NBC's Anne Thompson reports on a new controversy from Pope Benedict's personal preacher who compares the recent child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, to the collective violence and anti-Semitism of the Jewish people.
NEW YORK -- A New York priest says he "deeply regrets" if he hurt anyone by his comments 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 apologized Thursday for the comments he made in an interview with the National Catholic Register, published this week. The conservative, independent Register removed the story from its website and posted an apology for publishing the comments. Groeschel and the friars did as well.
"I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible," Groeschel said in his post on the website. "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."
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."
Asked in the Register interview about working with priests involved in abuse, Groeschel had 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."
'Rubbing salt into the wounds'
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."
Monsignor William Lynn, the most senior U.S. Catholic clergyman convicted in the church's sex abuse scandal, became the first U.S. church official convicted of a felony. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
The Archdiocese of New York also 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.
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.
Colleagues of Groeschel suggested on Thursday that he was recovering from a fall and was mentally frail.
The Rev. Glenn Sudano, a spokesman for the Franciscan Friars, likened him to an elderly relative.
"He said something like grandpa would say and it's like 'Grandpa, why would you say that?'" Sudano told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Obviously we don't agree with what he said. Obviously it's terribly disappointing that people are hurt or upset," Sudano said. "We feel very bad about it."
Sudano said he did not know if Groeschel would face any consequences for his remarks.
The Penn State child abuse scandal is dredging up memories of the massive sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, including the diocese where the university is located. NBC News' Michael Isikoff reports.
The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent decades by accusations that it tried to cover up the sexual abuse of children by priests and has paid out billions in settlements to abuse victims, bankrupting several U.S. dioceses.
Similar scandals have shaken the lucrative world of college sports, most notably the conviction of Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, for sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, most of them in the campus football showers.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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