by Fr. Gordon J. MacRae on September 12, 2012
In the media crucible reserved for high profile priests, Father Benedict Groeschel was next in line to be smeared. There’s more to this story, and here it is.
I have known Father Benedict Groeschel for forty years. I began religious life as a Capuchin in the New York Province when Father Groeschel served on the Provincial and formation staffs. He was a mentor and a friend when I was a young man of 22 trying to discern competing calls to the priesthood and religious life. Having completed a novitiate year, I was a young friar bound by simple profession, but left the Capuchins after four years – under very good terms – to commence theological studies in preparation for diocesan priesthood in 1978. Over the ensuing years and decades, Father Benedict Groeschel and I remained in occasional contact.
About 25 years ago, Father Groeschel and seven other priests broke ranks from the Capuchin order to found the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a movement that reflected his deeply felt longing to live a life that was outwardly faithful to the spirit of poverty and charism of Saint Francis of Assisi. In the quarter century since, Father Groeschel has gifted the Church with a valiant priestly life marked by self-sacrifice and true Gospel witness. His legacy to the Church as a priest, a friar, an author and lecturer, a psychologist and revered spiritual adviser, is a monument to all that is good and holy in our Church.
Now he has resigned under a cloud from his participation as a host at EWTN. Perhaps it is simply time that he did. Perhaps, at nearly age 80 and having survived a crippling and devastating accident several years ago, age and infirmity have caught up with this good priest. We should not refute his decision to step down, but we who are loyal to any semblance of truth and witness to the Gospel must not allow to stand the cloud of doubt under which he now removes himself from EWTN’s important television ministry. To paraphrase Sheriff Buford Pusser in my post, “Walking Tall: The Justice Behind the Eighth Commandment,” if we let America’s self-serving, self-righteous, and spiritually bankrupt news media have the last word on Father Benedict Groeschel, “then we give ‘em the eternal right to do the same damn thing to anyone of us!”
I don’t need to reframe and speculate upon the single, out-of-context phrase of Father Groeschel’s that has so roiled the news media and its pundits against him. In my view, his inability to predict the uproar his comment brought about may be evidence enough that his judgment has been compromised by age and infirmity. This entire story should have ended with little more said than that.
There is an irony to all this, however. The truth is that Father Groeschel has long been known among treatment professionals to take a hard line in regard to credible accusations against Catholic priests. He has long been known to advocate for the removal from all public ministry when priests are credibly accused. He has not advocated for forced laicization, a process that simply discards an accused priest, but he has for decades taken a position that no priest known by the Church to have been an abuser can EVER minister in a parish again. The truth is that if Father Benedict Groeschel had been listened to more closely over the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, the scandal of 2002 might have looked very different.
Father Groeschel strongly advocated for strict supervision and strictly enforced internal administrative assignments in all cases in which abuse by a priest was determined to be true. His public and private positions have always been the same, and were the polar opposite of what some in the news media now attribute to him.
A few years after the tidal wave of scandal swept over the Church and priesthood, Father Benedict Groeschel wrote to me in prison. It was shortly after I wrote an article for Catalyst entitled “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” (November, 2005). It was the same article for which Avery Cardinal Dulles asked me to consider writing more frequently as documented in our “About” page. This is a paragraph from Father Groeschel’s 2005 letter:
“For the good of the Church and the priesthood, Father Gordon, I join the voices of others who urge you to stand always by the truth and to proclaim it boldly. Truth is always what will be in the best interest of the Church and priesthood. At the same time, I also want to caution you that not every case involving a priest is like the case against you. Some priests have used their office to commit grave offenses. Some have harmed vulnerable people and have harmed the priesthood and the Church. At the same time, like you, I also stand by efforts to assure a full hearing and due process for all priests who have been accused. False accusations must be immensely painful. I pray for you as you continue to pursue your innocence and expose the whole truth. The Church must face with courage both realities: the falsely accused and the plight of truthful victims of sexual abuse.”
Later in his life, Father Groeschel had the personal courage and integrity to voice concern for a growing proliferation of false claims against many priests, and he stood by them in their hope for justice. He stood by me. He stood by These Stone Walls, and he encouraged me to write. Never for a single moment did he compromise his deeply felt concern for justice for victims of abuse.
The sun must not go down on Father Benedict Groeschel’s good name and stellar priestly life under a cloud inflated by a news media lying in wait for any high profile priest it can smear. Not this time! I call upon EWTN and all Catholics of faith and conscience to set aside this latest 15 minutes of scandal and honor Father Benedict Groeschel for the courageous life of faithful priestly witness through which he has served the Church selflessly for over a half century. Let’s be loud and clear on this!