Seeming parallels abound in Penn State, Catholic Church abuse scandals
The statute of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired Wednesday, in State College, Pennsylvania.
November 10th, 2011
04:10 PM ET

Seeming parallels abound in Penn State, Catholic Church abuse scandals

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Both are managed by male dominated-hierarchies. Both are revered by millions of people. And both allegedly dealt with accusations of sexual abuse of children internally, without going to law enforcement authorities.

To many victims’ advocates, commentators and others, the parallels between this week’s allegations about how Penn State dealt with reports of sex abuse and decade-old revelations about sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church are uncanny.

“It is really a striking and almost identical factual pattern that has emerged in the Catholic Church cases and at Penn State,” says Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of American abuse victims in lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

Penn State: A campus divided

“The only difference is that two people have been fired at Penn State who were in revered positions,” says Anderson. “That’s in contrast to every diocese in the U.S where a cover-up has been revealed.

“Not one bishop, archbishop or cardinal has been fired or disciplined.”

Anderson is referring to Wednesday’s firing of Penn State President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, days after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with abusing eight boys, including in a Penn State locker room.

My Take: Paterno's unfulfilled ethical obligations

Two top Penn State university officials who were allegedly told about the abuse and declined to notify authorities have been charged with perjury and with failure to report suspected abuse.

Anderson says both the alleged abuse by a Penn State coach and the institution’s apparent response mirrors the abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

“In both cases, very trusted and revered male offenders used their positions and their care, cunning and trust they enjoy not only to access the victim but to keep those around him from speaking out,” says Anderson.

Prosecutors have alleged that Sandusky used a charity he founded for troubled youth to help lure victims, allegedly engaged in fondling, oral sex and anal sex with young boys over more than 10 years.

Photos: Responding to scandal

Many of those outraged by the allegations against Penn State, including that Paterno had reportedly been told about the abuse but declined to notify authorities, have pointed a finger at what they say was the school’s and its football program’s commitment to maintaining a sterling public image, drawing parallels to the church.

“Both institutions are big and powerful and hierarchical and have very carefully crafted public reputations that they value,” says David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “There’s an obsession with an institution’s image over children’s safety.”

Clohessy says news of the Penn State scandal has triggered a wave of calls and e-mails to him from victims who say the new revelations evoke their experiences with priest abuse.

He and others allege that an aura of righteousness surrounding Penn State football, an object of worship in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Catholic Church helped fortify them against accusations of abuse in their midst.

“When we idolize any institution or individual, it’s unhealthy,” says Clohessy. “We almost invite them to act like they're above the law.”

Share your thoughts through iReport

Anderson says a related parallel between the Penn State and Catholic Church scandals is the existence of hierarchies that apparently allowed personnel to report abuse allegations up a chain of command without higher-ups taking decisive action.

“It’s not because they’re bad men or want kids to be harmed,” said Anderson, speculating about the motives of top officials at Penn State and the church who allegedly kept quiet about abuse allegations, “but because they want to preserve the reputation of the institutions.”

Anderson is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania but would not say whether he is representing any of Sandusky's alleged victims, saying he would want to respect their confidentiality if he was.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the American Roman Catholic hierarchy, declined to respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Many abuse victims applauded Penn State for firing top officials and criticized the Roman Catholic Church for not taking similarly dramatic action.

“What happened at Penn State tonight is a lesson to officials of the Catholic Church,” said Robert M. Hoatson, who leads a New Jersey group that assists abuse victims, in a statement after Wednesday night’s firings at Penn State. “The only just solution to the clergy abuse scandal of the Catholic Church is the wholesale removal of bishops.”

Church experts say Penn State’s decision to fire its president and its football coach reflect more of a top-down approach to personnel than in the Catholic Church, where issues are expected to be resolved locally, at the diocesan level.

“The American model of accountability drove the decision on Paterno, which is that ‘accountability’ means losing your job,” says John Allen, CNN’s chief Vatican analyst. “Whereas the Roman model tends to shape decisions on bishops, where ‘accountability’ means staying put and cleaning up your own mess.”

Still, some Vatican watchers say the church sex abuse crisis has helped shaped Penn State’s reaction to last weekend’s indictment.

“The Catholic Church's experience with this has raised public awareness, which probably helps to explain the swift reaction in this case,” says Francis X. Rocca, who covers the Vatican for the Religion News Service.

“It is a lot harder than it was 10 years ago,” he says, “for administrators to argue that they didn't understand the gravity of the problem or thought it could be dealt with internally.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pennsylvania • Sex abuse

soundoff (765 Responses)
  1. jimbo

    What time is curfew in the Penn State athletic dorms?

    When the big hand touches the little hand.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • James

      Awesome !

      November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • TriXen

      Awesome! Reposting to Facebook!!

      November 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • BKS


      November 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • jimbo

      I heard the NCAA is looking into Penn State recruiting violations of tight ends. Many ended up as wide receivers when they arrived on campus.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • jimbo

      Keep trying to report my abuse, I'm too sly for you.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  2. Robert Podstuma

    Sorry Joe, that the administration of Penn U fired you for their collective screw-up
    Good luck in your future endeavors.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Nope

      Right, and he just sat there with his lip zipped about the whole thing, so that makes him innocent.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Rational Thinker

    I understand with arresting the pedophile Sandusky, the man should be castrated, but to fire a man who made Penn State relevant and gave the university its prestige, not forgetting the millions of dollars made through the football program, is absurd. Joe Paterno reported this to the athletic department and yet he was punished. C'mon he was going to retire after the season is over, which is in about two weeks. Kinda fishy...

    November 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • John

      Who cares how many millions of dollars he brought in? Stupid oafs like you are part of the problem.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Theodore Greene

      I agree with you ?..100%. Shame..shame..shame on Penn State. Where are all the people that improved their lives over the years? Almost makes me ashame to be a patriot!

      November 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Laura LaVertu

      I think the entire point of the article is just because someone has wealth, money, and power does not mean they get to cover-up criminal or unethical behavior. A great coach me may be; but his status as a decent human being is in doubt.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Nope

      Yes, and all those millions of dollars and the prestige is exactly why he didn't pick up the phone and call the police. But, hey, money makes it all okay. Right?

      November 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • kam

      Ratioanl...not, Thinker perhaps. He is complicit, because after he "reported it" to the AD, he saw this behavior continue for many years. None of us is perfect. God knows that and want us to come to him and admit our wrongdoings. He will forgive. All of us hypocrites will continue to judge and hide our own sins.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Choonie

    What are you smoking!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  5. jimbo

    I heard the NCAA is looking into PSU recruiting violations of tight ends. Many of them ended up as wide receivers when they arrived on campus.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  6. ArtisticLicensing

    Wow. A friend told me to download Colin Cowherd's podcast today. Gives a lot of insight to the situation. http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=7216758

    November 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  7. Alison

    CNN evangelizing atheism – how surprising. The majority of Catholic priests are good holy men who are suffering and paying the price because of a few bad, just as the majority of coaches and teachers are good people. Should we continue to let our kids play football?

    November 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • kam

      I agree. Except priests are not holy...neither is the Pope. GOD is HOLY. People are sinners.....evryone of us. Repent, be forgiven, and share in God's eternal glory.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  8. C.K.

    Child abuse calls for all of us as a human race to find a solution to such a terrible epidemic. The fact that a Priest did it, or a Coach did it, doesn't matter nearly as much as what are We going to do to stop it.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • John

      Try to stop biology. Good luck.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Notoj

      Jail cells have a tendency to stop biology.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Jueceman

      Joe did nothing wrong for this was a issue bigger than the University itself. If everyone knew everything or could "see it coming" or "investigated further" with everything then we could not have a free functioning society. Moral obligations end at home and rank-in-file at work. No child tells their father what to do no matter how wrong the father is and the same goes for Joe Paterno who was not the person who does investigations and hands out punishment. That power falls in the hands of University officials. University administrative officials didn't want the big fallout at the time, and honestly, whoever were asking for their heads now, would be asking for their heads then. They waited, they're fired now, and Sandusky is in jail. The only difference is that they collected more checks than they would if they came out earlier. Good for them. As far as justice for the victims, society failed them rather than a University. If they could be taken advantage of by Sandusky, then anyone could have. Its apart of growing up. dealing with people who may abuse their authority. Society is all of our children, father, and mothers. Be careful who praise and follow, but then again, how much of each other do we really know behind closed doors, or in this case, the showers on campus late at night.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  9. AgonyfIips

    Commenting on these blogs is such a waste of time. Don't know if it's going to work half the time.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      Agonyflips - maybe this will help:

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • AgonyfIips

      No it's not that. I was simply trying to post a comment that I'd made 3 days ago where I'd made a comparison between the Penstate story and that with Bishop Robert Fin. Wasn't anything in the story I think that was offensive. Maybe, there's something but I'm getting called by my kids now so too late.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  10. cheap ignorant attack

    CNN doesn't bother with any facts of under-reporting of any of these crimes in general. They are under-reported in families, in schools, in every walk of life. No better to kiss up to the anti-catholics by with a cheap shot ignorant attack. Definitely that's what generates the views. That's what they run front and center on their home page.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  11. LouAz

    Silence is CONSENT !

    November 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • TA

      So if I put a gun up to your head and silence you, are you consenting to be killed???

      November 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • C.K.

      I once had a 17 year old female employee who was being pursued by a a 44 year old man. When I heard he invited her to go jogging with him at a secluded track, I called the employee to come in and speak to me. I then told her she had until 5:00pm to have her mother contact me and let her know what was going on, or I would call her myself. I then called a detective that frequented the store to alert him to what was going on. He put his guys on it and found out the guy was a freak. The detective commended me for getting involved and said that most people would not. The employee came and thanked me for looking out for her well being. The freak on the other hand, came in and called me a man-hater! Lol...that was fine by me.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  12. E

    PSU = Pedophile Sodomy University!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  13. fyi

    CNN, do some research, all of these crimes have long gone under-reported across the country and world. But no problem you can kiss up to the anti-catholics by running your little association game.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • JT

      You catlicks wrote the book on raping children then protecting and supporting your rapists.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Brian

    Does this really surprise anyone? College sports and religion are both phony.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • kam

      Brian- perhaps you are right. But God is not phony...HE IS TRUTH AND LOVE.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  15. Scape Goat

    Why is that Joe Paterno is being used as a scape goat by Penn State and the media. What about the other witnesses calling the police and this takes the attention away from the people who tried to sweep this under the rug. They are the ones who should be in the spotlight along with the abuser himself.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • MarileeBob

      He openly said that in retrospect he should have said something. If he had done something more than just mentioning it to his bosses, how much abuse could have been stopped? He was in a position of authority and trust and he should have done more to stop this.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Nope

      He knew and he kept silent. He was in a position to do something and didn't. That's why. He's not a scapegoat, he bears the responsibility of letting a known pedophile continue to abuse children, protecting him and continuing to employ him.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  16. government cheese

    Somehow liberals never mention the predatory teachers in the educational system. The liberal media deems those actions as acceptable.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Nope

      No, it doesn't. Post a link or shut up.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Augie983

      Thank you for yet again displaying your ilk's intellectual and spiritual constipation to the world who is watching.

      Why are we not surprised your ilk considers hiding the vileness perpetrated by the All Amercan male.... so more and more victims of pervs can be created .... a conservative value.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  17. Mr Chihuahua

    W00dy Hayes would have kicked that sick ba$tard's a$$ lol!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  18. KeninTexas

    He said "“Not one bishop, archbishop or cardinal has been fired or disciplined.” ,,, This is not true. There have been several in recent years who have been removed from office after the abuse was revealed. But there are still plenty more who had failed in their duties that should still be removed.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  19. mjschriner

    You got that right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  20. No Words

    Great article from student and some great responses: http://onwardstate.com/2011/11/10/may-no-act-of-ours-bring-shame-the-riot-that-never-should-have-happened/

    November 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.