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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. Stopit

    Wow, That is how this whole thing got started, Back to it roots eh?

    July 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  2. 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 5:04 pm |
    • Craig

      Every sanction is quite justified and until the craplick church is honest they are nothing but representatives of the Devil as are all of you hypocrites that support this God awful craplick church.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  3. emmertdusky

    Sided with the victims? That's so far from the truth is incredible. The NCAA took their own side and thought nothing of talking to the victims.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  4. Old Surf

    Catholic Church won't come clean because it's all about the money....

    July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Craig

      It would be so sweet if that were the only craplic problem. Jesus said "give to Ceaser that which is Ceaser's" yet the craplick church is really mostly about money and power and they don't really care about humans in their way. Come clean craplics or you will all be going to hell. It's just so obvious!!!!!!!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  5. Catholic Church

    Needs to look at the Bible again and see that marriage isn't forbidden for clergymen and women. I believe that this is one of the reasons that these abuses are going on because they are deprived of a normal relationship with women. This in no way justifies their actions but highlights something that may be a factor.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  6. Juan Jorge

    Double Standard??
    I was expecting the judges to rule in favor of the abused victims, awarding them with significant amounts of money, forcing Penn State University real state sale, just like he church did in favor of the plaintiff.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  7. Geraldo

    here we go, another anti-Catholic article by CNN, what a shock

    July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • really

      Yes and a swarm of little bigots with only one politically correct target left.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Charles Horn

      Liked! 🙂

      July 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • JC

      Yeah. You have to hate CNN for continuing to report on the most despotic, corrupt, disgraceful organization on the face of the planet.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • really

      For an example of said bigots, please see JC.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Craig

      Geraldo, wake up and smell reality. YOU are very representative of the problem by trying to ignore it. And by the way it's spelled CRAPLICKS! Get something right for cry bones!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  8. NCAA Observer

    So let's say the Church followed the lead of the NCAA. What would that mean?

    1 – the Church would not be able to draft new priests for 10 years.
    2 – All references to miracles in the Bible would be deleted.
    3 – Any catholic wishing to go to another religions would get 40 virgins from islam and a prayer rug
    4 – Confessions would be stopped for 10 years
    5 – God would be replaced by something inanimate ( a book, or shrine, or a plant )
    6 – No miracles allowed for 10 yars (e.g. no healing of sick etc)

    The fall out

    1 – The lack of priests causes many people to be unable to attend mass - they go straight to hell
    2 – The absence of confession means anyone dying with sins on their soul goes straight to hell
    3 – The option to switch religions causes Catholics to become Muslims – and eventually terrorists
    4 – The cessation of all miracles means the Chicago Cubs go another 10 years without winning a pennant

    Before the comment come I know I know this is disgraceful -- lighten up -

    July 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Made me laugh...

      July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Geraldo

      great post!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • maria

      i'll copy and paste in facebook 🙂

      July 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  9. Kenneth

    What do Joe Paterno and the Pope have in common?

    I know, bad joke, except it wasn't a joke...

    July 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Johnson

    I too commend the actions taken against Penn State. I am Catholic and ashamed of the fact that they are still covering up. I was Clergy at one point and I can assure anyone that those who move up the ladder are those who kept their mouths shut about what was going on. Cardinal Law is still being treated like a Prince in the Vatican and Ratzinger is still protecting those who covered up. I am disgusted with them but refuse to allow them to deter me from the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist. Confession -- give me a break. The Eucharist (communion) is the only important sacrament and we don't need to respect Rome to partake in that.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • KristenJane

      It's nice to hear another Catholic question the church instead of blindly agree to what they tell us to do...my faith is so shaken because I know that Jesus would NOT be ok with priests (who are supposed to be in the likeness of Jesus) hurt children without punishment...that is not right...I understand if the church wants to work with the abusing priests to ask for forgiveness, etc but remove them from the parishes then!!! That they reassigned them to parishes with childre and schools is unforgiveable....same with PSU...that you were made aware of the abuse and covered it up is unforgiveable..so the church now has lost many faithful and PSU will be punished and live with this dark cloud for a long time...so the lesson protect the children!!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  11. catholic engineer

    Mr. Prothero, isn't Boston University affiliated with the Methodist Church?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      What's your point? All cults should stick together, one cult should not criticize another, or?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Charles Horn

      A protestant criticising a Catholic? How original. As for the cult comment, I don't get it. Sounds like an emotional argument.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  12. LWJR

    Good point and I agree. However, since we are pointing fingers, where was CNN execs when they posted doctored pictures of the 2007 war between Hezbollah and Israel. Propaganda is CNN's specialty. No one on the inside telling on you guys is there?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  13. Woody

    Men are predators (Mammals by definition) Priest like all other mammals are se@ual beings by nature unless castrated or have their prostate removed . Nature insures child birth and a priest is no different than any other man . I was an Altar boy and I know what goes on in the church .

    July 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  14. Ellen

    AMEN !! We were just talking about this last night. Why didn't the church do more? Maybe this will light a HOLY FIRE !! Extreme sanctions should have come from the church long before now! BRAVO NCAA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  15. dave836

    What kind of news network makes an opinion piece the biggest link on the front page of their website. That is SO incredibly stupid and unprofessional...

    July 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Charles Horn

      AMEN! CNN, does this have anything to do with the fact that nearly all of your opinionists are clearly in the game for President Obama, and the Catholic Church is not? CNN is as transparent as Fox News. All of these networks are pathetic.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Well, it got your attention, didn't it?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • dawn

      And correct!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Truth must REALLY hurt then...

      July 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Larry

      Or, you probably just didn't like it.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  16. truth

    learn?? They need to be prosecuted. Even worse is the bishops lobby to stop laws that would expose the truth. In NY State we've been trying to pass a Bill. The bishops work favors with politicians to keep the Bill in a sub-committee so it never reaches the floor for votes. This Bill would expose over 1,000 child abusers in NYS -> Google – The Markey CVA NY assembly.

    There is a violent pedo bishop in Western NY who is free, never prosecuted. How many priests does he protect??

    GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • David

      Yeah! That's the real tragedy.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  17. dorothy p wallace

    Hear! Hear!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  18. Forrestal

    The writer gets it wrong right out of the blocks. Most of the cases of abuse at the Catholic Church were not pedophiles. They were gay men abusing adolescent boys.

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

      Huh?? Is it not child abuse if the child is under 18?? Who cares if the priest is gay straight or into animals???

      July 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • chief

      what a stupid comment? try reading the reports and call it gay when the kids is 9 years old, 11, 14, 15,16, .... you make want to puke

      July 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • truth

      more cases by % of predophilia in the catholic church than any other organization. Ask the victims, not what the church tells you to repeat. The bishops went so far to PAY for a report created by John Jay College. However the rules were the data had to come from the bishops.. ie.. How many priests were abused in your disocese?

      Now the bishops show off this John Jay report as if it's some kind of proof. It's not, just anotehr con job they play day to day.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Nataliooooo

      Get your facts STRAIGHT!......

      July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • bow to the sports god

      Forrestal ,,,, your an idiot .

      July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Wow, I've read some stupid comments on the internet over the years, but this one is a whole new level of retarded.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Kris

      This guy sounds like a local Catholic who ran for office a decade ago....Shaun V. Kenney. He was doing good rght up until he posted the same comment on a local chat forum. His philosohy: "the priests were pedophiles....simply gay men...after all, many of the boys were teeanagers."

      Shaun?
      Shaun?
      Is it you?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Out of curiosity, what trailerpark did you get your psychology degree from?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Axes

      I'm not sure what to make of your comment? Please expand!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  19. Asturiano

    Catholic church is hopeless. They are all about coverup and if challenged they claim 'infallibility'. Until priests, Bishops and Cardinals go to jail nothing will change.

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

      The few that go to jail don't lose any perks by doing so. The Army Chaplain Catholic Priest who molested my brother was sent by the now Pope, who was Bishop in Germany at that time, back to the US rather than defrock him. That priest, Father Alvin Campbell, quietly left the Army, was sent to an unsuspecting parish with fresh victims, and molested a bunch more kids in the US. He served prison time, then retired comfortably in Florida on both his Army pension and his Catholic pension. He died peacefully in 2002. No justice there.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  20. nc1965

    Characteristics of Offenders Who Violate and Assault Children

    According to the Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the following statistics have been recorded concerning the characteristics of offenders who violate and assault children.

    • Those inmates who were convicted of committing violent acts against children were more like to have been white, a percentage of nearly 70%, than any other race.
    • White inmates were nearly three times more likely to have victimized a child than b l a c k inmates.
    • About one in every seven Hispanic convicts had been convicted for a crime against a child.
    • Nearly two-thirds of convicted child m o l e s t e r s and/or offenders were or had been married.
    • Child m o l e s t e r s and offenders were more likely to have grown up in a two parent home and were more likely to have been molested as a child.
    • Approximately 22% of child offenders reported having been s e x u a l l y abused as a child.

    Source: childprotection.lifetips.c o m

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

      Some good points here...what men like the church leaders and the admin at PSU don't understand is that the cycle of abuse can last for generations!!! The abuse changes a person...sometimes for the good and sometimes for bad...so when they make decisions to ignore the abuse they are daming future children to the same hurt...very sad

      July 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Kris

      Well...white men make up the largest majority of people in the US, so that stat is moot. It probably parallels the demographic.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:09 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.