Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Father Benedict Groeschel at EWTN: It's Time for a Moment of Truth."

Keyword Phrases: Father Benedict Groeschel, Capuchin New York Province , Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, Catholic priests falsely accused, Catholic League Catalyst, Father Anthony Tran Van Kiem, Fr. Gordon MacRae, These Stone Walls, Catholic blogs, Father Groeschel, Capuchin Order, EWTN, Jacquie Miles, Bill Wendell, Catholic press, Tom and JoAnn Glenn, Brian Fraga, Joan Frawley Desmond, Crescat blog, Sancte Pater, Leo Demers, Avery Cardinal Dulles, Vincenzo

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.

Fr-Benedict-GroeschelAbout 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 Fusser 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!


My old friend, Jacquie Miles, once wrote in a letter that when I finally get out of prison, modern communications technology may seem very foreign to me. Well, it already does. The old Smith Corona typewriter with which I write TSW posts was manufactured circa 1988. It has an onboard spell check dictionary, and every time it loses its memory – which is more often than I lose mine – I have to re-add certain words such as “blog” and “Internet” and “website,” words that didn’t exist or were rarely used when the machine was made. When I was sent to prison 6,575 days and nights ago, cell phones were rare, blogs did not exist, and websites were numbered only in the thousands. Today there are billions of websites and millions of blogs, all accessible from wireless devices that go where you go – but none of which I’ve ever seen.

There are also thousands of Catholic blogs. They are by no means in competition with each other, but really making a difference in the Catholic online world requires standing out somehow. The Catholic blogs that do stand out become pretty well known – Father Z’s What Does the Prayer Really Say? comes to mind. Some build a loyal readership and are often quoted. Again, Father Z comes to mind. Presenting something new in the online world requires endurance, research and writing skills, and the tools to utilize them.

Bill Wendell, a TSW reader and good friend, once wrote that he is amazed at how much research goes into some of my posts. I felt a little squeamish about this because as a prisoner, I just don’t have the means to do very much research at all. I subscribe to a few good publications. You can likely tell what they are simply by reading my posts to see what articles I refer and link to. For mainstream secular media, I read The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today is passed on to me a day or two late from other prisoners. For Catholic publications, I read the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and, thanks to TSW readers Tom and JoAnn Glenn, Inside the Vatican, an eye-catching Catholic magazine with cutting edge Catholic news that isn’t pious fluff (though I don’t mind the occasional pious fluff).

In early August, I wrote “The Catholic Press Needs to Get Over Its Father Maciel Syndrome.” It came at the height of vacation time for many, so if you missed it, I hope you will catch up. I wrote in that post that most – no, ALL – of the Catholic press completely let pass by news of emerging evidence of fraud and wrongful conviction in my case, and news of a new appeal. At the same time, most of the Catholic press is quick to pounce on the myriad and sordid snippets of priestly scandal for which there seems to be no end. It’s fair enough that they do not shrink from Catholic scandal, but they DO shrink from the other side of that scandal, the story of Catholic priests falsely accused.

In fairness, however, I should point out that although the Catholic press has not covered our new appeal and its new evidence, two fine Catholic publications have had articles citing These Stone Walls. Brian Fraga, a  Catholic writer and journalist, wrote of and quoted from TSW in a feature article for Our Sunday Visitor last year (”Father John Corapi walks away from priestly ministry,” July 10, 2011).  Joan Frawley Desmond, a senior editor for the National Catholic Register – now owned by EWTN – wrote a great article about the challenges faced by falsely accused priests in which she cited TSW (”Priests In Limbo – Part II,” February 17, 2011). The Catholic League journal, Catalyst, has published several articles about my case and These Stone Walls. If you scroll through our “On the Record” page, you will see most of these.

I’m grateful to these courageous writers, and I don’t mean to imply that in the Catholic press, my glass is half empty. It’s indeed half full. The point I wanted to make in my post about the Catholic press is one once made by Winston Churchill: “If you have enemies, it’s because you’ve had the courage to take a stand on something.” The Catholic press should not shy away from the whole truth just to appease the Church’s enemies, especially those who have used the pain of real victims as an anti-Catholic weapon.

TSW 2.0

TSW Web Design

Several months ago, someone sent me a few pages printed from The Crescat blog during its last annual nominations of Catholic blogs that stand out. I was surprised to see that These Stone Walls was one of two finalists for the dubious distinction of “Best Under-Appreciated Catholic Blog.”

I wasn’t sure of how I felt about that until I concluded that it’s probably better to be under-appreciated than over-appreciated. To be the latter would mean that TSW doesn’t really merit the notice that it gets. I guess I’ll take being under-appreciated any day.

These Stone Walls is in the process of undergoing a face lift with a restructuring that will make it easier to navigate and easier on the eyes. Suzanne, our Managing Editor, sent me some screen shots of the new design, and it really is eye catching. Vincenzo, who edits the visually stunning “Sancte Pater” blog has volunteered to assist with TSW graphics.

The reason for the redesign is that These Stone Walls has outgrown its hosting service so we are switching to a host that will better accommodate our increasing number of readers from around the world. The fact that we’re growing is good news for anyone with a voice in the Catholic public square, but especially when it’s a voice in the wilderness like TSW.

Our revised site will also have a prominent link to TSW’s Facebook page which is edited by my good friend, Leo Demers, a devoted Catholic whose career in television broadcast engineering has many milestones. I wrote of Leo once in “Simon of Cyrene, Compelled to Carry the Cross.” Like TSW itself, I have never actually seen the Facebook page, but the messages are sent to me.

As these changes come online over the next few weeks, please be patient with us. These things never go entirely without glitches so we may have a day or two of pages that are slow to load or difficult to view. All the bugs will be ironed out, and it will be worth the effort. I am most grateful to Suzanne for her expertise.


Fr Anthony Tran Van KiemI learned while writing this that a dear friend has died. Father Anthony Tran Van Kiem left this life as a faithful and devoted priest and servant of God on June 16 at the age of 92. I had not heard from Father Anthony for over a year and lost touch with him. In his native Vietnam, Father Anthony was a scholar and celebrity in his own right. He was a world renowned expert in an ancient dialect of the Vietnamese language, an author of textbooks, and an historian of his native culture.

Father Anthony emigrated to the United States in 1975. Two years ago, in his late 80s, he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct – a lucrative weapon used against many priests, some guilty but many both innocent and courageous. Father Anthony stood articulately and strongly by the truth. Many of his posted comments on TSW relate his agony at being falsely accused. In the end, however, truth prevailed.

Rev. Anthony Tran Van Kiem – August 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

From Feb 4 2009 to August 15 2009, my life was a nightmare. A certain man I have baptized more than 25 years ago, charged me with minors’ molestation.

The accusation was flimsy, no date, no precise location…yet I have been deprived of my priestly faculties automatically in compliance with the 2002 Dallas Charter. Later the Chancery felt sorry for me, but kept investigation for six months. Finally the accuser several times cajoled by the Chancellor for more incriminating details gave the diocese a very graphic accusation…and promised a compromising photograph and so on.

All the developments were kept behind my back. Finally after several requests, I am able to put my hands on the dossier on me compiled by the Chancellor. I sent immediately a letter to the Bishop showing him all the most conspicuous holes in the files, and honestly accused the Chancellor for having been my prosecutor instead of my defender.

A few days later the incriminating picture came to be proven a fraud. My priestly faculties have been restored. But I am puzzled to see my accuser walk away Scott free, and my Chancellor send me a merry note, “Rejoice!” No responsibility whatsoever regarding my name’s rehabilitation and therapy for a badly trampled 88 years old innocent.

I praise God for having preserved me from heart attack and insanity. Only thing I can do now is asking you all to have mercy on priests falsely accused.

I have offered Mass for this courageous priest, and I ask you to join me in my prayers for him. May his fellow martyrs now come to welcome him, and guide him in triumph to that Heavenly City, the new and eternal Jerusalem.

Editor’s Note: Several of you have expressed a desire to join Fr. MacRae in a Spiritual Communion. He celebrates a private Mass in his prison cell on Sunday evenings between 11 pm and midnight. You’re invited to join in a Holy Hour during that time if you’re able.

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