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John W. MartensNovember 09, 2011

People often talk about absent men, fathers who are not there, male role models lacking in boys’ lives, but what about when the men are everywhere and nowhere to be seen?  In the case of the allegations of sexual abuse in the Penn State football program the men were not, and are not, there. And this sexual abuse case in the Penn State football program is a program wide problem, even if the alleged abuser is the only man who harmed children directly, because, make no mistake, the one accused of abuse relied on the silence of those around him to continue his reign of terror on the souls and bodies of young boys.  This is about men and boys, masculinity and power, truth and cowardice. It is about men who were willing to let boys continue to be sexually abused because of twisted views of what it means to be a man, and how powerful men want themselves to be seen and treated. Think about this: Penn State football is about no-nonsense, tough defense; it is Linebacker U, strong, straightforward and in your face; it is hard hitting and direct. Young men learn about teamwork, how to support each other and play hard and what it means to be tough. Unless, as the direct testimony of then grad assistant Mike McQueary  states, a 10 year old boy is being raped in the shower.

Apparently, an abused child is someone you all run away from, not even learning his name, or ever finding out what happened to him, even if he is still alive. Not only do you not rally around to protect him, you try to run away and cover up the story and go on with tough, direct, straightforward football, teaching these college athletes how to be men.  How could it be that the power, strength, directness and toughness went away? How is it that a grad assistant, the head coach, the AD and other administrators – leaders of men – never learned the name of a boy who Mike McQueary stated was being raped in public? Why could they not protect him? What were they scared of? Why did they allow the man who one man claimed from direct witness to be a child rapist remain a friend of the program, with an office in the building, still bringing boys some years later to the same sites? How could they all pretend it was okay?

This is a story about men and boys. This is not a story about the evil of men and the saintliness of women, but try a thought experiment. You can make any excuse you want for these men, but picture your mother (or grandmother, sister, wife or daughter) walking in on a scene of a child being raped, and ask yourself, what would my mother do? Would she walk away from the child? Would she go consult with someone as to the best course of action? Would she report to her higher up and consider that her legal and moral obligations were met? Or would your mother, as frail and aged, or as tough and young as she is, be saving a child from the clutches of a destroyer of children by any means necessary? Why did these men not meet their moral obligations?

The problem is that for men, who often define themselves by honors received, power, wealth and accolades gathered, keeping up appearances can become a never-ending charade. If we define ourselves by the stereotypical male traits – no weakness, always in control, always in charge - our self-definition must always and everywhere be a lie. Perhaps it is true that there is genuine power, honor, wealth and reputation we have for short periods of time, but ultimately none of this lasts or matters. Someone stronger comes along, someone more powerful comes along, someone with more wealth comes along. Honors go, wealth is ephemeral, accolades are showered on someone else and power fades as we age and someone else takes our place. What we are left with are the people we loved and cared for and who loved and cared for us and the legacy of our behavior, not shinily polished press releases touting our legacy. Finally, we all die. As Jesus teaches us, we are all weak and dependent upon others, and primarily, we are dependent upon God for our very being and others for the goodness of life, in our relationships, and to meet our human needs. This is why Jesus told his apostles – all men – that at the heart of their mission was service to others (“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all”: Mark 9:35)  and the model disciple was a child:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

You do not tell on a man who is alleged to be raping a child, or call him to account, apparently, because the things you want to preserve – reputation, job, friendships, money – are more important than a child’s life. This is the lie of a certain type of masculinity, which does not want to admit weakness, but wants to be known as “the greatest.” The truth must take precedence over these disordered desires before this false masculinity can be unmasked, not just in others, but in each of us. For what Jesus was getting at is that we are all weak and powerless and frightened. The most powerful men in the world, those who have it all, were once children and will one day be old men if they live that long, frail, maybe unable to feed themselves, or take care of their most basic needs. A false masculinity tells us to be “unlike” children, to always be strong, mean and tough, but it is hard to maintain appearances for we know it is a farce, a masquerade. To maintain the farce we must create victims and bully them, scare them and hurt them, let them know that someone tougher is in the room.

This works for a while. On the football field, it works until you get too old or your body breaks down, or until you get injured or someone tougher than you comes along.  You can victimize children, those smaller, weaker, more vulnerable than you, who you can push around or force to do your will, until someone stops you from doing evil, until someone unmasks your lies. So why did Jerry Sandusky, according to the charges against him, get away with victimizing children for so long?

Because the men who were there did not behave as true men. An abused child is weak, vulnerable, scared and hurt – they open us up to the reality of human evil and the pain and weakness of life. I want to suggest that the reason the Penn State men did not act is because they were protecting themselves, their images, myths, jobs and reputations. They were cowards because they did not have the courage to face the truth. Their friend and colleague, according to the indictments handed down, was sexually abusing and harming children, but they could not find the power and strength, the courage and toughness, in themselves to bring it to an end and their friend to justice. That would have meant facing their own weakness, the possibility of the loss of reputation, a scandal, and perhaps even job loss. Better to turn away and pretend to be molding real men on the football field, where you cannot be frightened by things like the truth of weak, abused, vulnerable and hurt ten year old boys.  Better to serve your own interests than those who unmask the false masculinity of power, honor and reputation. But it is with the weak, the vulnerable, the scared and the hurt that Jesus says real men emerge. Who is the greatest? “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).  For whom is honor reserved? “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). It is tough to be weak and vulnerable as a man, but it is even tougher to be an abused child and wonder where all the men have gone.

Updated: Tonight the Board of Trustees at Penn State University fired Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, the university president. It is not clear that the former football coach yet understands his (in)actions or those of the school administrators, as he spoke to his football team today, 

Earlier Wednesday, Paterno talked to his team for about 10-15 minutes in an auditorium of the football facility on campus. Standing at a podium, he told players he was leaving and broke down in tears.

Players gave him a standing ovation when he walked out. Junior cornerback Stephon Morris said some players also were nearly in tears as Paterno spoke.

"I still can't believe it," Morris said. "I've never seen coach Paterno like that in my life." Asked what was the main message of Paterno's talk, Morris said: "Beat Nebraska."

Tears for the loss of his job, tears for his players are understandable; but does he understand he is not the victim?

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Carolyn Disco
11 years 6 months ago
An extraordinary and moving thread. Thank you, thank you, John Martens! Simply outstanding.

FWIW, I also note that the lead judges in opening up church secret archives were women: Constance Sweeney (Geoghan), Lelia Kern (Shanley), Nettie Vogel in RI, and in holding bishops feet to the fire: Louise deCarl Adler in San Diego's bankruptcy sham, among others.

It was the availability of these files, held secret for decades by male judges, that allowed the Globe to expose the rot. The newspaper's lead investigator said there would have been no scandal without the documents. 

This is not to say that women are exempt from the same behavior (religious women's orders a prime example), but I'd like to think that women priests and bishops, as well as spouses of same, could have made an important difference if they had been in rectories and chanceries.

 ''Because the men who were there did not behave as true men...They were cowards because they did not have the courage to face the truth.'' Yes, cowards, just like the enabling bishops.
Molly Roach
11 years 6 months ago
And let the enabling bishops take this story to their November meeting and ponder it deeply.
ed gleason
11 years 6 months ago
What the bishops in this November should note is how fast "cardinal" Paterno was shown the door. 'go and do likewise'
Carolyn Disco
11 years 6 months ago
''Tears for the loss of his job, tears for his players are understandable; but does he understand he is not the victim?''

Obviously not. Nor did the rioting students, who displayed their conscious ignorance of who the true victims are.

Again, John Martens, yours is the most impressive commentaries of the many I have read the last two days. 
Marcia Mann
11 years 6 months ago
I very much appreciate this post of John Martens; it covers everything in my view that is important and tragic in the abuse of children with regard to adult reaction.  I concur completely in Martens' view of the definition (still generally embraced in our world) of what masculinity and being a man is, and how this definition outpictured does so much damage in our churches, schools, businesses, and personal lives.  My response to the thought of what would a woman do if they saw a child being hurt unfortunately, is that I really don't think women would or have responded much differently than we've seen men respond.  Stories of child abuse that I have been familiar with over the years often include the picture of the mother or female authority figure turning away at evidence that a child in her world is being molested.  After all, this prevailing definition of being a man has also permeated the consciousness of women, many of us being formed from birth in believing our role is to idolize man and uphold his "being a man".  I believe church has been very key to this sick formation, clearly outpictured in what it teaches our "vocation" to be.  Instead of teaching and speaking the language of becoming a human person to our young girls, they are taught instead that they are complementary and their role in life is as mother/wife or single woman.  Having raised (and raising) my seven children in the church, five of whom are girls, it's been an eye-opener for me to witness this.  The four daughters of mine who have and are still attending an all-girl archdiocesan Catholic school make this a daily living experience. 
Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago
M Mann,

If it had somehow been possible for the janitor or the grad assistant in the locker room to have been a woman, would she have acted in that moment to stop the rape? 

I tend to agree with you that women act no differently than men when more distanced from the incident.  Mrs. Sandusky would be a prime example of this, I think.

So long as the boys are being taught that they are in a complementary role also (a role which they are in whether taught or not), then I would not take issue with what your daughters are taught.
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
John,  it appears that the Catholic church has NOT learned to be vigilant in rooting out abusers - the current cases in Kansas City and Philadelphia being the most recent examples in the US and similar examples in Ireland during the last couple of years with another report from another diocese due out soon.  

It is unlikely that the church - across the board - will ever be vigilant until the ''trustees'' in Rome begin firing the executive staff that maintain silence to protect the institution and the ''program'' instead of rewarding them.

The pope who claimed that he had no power to remove bishops has lied - he wasted little time in removing Bishop Morris in Australia who commit the extreme heresy of suggesting that all sacraments should be open to all Catholics, including women. Child sex abuse seems of little concern to bishops, cardinals, or to the pope, in spite of countless empty words and crocodile tears when cameras are present. This article from a newspaper in Sydney, Australia summarizes this

Progressive bishops are seen as more dangerous than those engaged in sex abuse.
NEWS from the Vatican last week: it has taken decisive action against an errant Australian bishop, showing that it has a zero tolerance policy towards deviants.
But before Catholics burst into applause, the bishop who was forced to resign was not guilty of sexual abuse. On the contrary, Toowoomba bishop William Morris was a noted supporter of abuse victims in his diocese, and widely admired as a sensitive and pastoral leader.

There are predatory rapists in clerical collars in Australia who have not been forced to resign. ...it wasn't abuse that sparked the Vatican's ire ... It was his doctrinal deviancy in having the temerity, in a ... pastoral letter about the catastrophic priest shortage, to suggest not that the church ordain women or married men but merely that it might consider a discussion...the church's worst enemy is its own leadership
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-catholic-churchs-worst-enemy-resides-in-the-vatican-20110508-1ee71.html#ixzz1dh4Eprkj

We are also fully aware of the reality that not only does Rome not discipline bishops and cardinals who protect sexual abusers thus creating countless of additional victims who might have been spared, he has actually rewarded them for their loyalty to an institution while betraying children. 

John - How is this ever to change when Rome protects and even rewards bishops who protect sexual perverts?  This sickness that is destroying the church seems to have its source at the very top. So how are those at the ''bottom'', voiceless and powerless in their own church, to effect change?

Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago

What role do you think the mystique of the Catholic clergy plays in making pedophilia among the clergy worse than pedophilia in the general population?  I think its the whole story. 

The non-Catholic clergyman or woman is one of us, while the Catholic clergy are supposedly capable of making Jesus come into the bread and wine by reciting special words only they are allowed to use.  By contrast, in the Lutheran Church Jesus comes through the bread and wine into us on his own.

The sense develops that Catholic clergy have special power to do one harm because of this special role they play relative to God.  Therefore, one must comply, since not complying is disobedience of a much greater magnitude than disobeying the government with all its power, as one might be doing in defying a school teacher or a coach at a public institution. 

If the individual priest declares that sexual contact is God's will, even if one realizes that it is not true (which some children might not), there is still a sense that this individual who apparently has supernatural power can use this power in malevolent ways if he chooses.  It's not good to make Father angry, in other words, because he might cause heaven to "retain" something else one has done wrong, since in Catholic teaching this power to forgive or retain has been handed down instead of only having been imparted to the Disciples, as Protestants believe.

I think the Church heirarchy believes in the supernatural capabilities of those it ordains, and it seems to me that this plays a role in their not wanting to do anything too exclusionary to those who have been ordained and who would be found guilty by the legal system if they were being held to the same standard as the average person.

If this were not the case, it would be a simple thing to identify and avoid those priests who are like weirdos one encounters everywhere else. It would be no big deal to for one parishioner to tell the others to stay away from Father Pervert.  It would be no problem for someone to turn him in to the police.

I can really see why Anne Chapman cannot resign herself to having the Church call it a day on this matter because it has reduced or eliminated contact between abusers/abuser protectors and the parishioners.
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
Thank you for responding, John (#9).  It is so rare that a reader can get a response from a writer.  You do so regularly and it is appreciated.

I would like to bring up another issue. The bishops and the pope have been complicit in protecting men who molested and raped children. This created more victims than would have existed had the bishops and pope done the morally correct thing and asked the police to open an investigation.  Thus the bishops and even the pope who has rewarded these bishops instead of removing them from their jobs are complicit in the crimes committed against thousands of young people. They have enabled the sins of rape and abuse. This makes them indirectly also guilty of these sins and crimes. They could have stopped the process and they didn't. I believe the legal world calls this being an ''accessory'' to the crime. Initially they may have been ''accessories after the fact'' - but once they knew, and kept silence, and transferred child molesters to new parishes to molest again, they assumed status of full accessories and they are guilty of a terrible sin.

The bishops and the pope need the members of the church for their financial support. Of course the church has many investments that produce income - financial investments, real estate, and various businesses - including, we have recently learned, being the sole owner of a German publishing house that publishes pornography, among other things. Yet, without the money from the pews, supporting the hierarchical structure of the church would be difficult.

So, those who remain in the pews, paying for the support of the hierarchy, must also examine their own consciences. They must ask themselves about their own complicity in supporting the corruption that is eating away at the structure of the church.

Remaining hopeful is well and good and a christian thing to do, but is it enough?
Without taking some kind of action, it risks becoming more of a tactic to soothe one's own conscience than one that might effect real and desparately needed change in the church.

The young are not the only people that this situation has worn down and have left the church.  I could not enable the hierarchy with the ''tax'' taken from my small contributions on Sundays, so I too no longer attend mass at a Catholic church on Sundays.  I don't know what else to do. I refuse to continue to enable financially, in even a very small way, the ongoing dysfunction.
Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago

By "worse", I did not mean quantity.  However, since you mention it, it is the case that defenders of the organization often claim that the problem is no more common in the priesthood than in the general population, as if that fact should pacify critics of the Church.  As you say, the Church has more of an obligation to prevent this and to heal this than does a secular organization so that it can carry out its mission.  My point, though, is that there are beliefs pertaining to the status of priests and the power of sacraments, including ordination, that make the whole problem worse to deal with.  Just as the Church claims not to have been given any power to ordain women, it has not been given any power to un-ordain the pedophiles it has ordained.  It makes it all seem like God is good with pedophiles doing their thing - we are all God's children, Jesus loves the pedophile, too, God is merciful, etc.  The only thing is that Jesus said, in so many words, that whoever harms a child would be better off not to have been born, and I think this applies to what will befall him in the afterlife not to how he will be dealt with by his community.  It would be nice to have, say, the Pope tell the faithful that God is not likely to be good to Cardinal Law in the afterlife based on what Jesus said.  However, the Pope simply says nothing about the perpatrators and their protectors and protects the protectors instead.  It is worse in the Catholic Church, in my opinion, because it cannot seem to get rid of the thing.  Penn State will move on, the Catholic Church, not.
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
  Yet, once allegations come to light and proof of abuse comes to light, the abusers must be removed and the truth must be made clear. Other children cannot be put at risk to protect the mystique of the Church or the clergy.

And that, John, is what has not happened in the church.  The bishops systematically protected abusers, hid their crimes.  This happened in many countries. Almost ten years after the Boston Globe broke the story, it is STILL happening - in the US (Kansas City and Philly being the two ongoing cases), in Ireland (Cloyne etc), and doubtless in other places as well.

WHY is it STILL happening?

Could it be because the pope has consistently rewarded bishops who protected the perverted priests and not disciplined or demanded resignations from them? 

When the complicity of Cardinal Law in enabling the rape and molestation of hundreds of kids AFTER he knew about the priest molesters under his supervision came out, what did the pope do?

Did he demand Law's resignation?

No - he whisked Law  to Rome, away from further encounters with the US justice system and REWARDED him for his loyalty with a very cushy position in Rome.

 And just a week or two ago, this totally unrepentant man threw himself a lavish 80th birthday party at one of Rome's top restaurants. Whose money paid for that little narcissistic extravaganza? The hard-earned wages of the people in the pews whose idea of a birthday splurge is dinner at the Olive Garden?

Several of the bishops who worked for Law during that time, who also knew of the abuse and the cover-up, were also rewarded for their ''loyalty'' to the church and promoted to head their own dioceses.  The pope appointed Levada of San Francisco to head the CDF, the pope's previous job - the highest ranking American in Rome - a man who was notorious for protecting sexual abusers. Now he is safely in Rome, away from the US judiciary.  These are just a couple of examples.

To go back to what you said in your post (bolded above) - yes, that is what must be done. That is what Catholicsexpected the church would do way back in 2002 after Dallas. But, they passed what has turned out to be a meaningless charter, started fingerprinting CCD teachers, and sent a claar message to bishops that they would be protected by Rome no matter what. Parish priests might be kicked out, but the bishops who protected them will not.

Gven the message sent to the bishops by Rome that those who protected sexual perverts and hid their crimes would be protected by Rome, and even rewarded, it is clear that the betrayal of the young and of the entire church includes those all the way up the hierarchical ladder to the very top.

Those who dared speak the truth - men such as Fr. Thomas Doyle way back in the late 80s, and Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia - are pariahs in the church.

The bishops know where their bread is buttered.  They choose their own ambitions over truth, justic, and simple morality. And yet they claim to speak for Jesus.

Remaining ''hopeful'' will do nothing to change the culture of privilege in the hierarchy, its smug self-understanding that it is above both civil law and God's law.

 What will?

And why should the people in the pews continue to support these men with their hard-earned money?
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
I just read Marie's response too (it appeared while I was typing) and I hope you will also respond to the points she makes. Thank you, Marie for your post.

Thank you for the conversation, John. It is one that most  Catholics who hold positions of responsibility and authority in a church-related organization refuse to have - they prefer to remain silent when the hard questions are asked. 

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