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Bishop Sean Rowe on Penn State

Bishop Sean Rowe on Penn State

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, reflects on “How can institutional interests be placed above children” in the Erie Times-News:

In 2010, I learned that one of my predecessors, the Rt. Rev. Donald Davis, had sexually molested young girls while he was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. That wrenching experience, and my decision to make the news public, have been much on my mind as I follow the horrifying child-rape scandal that has convulsed Penn State University.

I can’t fathom how Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, the university’s former president, and other officials apparently justified their decision to place personal and institutional self-interest above the safety of vulnerable children. But it is important to understand their thinking, because, as Pat Howard detailed in Sunday’s Erie Times-News, their brand of reasoning is not confined to college football or even to the Catholic Church.

Most institutions prefer to keep their secrets, particularly the damaging ones. Leaders inclined to go public with allegations against a sexual predator, and to confess their institution’s culpability in the violation of children, encounter a cadre of lawyers, insurance specialists and other advisers opposed to any more transparency than is absolutely necessary.

When I learned that Bishop Davis had abused girls, I believe the grace of God and the gift of a good diocesan chancellor who saw the issue as I did helped me to make the right decision. It was not easy or pleasant. But even having learned about the ways in which institutions work to protect their most damaging secrets, the decisions made at Penn State still astound and distress me.

Episcopal Café’s article on Rowe’s actions in 2010 is here.


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Bp. Sean Rowe’s handling of the the abuse of young girls by his predecessor Donald Davis is a model that all those in authority could follow. I’m sure that doing the right thing is extremely difficult, but it must be done. I especially admired Bp. Rowe’s outreach to the victims and offer to make amends.

June Butler

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