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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. Steve

    Learning is something the Chruch does not do. It is called Dogma.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  2. TheTruth

    Matthew 13:24-30

    The Parable of the Weeds
    24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

    27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

    28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

    “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

    29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

    July 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Pharnald

      Cool story bro.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  3. Lainie11

    Did you know that Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, his brother Georg was involved in Germany in some kind of abuse also. Both Georg and his brother operated a boys school in Germany.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Dorkus

      They are all child molesters. Ban, or at least tax the heck out of, the Catholick church.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  4. truth1063

    CNN = Anti-Catholic I'm not even a Catholic but it is plain as the nose on my face.....

    July 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      because they report crimes? because they help expose the truth. You against the truth?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • truth1063

      Because they write bs op pieces like this with very little to no correlation.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Dorkus

      The "Truth" is, you are a pedophile enabler at best, and most likely a child molester. How nice.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  5. notogop

    It seems much easier for an organization, NCAA, to punish one organization, Penn State, than the Catholic Church punishing virtually every diocese in the world for committing child abuse. The ramifications of having thousands of people file suit against the Catholic Church are much more costly, monetarily, than having a dozen or so individuals file suit against.an organization. The Catholic Church has dug itself into a very deep hole from which they are not likely to escape and retain the money, moral status, influence, or credibility (this one is iffy to begin with) they once had. The NCAA should be applauded and the Catholic Church should be sued in every court until the Second Coming.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • bvilleyellowdog

      ..and they are ALL about money.. that is the only thing that would get their attention. $25million per abuse and eventually they would do something.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  6. bvilleyellowdog

    Same thing with both stories. Excuses and blindness to CRIMINALITY amongst commenters.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  7. jim

    because the catholic church is too big to fail – no legislature wants to go after them.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  8. Fiery Fly

    Ah – the world would be such a wonderful place if the catholic church was abolished...

    July 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Nicholas

      Why get rid of the largest charitable organization and network on the planet? What about the thousands of hospitals and orphanages that take care of anyone who enter their doors? When you have 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet, you are bound to have a few bad apples...not to lessen the severity of the abuse that took place of course. Percentage wise, the Church has been substantially safer than most churches and secular organizations.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • J.W

      If the Catholic church did not do those things somebody else would.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • truth1063

      like WHO?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • norman

      Nicholas-yes, they do have helpful arms of teh church-but they also protect pedophines, which have ruined thousands of lives, they also fight gay equality, which affects MILLIONS of lives (including 2 million kids being raised by gays) and , worst of all, they say condom use is a sin and MILLIONS of primtive africans believe them and get HIV and infect their wives...its vile-they do far more bad than good

      July 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  9. AGuest9

    I wouldn't trust the Vatican OR the NCAA at this point. Talk about "casting the first stone"!

    July 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  10. jomama

    They are however keeping the library named after Paterno. This will be a reminder to patrons that they need to "Keep Quiet".

    July 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Dorkus

      Good one. I say let's break every window and burn the place to the ground.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  11. truth1063

    Another front page op story by CNN attacking the Catholic Church. The only way it would not be a big deal to CNN is if all Catholics converted to Islam....then they'd be fine.

    Enough hit pieces CNN. Your shameful.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      we've been fight for the truth for a long time and the catholic church lobbies to stop laws that would expose the truth. With all their wealth and power, we have been denied. Why are you attacking CNN? Why? Are you as cruel as the catholic church? The truth is the greatest healer. You want to deny victims healing?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      or you prefer hiding the truth with lies and deceit. Nice moral foundation you have.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • truth1063

      No of course not. But if you are equating ad nauseam blanket hit jobs with victim healing – it appears you have a great deal more healing ahead of you. I will pray for you.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • sam stone

      aww, truth1063....feeling a bit put upon?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • truth1063

      not so much...

      July 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • notogop

      There should be an article in every news organization every day reminding us of the atocities allowed and even condoned by the Catholic Church until every guilty priest, bishop, cardinal, and Pope are brought to justice. If news organizations would actually do their jobs, maybe this behavior would be slowed, at least in church. Truth 1063 you have some serious problems if you truly believe what you wrote. Maybe you are guilty of this behavior?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  12. revolting peasant

    I agree with all of this, but it seems funny to declare wins now to be losses. Why not let Jo Pa be the winningest coach, but also label him a complete failure as a person?

    July 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Steve

    So now Penn State is the Catholics fault too? Why no harping on the protestant minister in GA?

    July 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      in case you didn't know. Joe Paterno supported the catholic bishops in stopping laws that would expose pedos. Just letting you know.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  14. obsthetimes

    I can understand the defensive reaction from some penn state students. They've been stunned by the sanctions but remember this. What happened at penn state was pretty much pure evil. Students should thoroughly question their athletic department. I feel for these students as I can imagine what it would be like if my school were in the NCAA crosshairs.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  15. kweso

    The Catholic Church as we know it is slowly dying while the Pope and his kinfolks are in denial and running around in purple robes.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  16. Church girl

    AMEN!!! And I hear more from the so called "good Catholics" who preach the Church's theology about "birth control" (not using it) as the right way to show our faith. Are any of them out protesting the horrific scandal bestowed upon us by the priests we were raised to respect and admire?? Good God, they failed to "abstain" miserably...

    July 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • A very proud Catholic

      Nobody that promotes birth control should call themselves Catholics. The Catholic chuch DOES NOT promote it. These are people who call themselves catholics only to hurt the Chruch's image... YOU ARE NOT a catholic if you don't live according to the teachings of the Catholic church!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      Catholics are merely customers of the vatican, delivering the profits, not prophets. You don't vote for the pope, you have zero say. And if you are a woman, your treated as lower class, no women popes. You are a customer that buys their cons and deceit.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • ViK100

      I recommend you read the bible a little and ask God to give you his holy spirit so you can understand his Word.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      the bible written by the catholic church through its concoctions of destroy, alter and add.. Good bible.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  17. as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

    The catholic church was far worse than Penn State. Especially since we have docu-ments from the vatican that our law makers won't use in a RICO case. ie 1961 docu-ment demanding the silence kept, use threats when needed. The letter from the current pope in 2001, when he reported to the previous pope, demanding that earlier docu-ment be adhered to by all bishops. Of course the bishops adhered to it with pleasure as several were and are pedos themselves <–fact Adding to that letter , he demanded all bishops make sure no victim is known until 10 past their reaching adulthood. Why? Because statutes of limitations now denies the victim and protects the filthy organization.

    Please don't include the parishioners as catholics in comments, they are just customers of the catholic business. It would be like calling those who shop at wal-mart, wal-mats. That's right, just customers buying everything they are told including the lies and deceptions.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Four huh? You must like it....

      July 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • truth1063

      4 priests eh? Wow how can that be? just blind luck? smfh...BS alert

      July 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      yes, gang sod-om-y.. I expect catholic priests to be here trying to discredit. What do you care of the pain others went through? You don't.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Lainie11

      So sad. The downfall of the church goes back to the rise of Vatican II. That council destroyed everything moral, doctrinal and liturgical, and gave ill-formed priests and nuns complete freedom to do as they wish. Simple as that.

      Time to recall Vatican II and all of it's errors. The Church will resurrect some day when the wheat has been separated from the chaff.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      and to add to your sick meanness, one of those who abused me, abused another boy. That boy committed suicide, his mother cried to her death. She tried hard having laws changes to expose the truth. Sadly the bishops had more power than her and stopped those laws. Until these cases are heard in court, the truth will never come out. What some here who realize what the church has done, would be really appalled when they find out ho disgusting these perverts were and are. And the true volumes of the crimes.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • truth1063

      riiiiighhtttt...........

      July 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  18. A very proud Catholic

    That is why we have the law. If a priest is found to have commited a civil crime, he should be prosecuted by the civil law. The Catholic church may have made mistakes in its 2,000 year history because it has been ran by imperfec men, sinners just like you and I HOWEVER there is absolutely nothing in its teachings that promotes the atrocities some men/priests have commited. I love my Catholic Church and its teachings and the way I live my faith. I thank God for my Pastors and the way they have helped me and my family become better Christians. A true Christian is not that who attends mass or a service for 1-2 hours on Sundays.. a True Christian lives the Gospel every single day. A true Christian does not follow MEN, We follow Jesus! and we see Jesus even in someone with bad intentions like this writer who certainly does not know who Jesus is. God bless him!

    July 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • sck

      Wow. Mass cover-up of atrocious crimes against the most vulnerable in society by the the highest people in the Catholic Church= "may have made mistakes." I see the church hasn't done much in providing you with any kind of morality.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      The Nazi's knew what Hitler was doing,,The KKK knew what was going on The catholic church knew what was (and still is) going on. Prosecute the pope and bishops now!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Sandra

      Your very name posting here is a sin according to your religious dogma. "Pride". The Roman Catholic church/The Vatican is still doing what it does best. Intimidate, try to keep knowledge away from the masses, and to apply canon laws to make the Vatican wealthier.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      "there is absolutely nothing in its teachings that promotes the atrocities some men/priests have commited."

      I disagree, the church at different times and by some leaders have espoused the idea that the Church is the only 'true' way to Jesus (God), and as such the Church and its leaders get special consideration for its actions as they are "Gods representatives". They consider themselves under 'gods law' and not 'mans law', and that as such their actions are beyond reproach. They may not be teaching that child abuse is allowed, but they are implying that the Churches response to it should not be questioned because of their "special" connection to god.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • truth1063

      CNN would edit out comments equating Islam or gays or other pet interest groups to the KKK or Nazis....but the Catholic church – all bets are all – fire away with impunity. What a joke. I have serious doubts whether you are a real victim – their are way too many out there who's only agenda is to bring them down.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      truth1063,

      I posted a comment yesterday about how Mohammed was a pedophile, so quit talking out of your ass.

      Your anger should be directed at the represetatives of your insti.tuion (the current Pope for instance) who allowed the secrecy and the child abuse to continue.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • truth1063

      I don't have to talk out my ass – i have seen them do it...I know for certain.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      So you are angry about 'perceived' censorship from CNN but continue to defend the religious organisation for playing '3 card monte' with abusive priests. Nothing to see here.....move along.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Dorkus

      Um, I think your cuckoo clock needs winding.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Frank

      Would you mind checking the 10 commandments that the Catholic church gives you, and please compare it to the 10 commandments in the bible at Exodus chapter 20 verse 1 and so on and also in Deuteronomy chapter 5 and verses 6 and so on. Compare both and tell me if they are the same. Because i can assure you they are not. Why is the catholic church 10 commandments different from the bibles 10 commandments? Which one should i follow? The catholic church's one? or the one in the bible? and remember what Jesus said in Mathew 5:17-18

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Mathew 5:17-18

      Jesus came to FULFILL the law not change them. And that not even a stroke of a pen nor the smallest letter by any means should disappear from the LAW until the end of days. So why did the catholic change the 10 commandments differently from the bible? Go ahead and google "The Catholic church 10 commandments" open a link that provides them and then open your bible and compare them. You will see.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  19. sck

    Ah yes, those immoral Catholics who genuinely do not care about the rampant and widespread cover-up of crimes against children by those at the very top of their organization and those who think football is more important than anything else on earth are deeply upset by this editorial.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  20. TheTruth

    StopBaptistPredators.org

    July 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Dorkus

      Nice try. How about you clean your own house first?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:21 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.