By David Michaels, CNN
(CNN) - On Thursday, we posted a story that pointed to various parallels between the Penn State and Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandals.
The question of whether those are valid comparisons became a hotly debated topic in our comments section, opening up a discussion about the ways the two cases might help shed light on one other.
Many readers agreed that there were similarities in what offenses allegedly took place inside each institution, but saw differences in how the two organizations handled the fallout.
JesusThe parallel is there. JoePa kept the abuse allegations in-house as did the Pope. Both didn't turn things over to the Police. The Pope went a step further when he was a Cardinal in sanctioning and transferring Priests so accused (before it became known to the public that the Church was doing so). Both are guilty, but JoePa at least has an out ¬– he had a purported higher authority that he reported the wrongdoing to...the Pope has no such excuse!
DominiIn the Catholic Church, the police have only arrested one bishop. None have been fired, and there's little accountability to force bishops to follow the church's recommended rules on how to handle abuse. The Pope himself is tainted by the scandal. Paterno and others tainted by this scandal are being fired (Cardinal Law was never "fired", prosecuted, etc.) Penn State is handling this situation far better than the catholic Church ever did. I say that as a still-practicing Catholic trying to change the church from within.
One reader pointed to the Penn State leadership’s accountability to the state and ultimately to voters, as opposed to the private power structure within the Catholic Church, as a reason for the disparities in how the two institutions handed out repercussions.
This incident points out a great weakness in Catholic Church structure: the lack of external oversight with power. Catholic governance is a closed circle, a feedback loop where popes appoint bishops of like mind and bishops, as elector cardinals, elect a pope of like mind. The laity are left on the outside, with no recourse to correct bad judgment on the part of the hierarchy.
Penn State regents are appointed through a public process and have the needs of the people of Pennsylvania as their primary concern. Through the election of public officials, the "laity" of the state of Pennsylvania have ultimate control. The regents, as a result, acted quickly and decisively.
In addition, the Catholic Church's handling of priest pedophilia was hindered by its long-standing labor shortage, a self-inflicted wound resulting from an unwillingness to ordain married and female clergy. Denominations not faced with this problem have been quick to get rid of their own pedophilic clergy, unlike Catholic bishops, who merely reshuffled the deck, moving priests around, with the hope the problem would go away by itself.
Penn State's "bishops," Joe Paterno, the athletic director, and the vice president, did not act appropriately when given the information; Penn State's "archbishop," the university president, did not act appropriately. In the Catholic Church, there was no external mechanism to correct the errors of its bishops. The State of Pennsylvania did have such a mechanism, its board of regents.
But not all readers agreed that it was fair to use Catholic priests as the go-to comparison for a child sex scandal. Some said that using the Church as a baseline for examining the Penn State case unnecessarily singles Catholicism out for a problem that is not unique to that institution.
Commenters pointed to incidents of sexual abuse against children by teachers at schools and in the Boy Scouts to argue that such offenses – and their cover-ups – can occur in almost any institution that serves children.
JJ in CT
It's not just the Catholic Church. Abuse of children has occurred in all religions. Abuse is a crime of power, and religions certainly hold power over their flocks.
I like the comparison of apples to oranges – must be the same! right? Nobody looks into the school systems, especially New York, for the abuse. Catholics are being persecuted.
Seems you could run a parallel with about any organization that covers up crimes inside its membership... cops, cults, military, PTA, banks, etc etc. Singling out the church, (also guilty as sin) is pretty easy when you could envelope society as whole as a parallel.
Some saw the comparison of the Penn State and Catholic Church cover-ups as an attention-grabbing gimmick to generate more reader interest, much in the same way as some thought the media unnecessarily dragged Joe Paterno into the spotlight of the Penn State story.
Paterno is the big name in the story to bring sensationalism. If he wasn't the big name, his name wouldn't be in the headline even though the part he played in the events was little and legal…The same goes for drawing the parallels that "abound" in the Penn State case and that of the Catholic church. Two very general parallels. Perhaps we need to start investigation of all male dominated-hierarchies that are also revered by millions. But once again the headline gets viewers despite the logic involved.
Other readers focused on the difference in public response to the revelations at Penn State compared to the priest scandals.
One stark difference is that in the Church scandal, we didn't have Catholics and parishioners protesting and rioting to protect the Church officials (cardinals, etc.) that knew about abuses, but didn't do anything about it. At Penn State, we have hundreds and hundreds that are still supportive of a "heroic" coach that also did not do much about what he knew, with some even rioting in support of the sports "hero". If this was a priest in a position of power that failed to act, I don't think the reaction would be the same. Just shows how much we elevate sports to this mythical level where there can be no wrong done in so many fan's eyes.