My Take: Why is NCAA taking sex abuse more seriously than Catholic Church?
Crews work to remove the Joe Paterno statue at Pennsylvania State University on Sunday.
July 24th, 2012
11:04 AM ET

My Take: Why is NCAA taking sex abuse more seriously than Catholic Church?

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - As a resident of the most Catholic state in the nation (Massachusetts), I have watched for more than a decade as the Roman Catholic Church responded to charges of priestly pedophilia with a troubling combination of procrastination and obfuscation.

Far too often, Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals have identified not with abused children but with their “band of brothers,” their fellow priests.

In the case of the sex crimes committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, officials at Penn State also looked the other way.

They must be credited, however, with commissioning a no-holds-barred investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose report (PDF) concluded that Penn State officials engaged in a cover-up that allowed Sandusky’s sexual assaults on children to continue for years.

They should also be applauded for removing a statue of head coach Joe Paterno, who for far too long was revered as a demigod at Penn State.

On Monday, however, the NCAA took the higher road. In a shocking departure from the foot-dragging in Rome, it sided quickly and definitively with the victims.

In a harsh ruling, the NCAA banned the Penn State football team from postseason games for four years and took away 20 football scholarships per year for the same period. It also ruled that the university will not receive its portion of conference bowl revenues for those four years. And it fined the school $60 million.

Equally significantly, it turned all of Penn State's football wins from 1998 forward into losses, stripping Paterno of his claim to fame as the winningest football coach in NCAA history.

These penalties did not include the so-called “death penalty,” which would have shut down the football program for a year or more. But, in truth, this penalty is worse.

The NCAA acted boldly to send a message to collegiate athletic programs elsewhere in the United States that neither the sex crimes of Sandusky nor the “see no evil, hear no evil” response of Paterno and other Penn State officials will be tolerated.

Still, I wonder whether the message will reverberate even further, perhaps even to the hallowed halls of the Vatican.

I was not raised a Catholic, but in my youth I admired the Roman Catholic Church for taking clear stands on the major moral issues of our time - on abortion and war and poverty and capital punishment. I have watched with both sadness and horror as this venerable institution has squandered the moral capital it accrued over centuries in a misguided and un-Christian attempt to wish away a problem that was staring it in its face for decades.

Although the Vatican has undertaken nothing like the independent Freeh report to unearth how its institution lost its way, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did commission an outside report delivered in May by researchers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. It also weighed a parallel report by lay Catholics of the National Review Board in June.

Neither of these documents read anything like the hard-hitting Freeh report, however, and the Catholic Church did not respond to its crisis with either the speed or the firmness of the NCAA.

In the Gospel of Luke, at the end of the Good Samaritan story, Jesus tells his followers to “go and do likewise.”

That is the NCAA's message to the Vatican.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Opinion • Pennsylvania • Sex abuse • Sports • United States • Vatican

soundoff (1,118 Responses)
  1. andyoo

    who cares what the priests do now....
    at the end , they all have to be judged and some will go to hell.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • smalltownkafka

      Who cares? And that's why people continue to get away with it. This far-off promise of judgment does nothing for real-world victims. But then, like the church, that seem pretty easy for you overlook.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Ahhhh.... no. No heaven, no judgement, no eternal soul, no afterlife. Sorry... but we have some fabulous parting gifts for you, and a home version of the game!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  2. Rob

    Really??? So the tons of Money the church has handed out, not to mention the countless churches that have shut down, and the loss of faith by many of the once faithful. There is no excuse, but just like the players, there are hundreds of other priests, bishops, and cardinals that have remained true to their promises and still up-hold moral teachings. They have to suffer for their "Brothers" mistakes! So please keep that in mind. Even young generations of men who are stepping up to the vocation of the priesthood have to deal with the stigma's of other's bad decisions.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  3. Scott

    This is a very clear example of a journalist trying to capitalize on a trending story without knowing any of the facts or fully understanding the two issues he is comparing.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • JustaNormalPerson

      How is that?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |

      Have to agree with you Scott. His book sales are down last I heard.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • smalltownkafka

      No, it's not. You're calling it a clear example and making believe the journalist doesn't know what he's talking about, but this seems very much like partisan Catholic apologia at work, or the more common American form of finding all kinds of ways - indirection and evasion being popular - to blame and dismiss victims.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  4. OPEN400

    The Catholic Church theology does not believe in punishing the innocent – at least ,that is the theoretical dogma of the Catholic Church. The Church, when it was a medieval ruling body, did not always live by that dogma, By fining the university 60 million dollars, this act punishes innocent students, punishes local businesses, punishes innocent athletes and punishes alumni that had graduated long before this scandal took place. The NCAA looks like one of the ugly pages of Catholic Church history – the Inquisition! We just punish the whole town and university for the action of a few – that’s modern politically correct thinking – which will unnecessarily generate hatred.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • smalltownkafka

      Theoretically, the church doesn't punish the innocent. In truth, they do, but then fall back on theory. This outcry about all the victims the NCAA has created shows an alarming ignorance of all that have profited from the Church of Football, and who are the real victims. Again, evasion, misdirection, and fictional righteousness are all simply forms of doing exactly what churches theoretically don't due, and the supposedly good people in response, bending the kiss the championship ring. More than anything, this story brings out the shills for power and the closet haters of the vulnerable.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    Poor analogy at best. Go and do likewise? you are better than this Stephen, or do you go by Steve?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  6. Billy

    Atheist want to believe there is a Santa Claus in government who is benevolent. They want to believe that there is somebody who can take from the evil and give to the people who are wronged and call it even. That is fiction if I know it.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      You should know all about fiction... you're a christian.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  7. klamerus@pobox.com

    Let's be clear. The NCAA didn't impose these sanctions out of good conscience. They did it because they knew that they had no other choice based on public outrage – partly because the American public has more influence over well being of the NCAA than over the church. We could hurt them in their wallets.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Edna Pimples, Raider of the Lost Quark

      You don't think that the Catholic laity couldn't hurt the Church in a BIG way by putting slips of paper that say "Shame!" into the plate instead of money?

      That's why there is such disgust towards the average Catholic on this. Had they stood up and let their church know that things had to change in a big way now, we would all be inpressed with them and their morality. Instead, they took the partisan line and blamed the victims, denied the charges, denied the scope, and were supportive of the stonewalling.

      You see, being partisan was (and continues to be) far more important than doing what is moral and right. That's about the worst condemnation of the moral stature of of religion you can do.

      Then again, right and wrong isn't important to God either. Evil people like Jeffrey Dahmer who accept Jesus get to go to heaven, but the most generous, helpful good person in the world possible burns in hell if he doesn't believe in Jesus.

      God is partisan too. His morality sucks (especially in the Old Testament).

      July 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  8. Billy

    No God in particular. The God could could be Buddha, it could be the Hindu spiritual leader, it makes no difference. Atheism is the debate because I can't see it, therefore it does not exist. If I am an Atheist, I will attack you into submission until I win by default. Not because I won on a superior argument.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • jer

      Budah was a prophet not a god

      July 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Billy

      I accept the correction. I am not perfect.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  9. Tony

    Priests are now never alone with minors. Also, priests are removed immediately upon accusation until a case is settled (essentially treated guilty until proven otherwise).

    July 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Whatever

      Good to see that you are putting the priests' interests before the safety of the children, Tony.

      Their Catholic children, by the way. You are defending people who prey on your own children.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      He is only telling you the lengths to which the Church is going to insure that these abuses are stopped. You act as if all priests are guilty merely because the wear a frock. While a popular sport, that attiiude actually hinders the process of healing and correcting our instiitutions whether they be schools or churchs

      July 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      The point is, that these people shouldn't be hidden from the law of the land just because they're part of a certain religion. They break the law, they should be prosecuted. Do you not think that should happen?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Josephine

      I was born and brought up in the Catholic faith. In my mid 30 to 40 I checked out all other churchs and still stayed Catholic at the end of it all. 6 months ago after reading so much about the Church abuse, I bumped into an article about Massachussetts abuse. Forced me to ask myself, in all the masses I attended regularly, not once did we say lets' pray for our abusive priests, but we say every single Sunday, lets' pray for our Pope, our bishops etc. I could no longer turn a blind eye. That was it. It saddens me to see the Catholic Church this way. I have in the past said the church is more than its priets but someone in the Vatican needs to step up.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  10. HKIS

    "are you referring to?"

    July 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  11. Billy

    goodness! STFU sounds like the responder has the lack of intellect to debate the existence of a benevolent dictator. So like most liberals instead of debating for a win, the liberal is going to cuss and swear, and storm off in frustration knowing his make-believe benevolent dictator does not exist...

    July 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • shadowdiver

      Get back on the meds freak.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • john the guy not the baptist

      Have you ever got off of the couch and gone out in the real world and voted for the candidate of your choice? It is called democracy, the system is set up with checks and balances to prevent dictators, benevolent or not, from gaining power. Do you understand, try please, do you understand?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Billy

      I take the George Carlin approach to voting. If I vote, then I have no right to complain. If I vote for a politician, I am in a small way responsible for when he turns out to be a failure in office. If I don't vote, I can sit back and say look what you screwed up. The country is already bought and sold no matter the elected officials.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Storm off? Dude... put down the crack pipe. I'm right here. I've always been here, according to the bible. I'm the one that gave Eve the apple. God told me to. You're aware that god is a misogynist, right? He's also a sadist... creates people then
      kills them off in a flood. Yep... gods a real peach. Trust me... I'm the devil.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  12. Don

    The Church has not dealt with this problem because these celebate men have devalued children and family and the
    basic function of procreation. They donot hold these things dear as they have expunged this from their own lives. That
    says a lot about how they think of those of us that do value these things. They believe that they will live eternally in a
    heaven some where and perhaps they don't want a crowded heaven, so fewer children, neglected and abused, will
    serve their misguided understanding of life and life's 'real sacred goals'. We need to take them at thier word, and record
    thier actions in histories record for what they have really done, and really thought about life. The governments should
    punish the church properly as the government has punished Penn State. The secular world has got it right because they
    are not burden by misguided mysticisms and they value life truly .. and family and children to the hightest level.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. charles bowen

    Recovering Catholic, Now a Buddhist, church lost its apeal a long time ago..... Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Steve

    Okay, so that stung. Point taken. However, some of the stuff the NCAA did was plain silly. Stripping all the wins from 2008 to 2011? How bizarre is that? So, now there are teams that would have better records during those seasons. Do we have to go back and see if the right team went to the bowl games now? Do the opposing coaches now get credit for wins? Finally, what in the world does this have to do with ANYTHING? Paterno DID report, but when nothing happened, he should have gone further. That was his crime. What about the other Penn State staff who are busy "reburying" Paterno to keep themselves out of the spotlight?

    So, keeping things in perspective, I guess the Catholic church should, hmmm, let's see... I know. For the priest who was guilty, we revoke all conversions and pennance they handed out from 2001 to 2003. If this was your priest, ... sorry. You might want to go back and try again with another priest. There...now they're a little more in line with Penn State.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Steve, the stripping of the victories (back to 1998, not 2008) represents when Joe Paterno allegedly knew about Sandusky's actions and did nothing about it. Apparently people involved with the school administration also leaned and did nothing during that time as well. The punishment was meted to the school in return of the lack of action they took against Sandusky. Frankly, they are lucky that the NCAA did not close down all athletic activity at the entire university, leveling their wrath solely at the program associated with Paterno and Sandusky.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  15. Seriously

    The Church does take action against any wrong doing. The church is you and I. If you see something wrong within your church, then address it and don't stop until it's corrected. I actually like this article, because, although it may sound as a disrespectful article towards the church. In a way it may be the writers own way of trying to correct wrong doings in some churches. Children should feel safe going to school, church and anywhere where you think there are people to watch over them and not abuse them. I pray that such things don't happen again anywhere and also for the people in charge to take drastic corrective measures.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • H-Town, TX

      if that means reporting criminal abuse to the police rather than letting the church deal with its issues internally, then you have the right idea.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      Yes, hopefully it means that the Catholic church will discontinue the amoral act of moving pedophiles from church to church. We're talking about the very leadership knowingly and actively allowing further pedophilia as an alternative to the possibility that its reputation could be damaged (which of course happened anyway after such actions on the part of church leadership were exposed).

      July 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  16. mhill1234

    dumb article
    like catholic church is interested in this.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  17. M. A. Petroski

    I think you have it backwards.
    Some U.S. bishops began addressing the issue around 1992, and finally there was the Dallas Charter of 2002. Ten years ago! Where have you been?
    So actually it's the NCAA and the entire nation that could learn from the Catholic experience of purging, healing and protecting.
    Have a great day!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Jer

      You forget the adaje.. Actions are far more than meetings and paperwork. The almighty Archbishop LAW of Boston and who rule the US Catholics. He was incharged of when at the time most cover-up of Bishops/Priest was going on. On next Monday morning, he was to go in to give his depositions. I can not remember if it was Federal or local. Late Thursday, the vatican wanted to meet with Law before giving his statments. Authority said it was alright and let him go. Trouble was that the vatican is a country of its own. they do not allow any arrest or allow for authrity to question LAW. Result "No Deposition". You forget also that in Irland they have a case against the Nuns. the vatican will not release of WWII, paper work. Could they be hidding something. If there is no problems, what are they scared about. I went to a Jesuit high school. One of our students, killed himself.years before the 90's abuse broke out. When this happened his mother felt freedom and closure. she ws then able release the note he left , stating that second Jesuit priest, abused him. that was why he killed himself, why he did it and the guilt he felt!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  18. Luvvy Duvvy

    Hey CNN...BREAKING NEWS: Sherman Hemsley has died. Look forward to your "breaking news" headline in a couple of hours.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • SocRocks

      Thanks so much Luvvy. You do a much better job at updating than CNN. I don't want to point out the obvious, but I wonder why they didn't report it...

      July 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Just call me Lucifer

    Ooh ooh.... I know the answer to this one. The NCAA deals in reality, the catholic church deals in lies and pedofeelia.
    "Tell him what he's won Johnny!".

    A NEW CAR!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  20. Billy

    What is with the contradiction of the atheists? They make a mockery of God and reject him because they presume that he is a God that gives ponies to children for Christmas. But the atheist vision really resides in something even more make believe and fictional. Atheists desperately want to believe in a benevolent dictator who takes from those the atheist see as evil and gives to those who have been wronged. Atheist want to believe this benevolent dictator is a guiding hand of morality to those who deviate from the grand theme. Who is more make-believe now????

    July 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      You know... there is no god. You can make all the suppositions about atheists you like, but since you're obviously not the sharpest tool in the drawer, you may want to STFU.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • HKIS

      Billy...there are many Gods and many religions, which God are your referring?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Brian K

      Billy, I read through your post a few times. And you make absolutely no sense. You have no idea what anyone believes and seem extremely confused. I am all for you believing whatever you want, just don't force me to live by your weird rules.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • John

      Try and create a coherent sentence first then start creating an argument.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      @Lucifer Will the universe exist after you die? Prove it.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Does it feel good to provide a completely useless non-point?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer


      I don't die... I'm a mythical evil character. Duh.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • fred

      The odds you will die before tomorrow is 1 in 44,000 based on global death rates. The odds of our universe coming into existence by pure chance is 1 to 10 the power of 107. Based on probability you best accept Pascal’s Wager fast!

      July 24, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Are you still using that idiocy? Seriously, do you enjoy being made fun of?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Billy

      Knowing that to have life, you must have DNA. In DNA, 3 base pairs make a codon. The codon makes a lock and key for the addition of the amino acid to the chain. Multiple codons can code for the same amino acid. The chain of amino acid folds into and enzyme to moderate organic reactions.
      And you want to tell me this code of life, equally as elaborate as the UNIX code that makes my computer run, came about through statistical chance in a puddle of water started by a lighting strike???? You atheist make better fiction than JK Rowling!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      What's your point? Ohhh you know a bit about molecular biology. Do you feel proud now? You take one thing, think that it's too unlikely for your taste, then go with something that has absolutely no evidence for it.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
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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.