Praying for Father Groeschel

Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., died last week on the eve of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of his religious order. On page five of this edition of The Anchor you can read his obituary, which includes a very unfortunate incident which occurred at the end of his public life, when he made outrageous comments about clerical sexual abuse. He subsequently apologized, saying, “I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”

His order, the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, issued a statement at the time, which in part said, “About seven years ago, Father Benedict was struck by a car and was in a coma for over a month. In recent months his health, memory and cognitive ability have been failing. He has been in and out of the hospital. Due to his declining health and inability to care for himself, Father Benedict had moved to a location where he could rest and be relieved of his responsibilities. 

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. Our prayers are with all those who have been hurt by his comments, especially victims of sexual abuse.” A spokesman for the order, Father Glenn Sudano, C.F.R., said, “At some point you have to take the car keys away from grandpa.” 

These terrible comments, made (one would hope) due to diminished mental capacity, should not totally erase the good that Father Groeschel did in this life. Often when someone in the secular world dies, a political cartoon will appear on the editorial page of daily papers, showing this person receiving a halo and being ushered into Heaven. We here at The Anchor do not claim that Father Groeschel has now walked into Heaven, nor would he have taught that in this life. He would want prayers for his soul offered so that his purgatory might be minimized (not that we are saying that he is in purgatory, but if you really love someone, you would offer prayers for their soul once they die, not just celebrate their life). 

Father Groeschel spoke of his desire to at least get to purgatory. Christopher Bell on wrote, “Father Benedict often said he was looking forward to going to purgatory because it was like Jersey City where he grew up.” After his rehabilitation from his being hit by a car, he told, “Many times, during my period of recovery, the idea of purgatory crossed my mind. Indeed it was a purgatory. And during those quiet days and weeks I met myself. I cannot say I did this perfectly, but I came away from those times with a clearer realization of my absolute dependency on Christ, of the many ways in which I have failed Him, and of my great need for repentance.”

Speaking about purgatory, Father Groeschel said, “This is something to think about when you go to a funeral. You look at the body and you say, ‘Where is your soul?’ Perhaps the deceased has entered, like the saints, immediately into his place forever — remember, one must be completely innocent and utterly pure to go to that place of absolute innocence and purity. That’s why, if you’re planning on missing purgatory, you may be in for a disappointment. We do strive to accept Salvation completely while we are on earth, but most of us have never opened our hearts completely to it. This is what happens in purgatory. God doesn’t change while we’re in purgatory. We change.”

Father Groeschel brought a love for the poor and outcast, for the neglected prisoner and unborn children, for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, to the airwaves and the printing press, always tinged with his New York/New Jersey sense of humor, as he witnessed to the presence of Christ in this world. As we pray for his soul, may we also entrust him to the intercession of the saints in Heaven, who may include souls of people whom he served in this life.

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