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Monday, November 14, 2011

Penn State, the Church and Bringing Good out of Evil...

Glory Days
Without a doubt, it is probably the darkest moment in college football history; a sex scandal that brought down arguably the greatest coach in the sport (at least in terms of wins) and forever scarred a Pennsylvania State University community, not necessarily for what was done (although, the heinousness of the crime is outrageous in itself) but what wasn’t.

For sixty seven years, the last forty five as head coach, Joe Paterno, or JoePa, as he is affectionately known, has stood for and demanded integrity, honor and a high moral character from his players.

Except, it seemed there was a little secret. A secret, which according to a Grand July indictment, involved a myriad of people and possibly even institutional neglect.

Regardless of who or whom are at fault for allowing former Defensive Coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, himself a well respected member of the community, whom some former players have recently called “a man apparently beyond reproach,” to use the school facilities to sexually assault at least eight boys, between the ages of 8 and 13, during a 15 year period, it should never have happened, or at the least, should have been stopped long ago.

From a graduate student turned coach, to Paterno, to school administrators, to school police and district attorney investigators, to school janitorial employees, to Sandusky’s charity administrators and attorneys, there is enough blame to go around.

Jerry Sandusky's arrest
Just who knew what and when, is still to be determined, but what is known is there was a total failure in stopping an apparently sick man from preying upon innocent boys, who were selected from the charity Sandusky founded, the Second Mile, for underprivileged kids and lured by gifts, tickets to games and an opportunity to hang around the Penn State football program.

Aside from the sickening nature of the crime, which, as a father, I am repulsed by, another storyline emerged amidst the allegations, shock, horror, and anger in the mainstream media.

It is a storyline that surfaces anytime a sexual crime against minors is reported since 2002.

Deservedly or not, it seems that no matter how far removed a case of sexual abuse may be, many in the media feel compelled to make it an indictment against the Roman Catholic Church. As if the Church had the market cornered on sex abuse cases or if the problem was just a Catholic one.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize the Church sex scandal was probably the worst large scale failure of institutional control in recent memory and the worst crisis the Catholic Church has ever faced in its two thousand year history, which may have repercussions for generations to come, especially in the eyes of those outside the Church or that don’t understand its purpose.

Still, as a member of the working media, I know, there should be some objectivity in reporting, and dragging the Church into the Penn State pottage is just an easy cheap shot.

A headline in the Orlando Sun Sentinel stated, “Why are football coaches just like Catholic Bishops?” in which reporter states:
While still hanging around campus, Sandusky continued to lure innocent young boys into his bedroom -- just like so many predatory priests, charged with sexual abuse but simply re-assigned by their bishop from one parish to the next, continued to prey on altar boys.

There are so many parallels between the Catholic Church scandal and the Penn State scandal. In both cases, the perpetrators were men. In both, the victims were children. In both, the crimes were sexual assault. And in both the enablers were men in power -- men, men, what's wrong with these men? -- who cared more about preserving the reputation of the mighty institution they led than obeying the law or protecting the lives of the people they were responsible for.

There's one big difference between the Catholic Church and Penn State. Once the cover-up came to light, coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier were immediately fired. Yet, 10 years later, not one -- not one! -- Catholic bishop has been fired. Religion is still more powerful than football.
And the Catholic bashing NY Times stated: 

If Penn State was the Catholic Church, Paterno was the Holy See of Happy Valley. Unlike two other top university officials implicated in the scandal, he has not been charged with a crime. But he is almost certainly guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy.
When a distraught graduate assistant told Paterno in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky with a boy in the locker-room showers, Paterno reported the incident to the athletic director but did nothing further, according to the grand jury statement. In other words, the great molder of young men discharged his legal obligation and moved on.
To be clear, this happened in 2002, when the Catholic Church sex scandals were front-page news just about every day. As a practicing Catholic himself, Paterno must have been following them; he was probably even pained by them.
So, let’s get this straight, not only is the NY Times suggesting Paterno gets charged, which considering the comparison, the writer also thinks the Pope should as well, but the last sentence is a bit intriguing. Is the writer suggesting that since Joe Paterno is Catholic he should have known better?

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post’s headline stated, “Is Penn State the Catholic Church?”

Yet, to their credit, the reporter also writes:
The similarities are cause of great dismay and condemnation. To be sure, the public should be outraged by reports of heinous crimes made more odious by the orchestrated cover ups perpetrated by superiors of the accused. Yet, whether it is at Penn State or the Catholic Church -- or for that matter, Orthodox Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, the U.S. Swim Team, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, the Boy Scouts or far too many other organizations local, national, and global -- credible charges of childhood sexual abuse have been exacerbated and made more horrendous by equally credible charges of conspiracy and concealment.
Sexual abuse of minors is not a Catholic Church problem, it’s a societal problem.

Now, after the scandal broke, Paterno admits, ““This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Hindsight, as the saying goes, is twenty/twenty.

It's easy to point fingers after the fact.  Unfortunately in the annals of humanity, we can see that many times good men have done very wrong things for what they think are righteous reasons.

Praying for the victims
It is ironic that the first prayer in the Catholic Mass each Sunday is the Penitential Rite, which is recited by the entire congregation, and says, "I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do..."

In one of the most poignant moments, since the story broke, before the first game without Paterno on the sidelines last Saturday, the entire Penn State Nittany Lions football team was joined in the middle of the field by Nebraska Cornhuskers players, as they knelt and held hands in prayer for the victims and for the healing of an entire community.

We can only hope that, as God brings good out of evil, this terrible episode can serve as an example to other institutions and organizations, including the Catholic Church, which has already enacted a zero tolerance policy, as what not to do so that this may never happen again…

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