The National Catholic Review

The events at Penn State have properly called for an examination of conscience from the university's Board of Trustees, which, apparently hoping Joe Paterno would resign in light of the revelations emerging in recent days, was forced to fire the college football legend. One can only hope it provokes a similar examination of conscience from Paterno and among his staff for their role in covering up the soul-crushing crimes of Jerry Sandusky--even among the students so blinded by tradition and the institution of Penn State football that they rebelled at this most basic recrimination for the coach’s unforgiveable lack of judgment and sins of omission.

"I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees' decision, but I have to accept it," Paterno said in a statement. I am disappointed that Joe Paterno did not perceive that at the minimum circumstances demanded his resignation. They may in fact require criminal charges.

Of course in the church we are painfully aware of the damage individuals can do when they seek to protect a cherished institution from scandal, sadly from precisely this kind of scandal. Still, I have never ceased to be amazed to hear the stories of people who had their suspicions, if not caught perpetrators outright in the act, and chose to go to superiors instead of to police. This phenomenon is repeated in the Penn State scandal as a young graduate assistant Mike McQueary stumbles upon Jerry Sandusky, a senior staff member, raping a ten-year-old child. Not only does he A.) not intervene in the attack or B.) call the police; he seeks counsel from his father, who apparently failed to provide good counsel, then waits a day before reporting the attack, not to police, but to his superiors.

What exactly is going through the mind of a person under these admittedly unnatural and stressful circumstances? Why have so many failed to do the obvious, right thing on these occasions?

Molesting a child is the kind of offense that envelopes all parties in a cloud of shame; it distorts perspectives, obscures the best path forward. The victim, ashamed to report or describe his victimization; the witnesses, whose experience in life probably have not prepared them to think clearly and act with resolution when confronted by such a despicable act; the perpetrators themselves, whose sickness at least is clear, probably feel a kind of shame themselves when so caught, but it is not a shame that promotes remorse and atonement, but cunning and self-preservation. How many have accepted implausible explanations from child molesters because on some level that was the easiest way out for everyone?

McQueary, the eyewitness in this case, may have been at a complete loss as to how to proceed; he may have been worried about his career at Penn State, probably a little of both. This sorry episode is just another example of why statements of policy and procedure must be established and beaten into the minds of staff at all institutions that touch on the lives of children. That way when someone perceives an act of child molestation—even if they succumb to brain freeze because of what they’ve seen—they can proceed like an automaton through a regimented series of steps that will protect defenseless children from these cruel attacks, as well as the irresolution of others. 


PAUL LOATMAN JR | 11/14/2011 - 7:45pm
PAUL LOATMAN JR | 11/14/2011 - 7:45pm
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2011 - 3:32pm

I googled Shakeshaft, and I find Breitbart with his agenda plus all manner of writing that aims to exonerate the Catholic Church by virtue of its not being the only, or necessarily the worst, offender in failing to protect children.  However, the point is not who is better or who is worse, the point is that child abuse of any kind is bad.

I don't know how you can jump to the conclusion that teaching religion in public schools will fix the problem of pedophiles getting access to children.  My mother, who was born in the 1920's and who grew up in Germany, told me about a teacher of something outside of school that she had who sat her down in front of him and dropped a few ashes in her lap to see how she would react.  She recognized this for what it was even though she was a little girl, and she told her mother about it, and she never went back to that teacher.  This had to have been in the 1930's.  Pedophiles have been around for ages, in other words, and their behavior cannot be blamed on anything outside of their perverted minds.  We don't protect ourselves from them by being more religious.
C Walter Mattingly | 11/14/2011 - 2:15pm
Regarding religious instruction in public schools here and elsewhere:
Norway handles the issue by teaching the version of Lutheran that their country has traditionally practiced for children ages 6-10. From 11-13, they teach the other major faith systems of the world, including Hindu, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and also secular humanism. Although there is some dispute of this system, it is the compromise the majority have agreed upon. Sweden, as far as I could determine, teaches Christianity in their public schools. Whatever the approach, they seem to have less crime and violence than most other countries, including us. In Germany, they allow the various school districts to teach the faith system which the district/school votes on. Not sure how often the votes occur. Germany's population is likely more varied than, say, Norway's. I personally like Norway's approach; however, since religious affiliation is plural in the US, perhaps vouchers or something along the lines of Germany's system would work best. And if a school voted to teach secular humanism, or atheism, or nothing, that would be fine with me.  In any case, Scandanavia has far less violent crime than the US, and it seems probable to me that almost any moral system provided by a major faith system might well help develop what seems a deficiency of moral sense among so many in our country.

You get no argument from me in the church abuse handling issue: it was and to a considerable extent remains a fiasco. I do think, however, referencing the US, that to talk about Cardinal Law's sorry record and to omit what I consider to be the fine expression of remorse, the publication of the names of many sexual offenders, and the explanation of what steps he has/is taking offered by Cardinal O'Malley in the August 29th issue of America, ignored by you and all other virulent critics excepting the more open-minded Norman Costa, tends to convey an image of polemics rather than a seeking of the whole truth of the situation as it develops over time. Also I confess my first concern, which I evidently share with Fr Martin, is the protection of our innocent children from sexual abuse. The bishops' mishandling is also an important concern to me. Anyone who reads the US Department of Education's own 2005 study of the immense problem of abuse and its mishandling in the public schools (google Shakeshaft to become informed) must confront the prospect that public school employee abuse of our children is a many times greater problem than abuse in the parochial schools, and that while some are prosecuted, many more have been ignored or gone unresolved. It's all there. And we all know that the very powerful NEA is not anxious to further study this issue, as was recommended in the 2005 report. Bottom line: not only are many times more children being abused in the public schools than the parochial, but more Catholic children are being abused there as well. 
Stanley Kopacz | 11/13/2011 - 12:49pm
Sorry, but I can't help but notice the different treatment given the ows student demonstrators at Berkeley and the pro-child rape demonstrators at Penn State.  Witness the Berkeley police with double grips on their sticks jamming them full force into the midsections of students, many of them rather slight.  Compare that to the total lack of arrests after the vandalism at Penn State.  Hopefully it's due to better restraint of the police at Penn State but no arrests?  But the contrast is stunning.  Also, not all ows demonstrations have been brutally confronted by the police.  Good for them.

One more thing.  How does one converse normally with someone, priest or coach or anyone, knowing that they've raped a child?  I've never had that experience but it must be very strange.
Anne Chapman | 11/13/2011 - 10:45am
Perhaps, Walter, the leadership of the Roman Catholic church should begin leading society and culture in a positive way - they have set the example, after all for the worst possible handling of pedophiles in their ranks that can be imagined, and the church is still at it (Kansas City, Philly, Ireland at the moment).  They seem to have learned nothing from the last ten years. If the Trustees of Penn State did, at least something has come from the bad. Too bad that none of this good still hasn't taken place in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church.

Their example - the bishops protect pedophile priests. Rome protects the bishops.  Rome does nothing about Cardinal Hoyos who praised a bishop for protecting a pedophile priest rapist and has done nothing as far as we know about the Belgian bishop who was molesting his own nephews, except hide him somewhere out of Belgium.  Perhaps instead of letting Cardinal Law be in charge of one of the most presitigious cathedrals in Rome, living in a luxury apartment (paid for by you and every other Catholic who puts money in collections), and throwing himself lavish and very expensive birthday parties, the pope should send him to a monatary to repent for the rest of his days. I suppose Maciel received different treatment because he wasn't fully a member of the club - he wasn't a bishop.  He obviously stepped on Cardinal Ratzinger's toes big-time but we will also never know what Maciel did to turn Joseph Ratzinger into an enemy - he is the only one to have truly been disciplined by the pope - bishops get a pass.

Do you agree, Walter? Should the Pope start calling for resignations, replace some of the bishops of various dioceses in the US who assisted Law in Boston, knew all about the pedophiles there, and were promoted after Law was whisked out of Boston by Rome to avoid further entanglements with the civil justice system?  Once these resignations are received, and bishops replaced with new, and hopefully more honest and moral men, perhaps the pope could act in a way that shows he is truly understanding of his own guilt in these matters, say a mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (he loves Latin), and also resign?

Perhaps then the leadership of the church might begin to say it is becoming a force for moral good.

p.s. About imposing religious instruction in the schools. I would assume religious instruction in the schools of Norway is Lutheran. In other countries, it is Islam. In others, Catholic (Ireland for example.  Although the government is now trying to do something about that given that the leadership of the church in Ireland has shown itself to be capable of terrible evil in protecting pedophiles instead of children).  What kind of religious instruction do you want to impose in public schools of the United States?  As you may recall, the system of Catholic parochial schools in the United Staes came about in order to avoid the state-defined and imposed religious instruction of American public schools which was Protestant.
C Walter Mattingly | 11/13/2011 - 5:55am
A good commentary, Kevin.
Some lessons to take from this and subsequent commentators' remarks: 
1/ The elite (Ed Gleason,(#2), whether secular or religious, will get exposed for their transgressions by the press because their sins are sensational and gather eyeballs and ad dollars, which is good, if painful, for the Church and Penn State.  Perhaps at least in part because of the sensational press coverage of the Church sex scandal (totally appropriate given the circumstances), the Penn State board of trustees, as Anne Chapman (11) notes, may well have realized they had no choice but to act aggressively, that any pile swept under the rug would be uncovered, one positive thing that may have arisen from this moral morass indicative of the frenzied sensationalism of our contemporary culture. As John Barbieri (#10) notes, the identified problems in the Church are far larger than those at Penn State or the NCAA; the problems in the public school system are far, far larger than the problems in the Church, and the problems in the family home are yet again far larger than those in the public school system. We can count on the press to shine light on Pope and Paterno, but what about these far greater numbers in our public schools, and our immensely greater numbers in the family? How to get at the root? Would a good start be to follow the lead of Norway on the issue and have religious education from ages 6-13 in our public schools? Or do we wish to keep our heads in the sand and emphasize the kiddie condom instruction/distribution syndrome thoughout our school system, akin to the policeman correcting the intoxicated teenager driving through the school zone at 60 miles an hour with his seat belt unbuckled by insisting he buckle his seat belt?
The early Christian church was highly dependent upon the support of women, who supported the early Fathers condemnation of abortion and infanticide rampant in the Roman world of the time.  Those things are returning with a vengeance are the canary in the coal mine. Can Plato and the Man/Boy Love Society be far behind? How many 12-year-old Greek looked forward to being penetrated by some old man? 
Ultimately, this is a problem far larger than Penn State or the Church, but rather of a culture that has lost its moral bearings. It is not that far from the frenzied sexual expression and Fritz Perls of the 60's culture to where we now find ourselves. 
ed gleason | 11/13/2011 - 12:53am
At the game today between Penn State and Neb,, the students collected 10s of thousands of dollars for the victims. In Philly Catholics are commenting that they never heard of any parish ever  passing the basket to collect a dime for victims. Some posters here suggest  we must wait in silence  for the trial and appeals of the Penn State leaders. The posters are so used to the Catholic lay silence, that has held tight for 25 years and is still holding, they have the nerve to suggest this wimpy approach to all of Pennsylvania. .  
Richard Salvucci | 11/12/2011 - 10:49am
I suspect we're only seen the tip of the iceberg, and in that sense, it's premature to think we know the story. While I can't imagine anyone is going to come out looking any better-and have the unpleasant feeling that there are some who are as yet presumed innocent who may come out looking much worse (if the Mann Act was violated, a federal offense has taken place)-we can do without the tu quoque. At least one of you in a professional writer.
Marie Rehbein | 11/12/2011 - 9:35am
It's not like there has been no legal action on this matter yet, David and M..  The grand jury has found the charges plausible enough to initiate the arrest of Sandusky and to charge two other administrators at Penn State with the crime of failing to report.  The only purpose for a trial at this point is to determine extenuating circumstances that would exonerate the two administrators sufficiently for them to avoid punishment and to determine to what degree to punish Sandusky.
Michael Gent | 11/11/2011 - 3:03pm
It's unsettling that an article and comments in 'America' appear to be part of the media feeding frenzy focused on the Penn State sex-abuse allegations.  Why the rush to judgment?  Why the broad brush condemnation of everyone whose name has been in any way associated with the charges brought against Sandusky?  As yet no one has had their day in court.

Regarding the Trustees' actions-at the news conference where they sacked Joe Paterno, they came across as self-righteous and self-satisfied.  The Pennsylvania Attorney General, and an attorney consulting with some of the alleged victims have both raised questions about the propriety of Paterno's firing.  Undoubtedly, the trustees were counseled by legal and P-R advisers to take decisive action in the interests of institutional damage control-rather than direct, but considered steps to get to the truth without damaging the reputations of those whose wrongdoing has yet to be proven.

We all can and should grieve over this frightening tragedy, grieve for all those who have, and continue to be hurt.  We should demand justice and not tolerate impunity.  But, as Christians shouldn't we resist the temptation to place blame, let alone endorse punishment, until all the facts are known and the accused have a chance to defend themselves?
8891044 | 11/11/2011 - 1:54pm
I agree with Ann Chapman.  So far, there have been more resignations at Penn State than in the hierarchy of the Church.  Law's birthday party is just a reminder to many in the Boston Archdiocese of how much the church protects its own, not the children or those in the pews, only the ones in power.
Nothing will ever change until bishops and popes are held accountable for the way they aided and abetted the molestation of children.
If we can criticize the negligence of college coaches and administrators, why can't we also criticize Catholic administrators?
Anne Chapman | 11/11/2011 - 10:08am
It's rather ironic, and terribly, terribly sad that the Trustees for Penn State had the moral courage to act quickly to hold Penn State staff accountable for their silence about the likely abuse of boys by one of their own, whereas the church's ''trustees'' in Rome continue to stonewall, continue to protect the bishops, continue to refuse to hold the bishops accountable, and, unlike Penn State immediately firing its President and beloved coach, promote those who protected child abusers in order to protect the institution - even though, legally speaking, neither the college President nor the coach broke any civil laws. This public, secular university seems to understand moral obligations more than does the leadership of the Roman Catholic church, the only institution in the world that claims to speak for God - literally. Perhaps that is the problem - its pride and arrogance in believing itself to be God's human voice on earth.

Note also that Penn State has assured its community of donors that none of their money will be used for the legal defense of those facing the court system for their failure to report.  Cardinal Law just threw himself a very expensive 80th birthday party at a top restaurant in Rome.  Whose money pays for defending all the bishops, cardinals, monsignors and priests who so betrayed the children of the Roman Catholic church? Why the church's ''donors'' - you and everyone else who has put money in the collection basket.  The people of God, voiceless and powerless in their own church, paid for Cardinal Law's lavish 80th birthday party too, at a restaurant that few in the pews would ever be able to afford for their own birthday parties.

Thomas Gumbleton has a column in the current National Catholic Reporter online -
''Church's Leadership has Strayed from the Gospel''.  How true, how tragic. 
John Barbieri | 11/10/2011 - 6:57pm
''Absolute power corrupts absolutely.''
                                               -Lord Acton
''The only thing necessary to assure the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.''
                                               -Edmund Burke
''A man may smile yet be a villain.''

The pedophile scandal at Penn State is disgusting. The powerless are raped by the powerful who consider themselves above the law. Yet the ''mills of justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine.'' Already the Coach and the President have been fired.
And, that will be just a start Let right be done. Fortunately, civil law will grant some justice however delayed.

As for the church, its' problems are far worse. The clergy portray themselves as moral arbiters. They have shown themselves to be anything but! Who will remove these men who think that they can finesse their evil conduct - pedophilia and obstruction of justice? Slowly civil authority will bring some of them to some little justice.  The institution will do little or nothing.

Penn State will reform. It will recover. It will regain its' good name.
Can the same be said for the Catholic Church?
Beth Cioffoletti | 11/10/2011 - 6:30pm
All you have to do is imagine that this was done to your own 10 year old son.  How outraged would you be?  Who would you let off the hook?  Doesn't matter if it is the bishop or priest or the coach ... these crimes are simply outrageously unacceptable.  What these people are doing must be exposed, now, and stopped.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 11/10/2011 - 5:23pm
Tom Roberts at NCR calls the Penn St, situation a catholic like scandal.
It's not "bashing bishops" but at this catholic site noting  the problems of our own institution which the awful situation at Penn St, throws into sharp relief.
I doubt the NCAA wil do much about Penn St. except perhaps make statements.
Big money is at stake and big money rules football.
Power/money  often override the needs of the weakest.
The culture of big time sports (exemplified in the growing number of superconference buildups) is deeply powerful with good PR.
I think it's analogusly the case that our church is still very powerful and utilizes Pr for a best face on its own dismal record of dealing with abuse.  
Juan Lino | 11/10/2011 - 4:05pm
Does it really add to the post to start with the Bishop bashing again Jim! 
Jim McCrea | 11/10/2011 - 3:27pm
What Ed said (#2)

Maybe Paterno thinks he is a bishop.  You know, protect the faithful from scandal.  And let's not forget the $70 mm football contribution to Penn State's coffers.  That is a POWERFUL incentive to hush things up.
Juan Lino | 11/10/2011 - 3:13pm
This is a very sad situation that, sadly, seems to repeat itself. 

I'm with Ed (#2) about the fact that whistle blowers are denigrated.  We, as a culture, say that we value such actions but in reality we really don't.  Unless that changes I am not sure that much will really change as the situation will just manifest itself in different ways.
ed gleason | 11/10/2011 - 2:45pm
 As long as whistle blowers are denigrated by any  institution Church or Penn State these crimes will continue to be covered-up. The underclass calls out/yells 'SNITCH" to anyone in the hood who witnesses horrendous crime. ...... the elite just whisper that word to one another with a cowardly head shake and frown as if that gesture absolves guilt.  
Bill Collier | 11/10/2011 - 2:32pm
An excellent comment, Kevin. Paterno and the graduate assistant, and perhaps others at Penn State, are not bad people, but as you stated it did not register with them that protection of the child (and possibly other child victims past and future) must come first. The message needs to be repeated over and over until it becomes a cultural commonplace. Many of us are required to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training in our workplaces on a regular basis, for example, and while it is true that this improper behavior has not disappeared, many people, and society in general, have been sensitized to the illegality of such conduct. Many victims of sexual harassment can bring the harassers' conduct to the attention of others who can act quickly, but who speaks for a child who is sexually abused? It has to be all of us.   
Matthew Pettigrew | 11/10/2011 - 4:13pm
Is it enough to punish only individuals such as Sandusky, Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and (I hope) McQueary? Shouldn't the institution itself be punished? Shouldn't the NCAA suspend the Penn State football program for a year or more? Isn't it imperative that a strong and clear message be sent to all schools that there is nothing more important than protecting our children?
Jim McCrea | 11/10/2011 - 3:36pm
Similarly (I want some of whatever HE is smoking!):

Rome's abuse prosecutor demands accountability
10 November 2011
The Vatican's chief prosecutor of clergy sex abuse cases has hinted that the sexual abuse of children by priests will never be stopped until church authorities become more accountable for the way they deal with such abuse cases. "No strategy for the prevention of child abuse will ever work without commitment and accountability," said Mgr Charles Scicluna on 3 November at an international forum held at the Italian Senate. He also said the Church still had a "great deal to learn from psychology, sociology and the forensic sciences".