Priests' Psychologist to Speak
Franciscan Slated to Attend Local Conference

By Joan Treadway
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
March 22, 2003

In the wave of scandal that has hit the Catholic Church, many priests who were found to have sexually abused children are deeply penitent for the harm they have done, said a psychologist for priests.

Others are "just destroyed, burnt out," said the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who is speaking in New Orleans next week.

Groeschel, who is the spiritual director of the Archdiocese of New York, has counseled some of these men and said that he agrees with the church's position that they should not function as priests or be placed around children. But Groeschel also believes they can still do good in the world, and he is helping them find lay jobs, such as assistants at hospices for people suffering from AIDS or at centers with elderly residents.

Groeschel, an internationally known lecturer and author whose latest book is "From Scandal to Hope" will be a featured speaker at the 27th annual Southern Regional Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It will be held Friday through March 30 in Kenner's Pontchartrain Center at Williams Boulevard and the lake. About 3,500 people are expected to participate.

"Put out Into the Deep" is the theme of the conference, taken from Jesus' words to his fisher apostles. Archbishop Alfred Hughes has endorsed the event, inviting people to attend and stating, "These words of Jesus . . . form a challenge to us to go deeper into prayer and to lower our nets for a catch in evangelization."

Groeschel will speak twice Friday, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. sessions for clergy. On March 29 he will deliver the homily during a 9 a.m. Mass, focusing on the new luminous mysteries of the rosary. At 1:30 p.m., he will speak on "Devotion to Jesus" at a general session.

Opinion on scandals

Although Groeschel said in an interview from his New York office that he doesn't yet know exactly what he will talk about in New Orleans, he has strong opinions related to the scandals involving priests.

He believes that many members of the news media focused on those stories more often and more prominently than they did on similar cases involving abusers from other denominations or who served as staff members in schools or youth organizations.

And he believes that the disproportionate emphasis was deliberate, that these reporters wanted to discredit the church because they disagree with its positions on abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality.

Additionally, some priests have unfairly been attacked in the purge, he said. Groeschel knows of one priest who is now the subject of an investigation into an incident in which he had to inform a 15-year-old that his father had died. In carrying out the difficult task, the priest tried to comfort the youth by putting his arms around him, but the gesture backfired when the boy panicked.

Hope for church

Just as former priests who have been abusive may still make valuable contributions to society, Groeschel said he believes that the whole Catholic Church can emerge reformed and renewed from the scandals.

Catholic education at all levels needs to be revamped because it has started teaching what he said amounts to "a confused humanism." Instead, he hopes for a return to an emphasis on doctrine and teachings about Christ.

He also wants to generate more prayer and more devotion throughout the church. Devotion, he says in his book, "is a vibrant psychological conviction that Christ in eternal glory, the heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, Our Lady or one of the saints knows me. It is the realization that in some divine way God is aware of me, or that in some spiritual way, with God's help, Our Lady is aware of me."

Groeschel plans to promote the formation of more prayer groups, including some specifically for the victims of abuse at the hands of priests, although he said that right now many of these people are too angry to participate.

He cited the charismatics as an example of a group of people who already have the kind of enthusiasm for the spiritual life that he hopes will spread: "They are fervent, not lackadaisical."

Other activities

In addition to a number of speakers, the charismatic conference will include lively music and singing. Other speakers will include the Rev. David Pivonka, director of youth conferences at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, who will speak Friday at 7:50 p.m., March 29 at 11 a.m., and during a 3 p.m. Mass the same day; and Molly Kelly, a mother and grandmother from Philadelphia who promotes chastity, who will speak March 29 at 2:45 and 7 p.m.

A healing service slated for March 30 at 9 a.m. will be followed by the concluding Mass at 1:30 p.m.

Fees for the conference are $35 for one adult; $55 for a married couple; $65 for a family; $12 for a single session; $15 for a youth workshop; and $25 for all day March 29. The money goes to expenses involved in putting on the conference.

Joan Treadway can be reached at or (504) 826-3305


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