Last week the Rev. Benedict Groeschel was criticized for making a statement that some victims of child sexual abuse were responsible for causing the abuse, that these youngsters were the “seducers” and that first-time pedophiles do not deserve to go to jail.
I suspect that Father Groeschel strives to be a good, just man and has done much good in the service of God and God’s people. No doubt his age has played a part in this very public lapse in judgment. He embarrassed himself and the Church, and he apologized quickly, asserting that the victim must never be blamed.
A very telling aspect of this incident is that Father Groeschel is so well known, so highly respected as a church leader, that the editors never bothered to review the interview before going to press. The problem with assuming our leaders and clergy are good and righteous folk is that we are inclined to accept what they have to say without considering it carefully, without thinking for ourselves.
This kind of faulty logic affects all of us at one time or another. At some time or another, our biases will show themselves. In our confidence we become careless. We don’t examine our own behavior closely. We don’t subject our beloved positions and ideas to careful review. We are reluctant to weigh things in the light of new information, science or experience. We don’t want to consider that our own high-and-mighty sense of righteousness might just be bigotry all gussied up.
Lately I find that I am becoming increasingly convicted about my own silence. As a new priest I have been advised by many to lie low, to remain neutral on issues far and wide. Sounds prudent. Sounds sensible. Sounds safe.
A friend of mine shared a link today from a first-hand account of a recent Jacksonville City Council meeting where fear and bigotry won.
Let’s let that be a temporary victory. Let’s take seriously the call of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves even and especially when that neighbor is different from us. Let’s be intentional in standing with the despised, the shunned, the bullied. For me, I commit to reach out to my brothers and sisters who are hurting. I commit to being a bridge-builder. I commit to letting go of my fear that folks will assume I am queer because I am single (trust me, few are more suspect than a single, celibate, female priest). I need the people around me to hold me accountable.
I love this country. I love Jacksonville. I love the promise of freedom and equality for all. That includes a sense of safety and welcome and the opportunity to thrive — to work and laugh and love. Let’s stand together so all can win. Let’s be brave together so everyone can be free.