Alternate title, which was just too long: “You know when people ask anti-rape protestors who’s actually in favor of rape? Well…”
So, there was a thing that went down while we were dark, that I wanted to write about at the time but was Overtaken By Events.
The Catholic Register decided to do an interview with Friar Benedict Groeschel, in which the subject of sexual abuse of children came up, and on which he had interesting opinions. Those opinions were so interesting the Register has since taken down the interview and replaced with a bunch of apologies. Given that, I can only quote from other responses to the original. I’m pretty bummed about that, because I wanted to analyze the original more thoroughly; everyone has quoted the same few lines, but really the whole thing was incredibly problematic. Oh well. Anyway, here’s the lengthiest quote I could get, from Sullivan’s response:
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 … It’s not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn’t have his own — and they won’t be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping but not having intercourse or anything like that.
It’s an understandable thing … there are the relatively rare cases where a priest is involved in a homosexual way with a minor. I think the statistic I read recently in a secular psychology review was about 2%. Would that be true of other clergy? Would it be true of doctors, lawyers, coaches?
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.
That’s right, y’all. Considering the case of Jerry Sandusky, his primary sympathy seems to be for Sandusky. You remember him, he’s the dude who was anally raping ten year old boys. Poor dude!
Now, the thing that everyone has focused primarily on is the most obvious thing, the thing the Catholic Register apologized for and Groeschel apologized for and the people defending him (yes, he has defenders, and I’ll get to them specifically in a bit here), is for blaming the victims for causing their own rape by “seducing” their attacker. Which, yes, that’s incredibly fucking awful, it should not be necessary to spell out that even if a kid actually threw themselves at you screaming “HAVE SEX WITH ME”*, it’s still the adult’s absolute moral responsibility to refuse. In no small part because inappropriate sexual behavior in children is almost always a huge red flag for past or ongoing sexual abuse; taking this hypothetical child up on it is volunteering to be their next abuser rather than helping them, which, y’know, clergy are theoretically all about. There’s no grey, there’s no “legitimate”, there’s no modifier: having sex with someone unable to truly consent, like a minor under your authority, is just-plain-rape. (Just because I KNOW I’m gonna get someone in comments going on about sexy teenagers and varying ages of consent, Ozy points out in her own article that the average ages of the molestation victims in the Catholic sexual abuse scandal being 11-14, with the youngest being three- not 14-18.)
The thing that really catches my eye about Groeschel’s original statements is how much reduction of responsibility he consistently applies to the rapists. First it’s, “I bet those kids are seducing those poor priests, who are maybe having nervous breakdowns.” (I know psychological stress makes ME much more likely to accept sexual offers from prepubescents.) Then we get weird “things get romantic, but not planning on heavy-duty.” (Thanks, that’s not screamingly inappropriate at all to compare a mentor-mentee relationship to a teenie romance, I feel better now.) Then it’s, “the clergy aren’t so bad, I bet other professions are doing it too!”. (Just the sort of logic you like to see in someone in the business of ultimate moral authority, that.) Then the highly creepy Penn State bit where apparently it was all on the kids to report that poor Jerry was having problems. (Why didn’t anyone say anything? Maybe because of an institutional culture with more sympathy and support for the rapist than their victims. Would you know anything about that, Friar?) Then as the cherry on top, apparently it’s kind of outrageous and extreme that this is an actual CRIME and not just an unfortunate “moral failing”. Man, cheating on your wife is legally okay, but fucking kids isn’t, what a restrictive world we live in today.
Another theme that leaps out is the idea, which is very much echoed in both the Catholic Register and Friars of Renewal apologies and the huffy defensed linked above, is the idea that in order for it to be justifiable to condemn someone for their actions, they had to set out and plan to do something awful and really meant to be awful. Sandusky probably didn’t get up in the morning and go “Nyaharhar, I’m gonna scar me some boys for life today”, so that makes his doing it more okay and more understandable. A priest might not have set out to rape that three year old in their fetching little pair of PullUps, so throwing him in jail over it is just kind of harsh. Friar Groeschel is old and starting to get a bit dotty and has been acting not himself, so he said a bunch of stuff excusing rapists and blaming child rape victims, he probably didn’t really mean to do that.
To put it bluntly: Who fucking cares and why do you think this is relevant to the morality of their action? If you do something awful, it was an awful thing and your moral responsibility for it doesn’t diminish a whit if you didn’t set out to specifically be awful that day. It’s awfulness rests on the scope of its awful effects, not the mindset of the person committing those actions. This also applies to all the “BUT HE’S A GOOD MAN SEE HERE HE’S DONE ALL THOSE GOOD THINGS”. Which, no. If you are a good person and you do something monstrous, there’s no balance scale there, you cease to be a good person and your good deeds have no bearing on the monstrousness of your actions and the monstrosity of you they reflect. If you want to not be a monster you have to stop doing monstrous things and then work your ass off to atone for the effects, not produce your good deeds chitty. Even then sometimes there’s no going back; I’m pretty sure no amount of Salvation Army time served could have made Hitler not-a-monster.
I have to quote the Catholic League defense, it’s a doozy:
In a recent interview, he hypothesized how a young person (14, 16 or 18, as he put it) could conceivably take advantage of a priest who was having a nervous breakdown. He also referred to Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced Penn State football coach, as “this poor guy.” For these remarks, and related comments, he is now being labeled as a defender of child abuse.
The accusation is scurrilous. In the same interview, Groeschel emphatically said that priests who are sexual abusers “have to leave.” His reference to Sandusky was exactly the way a priest-psychologist might be expected to speak: “poor guy” conveys sympathy for his maladies—it is not a defense of his behavior! Indeed, Groeschel asked, “Why didn’t anyone say anything?”
YOU GUYS THEY WERE HYPOTHETICAL CHILDREN WHAT ARE YOU GETTING WORKED UP ABOUT. >:( (The children who were actually sexually abused in the actual Catholic child sex abuse scandal were very damn much not hypothetical.) Also he TOTALLY SAID abusers who were actively abusing “had to leave”, how can you say he’s defending child abuse?! Plus he of course has sympathy for the rapist! Those victims should have totally reported him so he could get help!
Actually, his position on molesting priests beyond this interview where apparently age and injury turned him into a completely different person who suddenly has no idea that rape is all that bad isn’t impossible to determine, because during the time the abuse that turned into such a scandal was happening he was part of the heirarchy that handled misbehaving priests, so he has actions, not just words, on his record. Actions like using his position as a psychologist to help put molesting priests back into a position to abuse. So maybe his stance isn’t so difficult to puzzle out from just “one little interview”. (Actually, searching Groeschel’s name on Bishop Accountability for more than just that article is quite informative**.)
The fact that the person who interviewed Groeschel, and the editorial staff of the Catholic Register, couldn’t figure out there was anything wrong with what he was saying also speaks, in letters that are ten feet high and flashing red, to an institutional culture that perpetuated and is still perpetuating a climate that excuses and protects predators. This is why the abuse scandal seems neverending: because, on an institutional level, they still believe that rape of those under their care and authority isn’t such a big deal and should really be a rather private affair between the rapist, the victim, and maybe the rapist’s therapist.
*File under “hell of a lot less likely than the adult interpreting affection or even just their own attraction as seduction”.
**Here’s a particularly telling one when it comes to his attitude toward the victims.