Friday, August 31, 2012

Priests talking about non-violent murderers, seductive children, and gay marriage.

Sports Illustrated reports that George Huguely, the former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted of murdering Yeardley Love, has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for the crime.  This Washington Post report says that Virginia law requires Mr. Huguely to serve at least 85% of his sentence which would be roughly 19 years and six months.  Mr. Huguely has already been in jail for about a year so he has around 18 years remaining on his sentence.  Both reports say that Judge Edward Hogshire deviated from standard practice by sentencing Mr. Huguely to less than the 26 years recommended by the jury that convicted Mr. Huguely.  It is not clear why Judge Hogshire went with a lower sentence.

The sentencing hearing lasted over three hours.  Mr. Huguely's lawyer argued for a sentence of 14 years.  None of Mr. Huguely's family members testified in support of him.  Nevertheless, Mr. Huguely thanked his family for their "love and support" and his family issued a statement saying that they "love George and will always support him” and that they believe Ms. Love’s death was an accident.

Who did testify on behalf of Mr. Huguely at the sentencing hearing?  Father Joseph Scordo, a Roman Catholic priest.  Father Scordo did not know Mr. Huguely prior to his being arrested but testified that Mr. Huguely "is not the same person, the person that the media portrays as the wild, out-of-control person."  Father Scordo also described Mr. Huguely as his "spiritual grandson."  The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Father Scordo testified that Mr. Huguely was deeply religious and that they discussed Mr. Huguely's "faith, his prayer life, his religion, his family."  According to Father Scordo, there was "no hostility" in Mr. Huguely and there "seemed to be no hiding in any way, shape or form."  Father Scordo did not explain how his impressions of Mr. Huguely jibed with the night when Mr. Huguely broke through the door of Ms. Love's apartment, argued with her and then beat her so badly that hemorrhages and contusions stopped blood flow to her brain and heart.

One explanation for these contrasting images of Mr. Huguely is that being in jail caused Mr. Huguely to reflect more about his actions and become more spiritual.  A cynic might suggest that Mr. Huguely realized it might be to his advantage to get some spirituality and stop being hostile.  A cynic might also suggest that being in jail cuts down on the number of ways that one can be out of control or demonstrate hostility.  People will have to decide for themselves whether or not Father Scordo's observations of Mr. Huguely have merit.

Speaking of priests, NBC News reports that Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar, is apologizing for comments he made to the National Catholic Register.  What did Father Groeschel say?  He told the Catholic Register that "in a lot of cases" involving priests sexually abusing minors that "the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer."  The New York Times notes that Father Groeschel also said he was "inclined to think that priests who were first-time abusers should not be jailed because “their intention was not committing a crime.”   I had not thought of this point before.  Father Groeschel's remarks may explain why many in the Catholic Church did not report the sexual abuse of children when they discovered it: People did not think the priests were intending to commit crimes. 

In an attempt to drive his point home, Father Groeschel also referred to Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted of sexually abusing boys, as "this poor guy." 

The reaction to Father Groeschel's remarks prompted a number of interesting apologies.  Father Groeschel said that he did not intend to blame victims of sexual abuse and that a "priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible."  Father Groeschel placed the blame for his remarks on "my mind and my way of expressing myself."  Mr. Torvik knows more philosophy then I do and may have some comments as how one is different than one's mind or way of expressing one's self.   

Father Groeschel's religious order also apologized.  Their statement says that The remarks were "inappropriate and untrue. A child is never responsible for abuse. Any abuser of a child is always responsible, especially a priest."  The order also points out that sexual abuse of a minor "is a terrible crime and should always be treated as such."  The statement also mentions that Father Groeschel is in "declining health" and unable to care for himself.  It goes on to say that, "although these factors do not excuse his comments, they help us understand how such a compassionate man could have said something so wrong, so insensitive, and so out of character."  Father Glenn Sudano, the order's spokesman departed somewhat from this line of thinking by telling Reuters that Father Groeschel said "something like grandpa would say and it's like 'Grandpa, why would you say that?'"  I gather that Father Sudano had some interesting grandparents.

The Archdiocese of New York also repudiated the comments in a statement posted on its website, calling them "simply wrong."
Finally, the Catholic Register apologized.  The paper took the interview off its website and Editor-in-Chief Jeanette De Melo wrote,
Child sexual abuse is never excusable. The editors of the National Catholic Register apologize 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. Given Father Benedict's stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight. We have removed the story. We have sought clarification from Father Benedict.
Two things struck me in reading this apology.  First, Father Groeschel's comments did not "seem to suggest that the child was somehow responsible for the abuse."  Father Groeschel actually suggested that the child is sometimes responsible for the abuse.  There is no other way to interpret Father Groeschel's mark that the "youngster is the seducer."

Second, for what is the paper apologizing?  Is the paper is apologizing for printing what Father Groeschel actually said?  If so, is this apology because the remarks were offensive or is the apology because the remarks put a celebrated priest in a bad light?  Maybe further explanation of how this is an "editorial mistake" could clarify this issue.

Lastly, I guess Archbishop Nienstedt ordered the various Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to read a letter from him on why Catholics should vote in favor of Minnesota's marriage amendment. I use the phrase "I guess" because either the church I attended last week decided not to read the letter or I was sleeping when they read it as I don't remember the topic coming up.

As MinnPost notes, the letter is interesting because it seems to step back from Archbishop Nienstedt's previous comments that all who encourage or promote homosexual acts "formally cooperate in a grave evil," and "are guilty of mortal sin."  Perhaps they did some polling that showed that threats of eternal damnation are not a vote getter.

Why should Catholics vote for the marriage amendment? Archbishop Nienstedt writes,
the reality is that marriage is not ours to redefine, just as another human life is not ours to take. God is both the author of life and the author of marriage. It is this most fundamental understanding of the natural order that animates who we are as Catholics. It is why we fight so ardently to defend every human life, from conception to natural death. It is why we fight for the dignity of the human person and vigorously seek preferential options for the poor and disadvantaged. It is also why we fight to defend God’s plan for marriage, because his providence is as clear for what marriage is as it is for the dignity of each human life.
Put another way, Minnesota's Catholics should vote for the marriage amendment because that is what God wants.  While I understand why this might be persuasive to some Catholics, the argument breaks down for me when I do the thought experiment of imagining the speaker as belonging to religion with which I disagree.  When I do that, the argument that I should vote based on what God wants makes me a little jumpy.  It feels like the first step towards a theocracy.

Some priests, including one of my heroes, disagree with the Archbishop's position on the marriage amendment.

Speaking up on behalf of girlfriend murderers, seuxal abusers of children, and against same-sex marriage.  It feels like there ought to be a term for this kind of hat-trick.  Any suggestions?

UPDATE: It turns out that the brother of one of my high school classmate's actually knows Father Groeschel.  His thoughts on Father Groeschel's comments are here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post.

    To answer your first question to me, I would say that one way in which a person could be distinct from his mind or his way of expressing things is if that person has a soul. Another distinction between one's self and ones minds and action would be if the person is temporarily or permanently deranged. Reading between the lines (but not through to any of the links) it seems this may be Father Groeschel's defense. It sounds as though he may not be in complete control of his faculties.

    This may also explain the Catholic Register's apology. If it's the case that Father Groeschel was not lucid when he made his remarks, it was unfair to him to publish the interview, and unfair to the readers to publish what amount to irrational ravings, which should be published only on blogs.

    As for your second question—suggestion for a term to describe this somewhat ignoble hat trick—how about just "Friday"?


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