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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. mj

    No excuse for PSU officials that looked the other way, but who is Louis Freeh to write a report on moral conduct? He oversaw the murder and massacre of 82 men women and children in Waco, TX. Several 1 year old babies died in the horrific assault. The fact that this man claims he has a single thread of moral fiber is downright hysterical. Louis Freeh should be behind bars, not writing reports.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • mydogbill

      God is angry because His House is beset with intruders

      July 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  2. Rocky

    Wow!! An exceptionally well written piece Stephen Prothero. You nailed it! Luckily for all of us Penn State Football is accountable to the NCAA to reign in their arrogance and neglect. The Vatican and its bishops have Almighty God. The eternal and transcendent creator of us all. It does not matter in the end how many robes they wore or how many masses they said, they will be held FULLY accountable for hearing and seeing no evil..just like all of us. That gives me a lot of comfort. They will be held accountable in the next life..but until then...expect no changes from any of them in this life due to their pride and arrogance. At least one of them is going to jail for 6 years in Philadelphia today.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Tridentine

      How can you say the NCAA is taking anything seriously.The public will pay and pay and pay.Many of the churches problems occurred decades ago.The Penn State thing happpened recently.This was all about protecting the mighty Penn State and the big money going to coaches and administrators.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  3. Marcos H. Rivera

    If Catholics & the Catholic Church were serious about anything... they would have a big big garage sale and sale all of that art work and then go to Africa and feed those poor children souls...

    July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Poodle

      Good idea Marcos but it is already happening. Plus why would you want to fatten up a bunch of muslim extremists? More than Obama already has

      July 24, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  4. NaClxEarth

    Stephen Prothero – you make silly points about NCAA penalties... vacating wins. Wow, how harsh! Lost scholarships – Ooooooh, I'm a trembling Nittany lion. Lost bowl revenues and a fine that amounts to one year's football revenue – yawn!

    And somehow that's harsh compared to what the Catholic Church has done? I'm not excusing what crimes were covered up in either scenario... but are you really that bigoted? Or are you just trying to deflect righteous anger focused on PSU towards Catholics? Or are you just ignorant?

    July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  5. Inciteful

    Yeah...right. Like the NCAA didn't know Div I schools treat their sports programs with kid gloves and give them special power.What BS! The penalty for Penn State is harsh to deflect blame on the NCAA itself.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  6. TonyC

    One last point. PSU and the NCAA failed these kids over a period of more than 20 years. They were not swift at all. The NCAA should not even allow adults in a shower with kids in the lockers. But they do. I teach at a Catholic school and adults are not even allowed in the same restroom that children use. Adults have to use different sets of restrooms. Also I had to pass an FBI background check even though I only teach the adult education classes because I may come in contact with the kids while preparing my courses. I have to renew that check every year. The NCAA does little or none of these things and they are open to more abuse...

    July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  7. Olaf Big

    NCAA cares about the child abuse more than the Church? Nonsense! Neither gives a rat's tail about child abuse. The difference is that NCAA fears backlash against college football and huge financial losses that come with it, if it does not act, and the Catholic Church can't be bothered because the faithful will fill the donation plates anyway.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Buddy

      The problem is that certain deviants are now protected as if they were an endangered species. These sorts of crimes are going to skyrocket. The priests should be tested for steroid use, though.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  8. Burbank

    There is nothing honorable about the Catholic Church, hasn't been for millenia. It's all based on lies. Mary was never a virgin for starters, that was a political decion made at the Council of Nicea in order to control and manipulate people. It gets worse from there! I hope this evil scam business, it's too involved in amasing riduculous levels of wealth to be called a religion, crumbles and fades to dust as it's pathetically brain-washed members wake up and leave!
    – From and ex-Catholic and victim of a ped priest.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  9. OPEN400

    The Church dognma does not condone punishing the innocent along with the guilty.The Church did not follow this dogma during the Middle Ages when the Church was a ruling body(unified to stop the spread of Islam).

    Sandusky will be sentenced to prison. Paterno is dead. Other involved who lied will be brought to the bar of justice for perjury. Why punish the entire univeristy? That's not justice – that's revenge.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Because the University, like the Catholic Church, acted as an organization to hide and therefore allow the continuation of criminal activity (child abuse). They should be punished.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • shan

      Well stated argument. However, it is not the entire university that is being punished. It's the university's football program, the very program that supported the atmosphere that empowered Sandusky. The NCAA only has jurisdiction over athletics programs. It is telling that people don't seem to understand the distinct nature of a college from its athletics. This is why these people were so powerful and corrupt in the first place.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  10. Mathius

    Would be nice if the writer knew something about Catholicism before his anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rant. Interesting that he supports the anti-religion, harbor of abusers organization called SNAP as well. His facts are incorrect as seen from the the start of his article: Rhode Island has more Catholics than Massachusetts. Second, married school teachers have the highest rate of abuse per CNN, AP, John Jay Study, and USA Today as reported by a three part study/report that was published three years ago. BTW, there is no check control or back ground checks on school teachers.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  11. poodle

    Not just a catholic problem either. Kiddie touchers are rife in the jewish and muslim faiths as well. They just have their followers brainwashed a little more.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  12. Colin

    Dear Catholics:

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifthly, in the same vein, I would not make about 5% of the human population gay, then punish them for being that way. In fact, I wouldn’t care about how humans have $ex at all, given that I created all of the millions of millions of species on the planet, all of whom are furiously reproducing all the time. Human $ex would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Has it ever occurred to you that your obsession with making rules around human $ex is an entirely human affair?

    Sixth, I would have smited all traditional Catholics, (and evangelicals and fundamentalists) long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric even for me to contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Ninthly, had I existed, do you really think my representation on Earth would have such a history of corruption, retardation of science, financial misdeeds, political intrigue, outright criminal behavior and $exual misconduct, including pedophilia, as the Vatican does. I mean, come on! As a CEO, I would be fired for allowing my organization to run amok century after century.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    July 24, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      let me simply your pontifical prose – The difference between science and religion is that science doesn’t mandate the universe to be what a person wants it to be – rather it forces our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality. As the late Car Sagan stated, “It’s far better to accept the universe as it truly is than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring”. Our grand universe, perhaps one of an infinite number (M-theory), is only 13.7 billion years in its infancy; where no organic life will be able to exist during its next trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years remaining before its heat death (maximum entropy). Sorry to disappoint believers but the universe doesn’t have you in mind. Simply stated, those that maintain religious beliefs belong to the infancy of our species.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • poodle

      Must have taken you a while to write that. Must be exhausting to diddle children and deny there is a god all day

      July 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      I sleep with my under pants in my mouth because it reminds me of my mother

      July 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Nice try using my user name

      you must be a cahtolic

      July 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Thanks, that is the most truthful statement I have ever heard from any "god". "All religions bear the traces during the intellectual immaturity of the human race before it had learned the obligations to speak the truth. Not one of them makes it the duty of its god to be truthful and understandable in his communications." Friedrich Nietzsche

      July 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      I was fired from my job for looking at pictures of little boys. Plus I had a feather duster stuck in bottom

      July 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • mydogbill

      sin when full born leads to hatred of God. Hatred of God leads to death. Do not love sin . Sin leads to death.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Puhleeeze

      Love it!

      July 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Anonymous

      This is so fantastic. Thank you.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  13. Ex-catholic

    After 12 years of Catholic education I realized that for the most part children are not the main concern of the men in charge. I got a wonderful education from amazing nuns and a few great priests. I have left the church because of the many stands they have taken against women and gays and the miserable manner in which they have handled the scandels. Cardinal Law is protected in Rome but if he were to return to the United States would be arrested. What kind of a church protects people like this. I must admit that the people of the Catholic church have always been much more moral and Christian than their leadership.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • mydogbill

      We live in a day and age where evil has infused itself everywhere. It's evils insatiable thirst for control that we are witness to

      July 24, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Bill, Bloomington Il

    still nothing to learn here. The football first mentality from the NCAA is not lost on the catholic church. Ohio State, Penn State, Miami, USC, Auburn just to name a few. Except for PSU, all received a slap on the wrist and a wink with dont get caught again.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  15. xnmt

    In the Middle Ages, the Church had the power to imprison a priest suspected of misconduct. However, there were much fewer points of contact between priests and children back then. No altar boys. No religious ed. Hence, I suspect, less incentive for pedophiles to enter the priesthood.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  16. Darrell

    In the original Greek edition of the "Revelation" story the chosen 144,000 were all men and they each were to receive 10,000 male virgins upon their ascension to heaven. Pedophilia was a common past time in ancient Rome, and some old traditions die very slowly. Get a fresh translation from the original Greek version of the "Revelation" story and prove this to yourself. The thing that needs to be revealed is Roman church leaders have always preferred boys and that is why they always ignore this issue.

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

      Do you regulary make up things or was this just a moment of delusion.............biblical scholar you are NOT

      July 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Raised Catholic

      Darrell you are extremely stupid... Many catholic priests use to get married. They were gay i guess too? Also you totally butchered that passage. It said that 12 thousand men from each of the 12 tribes of israel would get into heaven. That obviously is extremely stupid since only jews would get into heaven then. Put down the computer and suck a dick

      July 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Raised Decently

      And then "Raised Catholic" said "put down the computer and suck a dick." SMH.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  17. Raised Catholic

    What some of the priests in the Catholic Church have done is a very vile and evil thing. The Catholic Church's response has been almost as disapointing. However, what I do not understand is all the hate and complaining from noncatholics concerning this issue. The victims of these crimes have all been catholics themselves, and Catholics should be the only ones that have anything to complain about. This is about people's hate for Catholicism and religion, not about the actual crimes committed. The Catholic Church tells its followers what they should believe in and how they should act, not nonbelievers. Get abortions and support gay marriage if you want to becuase it is your right as a free person, but realize that Catholics have the right to their own beliefs as well and for the most part these beliefs do not get in the way of anybody else's freedoms.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Dorkus

      Um, what? Are you saying Catholics are above the laws of the non-Catholics? Wow, what is in that wine they serve you idiots? LSD?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • notogop

      I believe your Catholic paranoia is showing through. Many of these articles are not being written about any hatred for the Catholic Church, but rather, the Catholic Church's failure to act upon information they had in their possession for centuries and not only failed to act upon that information, continued to cover it up. This is not about Catholic hatred, but an ourpouring of humanities righteous indignation of criminal behavior against society, a society which is not exclusively comprised of Catholics.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Raised Decently

      So by your logic, a female serial murderer who only murders women should be of no concern to me since I am a male, and due to my being a male, none of that would effect me?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • IronDitka

      Oh and btw... law and order is supposed to protect everyone from evil as you put it. Whether the victims were Catholic or not is irrelevant. The fact is the the Catholic leadership chose to hide the misdeeds and the members who perpetrated this evil.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Raised Catholic

      All I am trying to say is that the media and just about everyone else is always on the attack against the catholic church proven by your rude responses. I guess that I kind of went too far saying that it is not other people's business other than catholics, but I do think that these issues get more than its fair share of media coverage. It would be nice if the media ever mentioned the thousands of hospitals and other charitable foundations founded by the catholic church. What these priests did was awful and the catholic church's response was embarressingly apathetic, however I believe that the catholic church creates a lot more good in this world than bad.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • IowaNorseman

      I guess you have forgotten about the gay popes, saints and the gay marriages that they preformed. They also were able to marry as well. It is pope that changed things, because they did not like something.

      God was in the womb when a gay person was being made just like God was there for any one. Love not hate.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Raised Catholic and Recently Left

      According to your theory, only murderers should judge other muderers. Only Catholics can judge Catholics for crimes against humanity? You like like an idiot defending pedophelia and those who cover it up. Stop drinking the Kool Aid. You'll get better. I did.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Cassarit

      It's simple really. This is their golden opportunity to pour out their hatred of Catholics and they are making the most of it.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  18. answermuffins

    Now that all these LGBT freaks are allowed to get married they won't hide behind churches or coaching jobs anymore. Get ready for a flood of ped touchers to do what they do best behind closed doors

    July 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Delusional idiocy.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • sam stone

      if it is behind closed doors, why does it bother you so much, muffy?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • answermuffins

      Simply because it is a deep seated fetish that is passed from one generation of perv to the next. Its not a naturally occurring phenomenon thats for sure!

      July 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  19. a random christian

    Did you ever think that america is the place the pope or the vatican wants to waste there time on... we are free of persecution here yet we as americans are some pretty messed up people.. while in latin american countries, middle eastern, and asian people dont have the same oppurtunoties... the vatican leads the church but doesnt need to parade around apologizing for the mistakes of the men in their service especially those in america yes do something for the victims and yes bring justice to the priests but the church is global and to waste its time on the nation that betrays its own survival.. well im sorry your an idiot... and no im not being very christian :p

    Also didnt read any comments im a notre dame fan.. i know go figure

    July 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      the worst crimes are the cover ups.. children denied by order of the pope and bishops. Imagine that.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • norman

      random christians-you are a complete imbecile and a great rep for the RCC-they are criminals and they will all burn in hell if there is one. Bernard Law, who protected dozens of child molesters, was eleveated in the church heirarchy and is now living in an apartment in the vatican. I am shocked at the mindless religious sheep in this country-how could anyone still be a catholic here? its disgusting and akin to the catholics hwo looked teh otehr way when the nazis stuck jews in teh ovens...

      July 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • answermuffins

      someone who gets molested by four priests? unless you are in a wheelchair you are full of huh rap

      July 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Proud American

      It is not just America with a Catholic pedo problem. It is France, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, US, Germany, Bulgaria etc...

      July 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  20. Tincelpants

    The only thing this teaches us is that pickle touching men are all perverts and need to be rehabilitated

    July 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Whoa Nelly

      nope, the churches position in the 60s was rehab. all these people need castration, their hands chopped off and mouths sown shut. And this is from a realistic Catholic, no rose coloured glasses, no bigotted, backwards mindset.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:46 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.