Pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the floor: in an interview with the National Catholic Register published this week, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, the 78-year-old founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, said that in some priest sex abuse cases, the teen — not the priest — “is the seducer.”

Groeschel made the startling comments after being asked about his work with priests accused of sexual abuse:

“People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath. But that’s not the case. 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.”

Groeschel, seen at right with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then puzzlingly discussed intimacy between priests and minors in terms of “heterosexual” and “homosexual” and said that intolerance of relationships between men and boys is a relatively new phenomenon, even citing the case of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky (because, after all, at the time when Sandusky began molesting boys, society just looked the other way):

Here’s this poor guy — [Penn State football coach Jerry] Sandusky — it went on for years. Interesting: Why didn’t anyone say anything? Apparently, a number of kids knew about it and didn’t break the ice. Well, you know, until recent years, people did not register in their minds that it was a crime. It was a moral failure, scandalous; but they didn’t think of it in terms of legal things.

If you go back 10 or 15 years ago with different sexual difficulties — except for rape or violence — it was very rarely brought as a civil crime. Nobody thought of it that way. Sometimes statutory rape would be — but only if the girl pushed her case. Parents wouldn’t touch it. People backed off, for years, on sexual cases. I’m not sure why. . .

At this point, (when) any priest, any clergyman, any social worker, any teacher, any responsible person in society would become involved in a single sexual act — not necessarily intercourse — they’re done.

And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.

Astonishing, right? But Fr. Groeschel isn’t just some random friar running off at the mouth in a secluded monastery somewhere — he’s actually something of a Catholic rockstar. When I was a teenager in Green Bay, Wisconsin running away from my sexuality, I worked in a Catholic bookstore where we couldn’t restock Groeschel’s dozens of books fast enough. Despite his advanced age, Fr. Groeschel is in high demand for speaking gigs, spiritual direction, and religious retreats across the country. And he’s even got his own television show on the Eternal Word Television Network. (For those of you who don’t know, EWTN is the traditionalist Catholic equivalent of the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network.)

So yeah, this is kind of a big deal in the Catholic world, especially because Groeschel was one of the relatively few figures who was admired to some degree by conservatives (for his views on reproductive rights and homosexuality) and liberals (for his work in other social justice and civil rights issues). It’s just a thought, but Groeschel’s fans may want to re-evaluate their opinion about a man who would make such outrageous excuses for predatory priests.