese of New York repudiated the comments in a statement posted on its website, calling them "simply wrong."
"Although he is not a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, what Father Groeschel said cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. The sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and whoever commits that crime deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
Groeschel is not a priest with the Archdiocese in any specific parish but has worked with it in the past. He helped start the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in 1987. He hosts a weekly show, "Sunday Night Prime," on EWTN, the Catholic television network.
Deacon Bernard Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, "There is never a time when you can blame a minor who is sexually assaulted for the crime perpetrated upon him or her. The responsibility is always with the adult. Sexual abuse of a minor is abhorrent and indefensible. It is especially heinous when the abuse is perpetrated by a cleric."
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said there needs to be consequences for figures like Groeschel, "who say incredibly hurtful and mean-spirited things."
"He's rubbing salt into the wounds of already-suffering victims," Clohessy said.
Comments like Groeschel's "discourage victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from reporting horrific crimes both known and suspected," he said.