Can We Forgive Fr. Groeschel? And Can He Reach to Reconcile?

So Fr. Groeschel and the CFR’s issued two statements of apology yesterday. They essentially both say the same thing and Fr. Groeschel’s seems like a shorter version of the CFR’s. Essentially, everyone was on message: We apologize, the abused are not victims, Fr. Groeschel’s mind is failing, Fr. Groeschel has a great record of helping people.

Here’s Fr. Groeschel’s apology:

I apologize for my comments. 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.

While Fr. Benedict sadly may be suffering some effects from the accident it in no way exonerates him from the statement he made which was indeed hateful and horrible for any victim of abuse to hear. I fear, however, that this opinion may be widespread amongst many clergy and laity within our church. It shows a blatant ignorance for what sexual abuse has done and leads people into deeper darkness.

Those comments as Joe Zwilling of the New York Archdiocese said in his carefully written press release “do not represent us” as Catholics.

And for a self-professed “orthodox” Catholic to say these words is horrendous and for a Catholic paper to write them without further introspection on them or challenge is not just shoddy journalism, it’s shoddy Catholicism.

That said, what is Catholic is our capability to forgive and so while this doesn’t change what Fr. Benedict said I call for all of us to accept his apology and to offer him sincere forgiveness.

And that friends is hard for all of us.

While I am angered by Fr. Benedict’s statements and am sincerely wondering if those secretly are his true beliefs about sexual abuse, I also know that I cannot let that anger get in the way of forgiveness–where God calls each one of us to be.

Forgiveness however, does not turn a blind eye to justice. And I do think that despite the public embarrassment that Fr. Benedict is facing now, he should also be made to do some kind of restitution or penance for saying something so callous, old as he is, or not. He’s been speaking fairly lucidly and frequently publicly and offering tons of retreats and we haven’t heard any reports of missteps until now. And if that is the case then maybe he should spend some time listening (which as a psychologist he does very well) to those who have been abused by priests in some kind of formal retreat for them under supervision of another. The folks who run the Archdiocese’s Virtus training would be well-advised to take the lead in reaching out to him at this time and to set something up. I wonder if there’s a victim of abuse who is brave enough to take matters into their own hands and offer to speak with him?

Forgiveness on our part is always possible. We cannot let evil control and ultimately destroy us–something Fr. Benedict has also preached on and knows well. But reconciliation is sometimes harder to come by. And Fr. Benedict should take great pains to reconcile with the community here and we as laity should take great pains to welcome that and to forge understanding with those who have been abused with a man who seems to think that they bear some responsibility. Even if he’s saying that he misspoke now, I can’t help but believe that at least a small part of him feels this way.

I’ve said my share of stupid things in my life. Thankfully, most of them not in the public eye. But what I think I pride myself on most is my ability to try to heal the relationships that have been damaged by my own stupidity–even when my statements were unintentional.

He’s an old man. He’s been through a lot these years. But that’s no excuse. I’m glad he apologized and tried to set the record straight.

I forgive Fr. Benedict. And I hope he can forgive himself and can reach out to reconcile with those he has hurt by his words.