Penn State and Church abuse scandals

UPDATE: Joe Paterno has been fired as head football coach at Penn State University. The University's president, Graham Spanier, has also been fired.

What are the parallels between the Penn State abuse scandal and the many church abuse scandals...?

Mark Silk believes the "church of Happy Valley" may be a helpful analogy while considering the developing story of the Penn State University sex abuse scandal:

The Church of the Happy Valley
By Mark Silk on in "Spiritual Politics"

Writing about the Penn State sexual abuse coverup scandal over at, E.D. Kain raises the Catholic church analogy only to dismiss it.

"In the Catholic Church, perhaps the worst of the sexual scandal reported outside of the Irish fiasco took place within the secretive, almost cult-like, Legion of Christ. At its epicenter was the Legion's founder, the now-disgraced Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado. The secrecy and the cult-like power that Degollado held over his followers made sexual abuse that much more likely to occur and made his victims and witnesses to his crimes that much less likely to come forward."

But a sports team is not a cult, and Penn State is not some extreme religious order tucked away in a far-off country, protected by a powerful Pope. The head of the program, legendary coach Joe Paterno, isn't even a suspect.

But the analogy is worth taking seriously. For we're not just talking about the normal self-protective crouch that institutions go into when one of their leaders does wrong. Nor just about the financial stakes.

As anyone who has ever visited State College, Pa. knows, Penn State football is a cult, a pilgrimage site complete with shrines and devotees and rituals.

Coming Clean Is Only Play for Penn State, Paterno: Harlan Coben
From Bloomberg

Dear Penn State: Please do the right thing. Come clean. Totally and completely. There is a time and place for privacy and discretion. This is neither.

We will ask questions. You need to give full answers. Don’t sugarcoat them. It’s too late for that (always was, in fact). Don’t spin or check with focus groups or worry about how your answers will sound. They will sound bad. But accept that they will also sound better than more lies would -- and that they cannot possibly sound worse than what we’ve already heard.

Do not circle the wagons. Do not worry about legal ramifications or liability or exposure. This is too big, too monstrous for that. You are a wonderful institution of learning with a rich academic tradition. I have visited your campus several times and have always left it feeling uplifted. Please now remember the integrity with which you were established. You will be judged -- not only by what has already occurred but also by what you choose to do about it now.

So please tell the truth.

Maureen Dowd sees parallels between the Catholic Church response and Penn State's

Personal Foul at Penn State
From The New York Times

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel says, is “an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.” Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program.

Paterno was still practicing for the game against Nebraska on Saturday, and supportive students were rallying at his house. This is what Israel calls “the delusion that the ability to win football games indicates anything at all about your character or intelligence other than that you can win football games.”

And from Sports of the Times, this reflection by Jonathan Mahler on the parallels:

Grand Experiment Meets an Inglorious End
By Jonathan Mahler in the New York Times

Even using the term “scandal” to describe what went on at Penn State, where a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of molesting several boys over 15 years, seems to diminish it.

In the world of big-time college sports, the term has been cheapened by overuse. If these allegations prove to be true — Sandusky has maintained his innocence — they’ll be a far cry from football players’ trading memorabilia for discounts on their tattoos.

A better comparison would be the sexual molestation scandals that rocked another insular, all-male institution, the Roman Catholic Church.

The parallels are too striking to ignore. A suspected predator who exploits his position to take advantage of his young charges. The trusting colleagues who don’t want to believe it — and so don’t.

Even confronted with convincing proof, they choose to protect their institution’s reputation. In the face of a moral imperative to act, there is silence.

This was the dynamic that pervaded the Catholic clerical culture during its sexual abuse scandals, and it seems to have been no less pervasive at Penn State.

Comments (1)

Message to the PB and the Chancellor -- say something NOW about Bede Parry ordination and that you tried to do something good but maybe it was a mistake and offer to help anyone whom he offended after ordination. If no one was abused -- your action was good. If you wait and someone comes forward - you are on the same path as Paterno.

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