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Penn State and the culture of silence

Penn State and the culture of silence

If there is one thing that is comes up over and over again whenever we hear news of churches and schools that fail to protect children from sexual abuse or women from abuse and harassment, it is this: institutions encourage a culture of silence and official denial.


Patriot-News reporter Ivey deJesus reflects on the culture of silence that pervaded Penn State that allowed Jerry Sandusky to turn the university, and the charity he helped create, into an accessory for serial sexual abuse. As long as the institution placed itself ahead of the safety of children, Sandusky was safe to select, groom and abuse his victims.

deJesus interviewed Episcopal Bishop Sean Rowe for his take on the culture of silence.

Adults who remain silent or fail to take action after a child reports abuse should be held culpable, said the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. “That, to me, is inexcusable,” he said.

In 2010, after a parishioner reported to him having been abused for decades by the former bishop, Rowe learned that church hierarchy had known for more than 20 years that the Rev. Donald Davis, who died in 2007, had been molesting girls.

“There was silence around the whole issue,” Rowe said. “I think what happens is we’re interested in protecting the institution and not the children.

Rowe said institutions such as Penn State, the Roman Catholic Church and his church are pressured by insurance companies, attorneys, advisers and boards of directors, who caution leaders from revealing anything damaging or scandalous.

“We are too often allowing ourselves to be controlled by other interests rather than the truth and doing what’s right,” he said.

Rowe went public with the abuse allegation, leading scores of other women to come forth.

Child sexual abuse happens everywhere, but in places like Penn State and the Roman Catholic Church, the interests of the larger community trump those of the individual, advocates said.

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Christi Hill

When the Sandusky story broke, all of us who had attended a “safe church” course were NOT surprised: he had the opportunity and he groomed those boys so as to abuse them. SAFE CHURCH should be mandatory in every faith group.

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