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Prominent Priest Defends Sex Abusers, Later Apologizes

Image Source/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A well-known Catholic priest who hosts a weekly religious television show said in an interview this week that child sex abusers are often seduced by teenage boys and should not go to jail on a first offense.  But the comments were removed by the website that published them and replaced by an apology from the priest and the site's editors.

The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, 79, who hosts a weekly show on the Catholic television network EWTN, originally made the comments in an interview with the National Catholic Register.  He also referred to convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, as a "poor guy."

"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 was quoted as saying in the interview, which is no longer available on the paper's website.

The interview has now been replaced by a statement from Groeschel.

"I apologize for my comments," it said.  "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."

Jeanette R. De Melo, the site's editor in chief, included her own apology for posting the interview.

"Child sexual abuse is never excusable," she wrote.  "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."

The interview, billed as a reflection on the 25 years since Groeschel founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal order, covered many topics, but Groeschel's comments on child sexual abuse brought it national attention.

"Well, it's not so hard to see.  A kid looking for a father and didn't have his own -- and they won't be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping, but not having intercourse or anything like that.  I's an understandable thing, and you know where you find it, among other clergy or important people; you look at teachers, attorneys, judges, social workers," Groeschel was quoted as saying.

Quotes from the interview remained posted on websites including the National Catholic Reporter, the Huffington Post, and the Catholic blog Renew America, all of which criticized Groeschel for the remarks.

Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter called the comments "particularly disturbing" because of Groeschel's background in psychology.  He received a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

"(The comments) cannot stand unchallenged," Roberts wrote.

Groeschel could not be reached for comment.  Representatives for the National Catholic Register and EWTN did not immediately return calls for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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