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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. HARRY

    Catholic children are brain washed from child hood..The church controls the minds of it's followers from birth.Open minded catholics are not.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  2. larry5

    The difference is that NCAA officials and members are not involved in the abuse of children.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  3. Marty

    Just ban the church from post-season games. They get the same slap on the wrist just like penn state.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  4. typer22

    CNN bigotry toward Catholics is really disturbing, they seem to be running anti-Catholic opinion columns on a 14 day cycle. This article is complete garbage, the author contributed zero research. Back in 1998, the Catholic Church responded with the VIRTUS program, which is a required certification and ensure everyone working near children is trained in child abuse prevention. The church also performs background checks, and adults can’t be alone with kids in the church and schools. VIRTUS certifications also need to be renewed annually.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Ed

      They also shuffled Cardinal Law off to an important post in the Vatican when it looked like he was complicit in covering up the scandal in Boston.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Big deal, the church was forced by society to deal with the issue. If the church could have continued the policy of 3 card monte with its priests it would have.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      in 2001 the now pope, when he was a cardinal reporting to the vatican, wrote a letter demanding the silence be kept. Threats were OK, when needed. In addition he demanded that all bishops adhere to the cover up doc-uments and make certain no victim comes forward until 10 years past adulthood. Why? Because statutes of limitations would now protect the church and deny the victims.

      The pope and bishops are com men, liars.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      actually it was the victims and families that forced the church to change. Hadn't they, it'd be child rap-es and so-do-my all over again. However the church still lobbies to stop laws that would expose the truth. Guess this church is not about honesty.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • trypax

      As a parent volunteer, I went through VIRTUS training. I felt it to be a slap in the face. In order to volunteer at my children's school, I had to sit through 3 hours of training and get fingerprinted and have a background check. A BACKGROUND CHECK TO VOLUNTEER AT MY CHILD'S SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!! The training made NO MENTION of the sins of the priests and bishops nor asked for forgiveness. I was the one paying for the Bishop's grave sins. Yes, mortal sins. It is my donations that are being used to pay off the lawsuits. Bringing up VIRTUS training as a DEFENSE shows how completely out of touch you and the hierarchy are.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • typer22

      Hey victim guy... you're not responding with facts, you're responding with what you wish were facts.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • typer22

      Trypax, thank you for supporting me on describing the thoroughness of VITRUS, and sorry you didn't like... and VIRTUS wasn't meant to be an apology for the past, but a step forward to a better future.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Dave

      Don't forget that there was a meeting 30 years ago where child-rapist Father Hullerman was reassigned, rather than reported to the cops. The chairman of that meeting was then the Archbishop of Munich. His punishment? Yeah, he's the current Pope Benedict.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      there was NO VIRTUS training with finger printing until the families and victims demanded it. Ratzinger demanded the cover ups in a letter sent to all bishops in 2001.. Nice VIRTUS training. And the cover ups continue as the bishops lobby to stop laws that would expose the truth.

      That's fact.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      it is NOT your donations that are paying victims, but your donations to support the bishops lobby efforts to stop laws that would expose the truth. California was a rare state that passed laws despite the bishops lobby efforts. In addition to the 600 child abusing priests, we uncovered another 300 there thanks too that law. In NY State where the bishops lobby efforts are the greatest and winning, over 1,000 child abusing priests have been identified and are free and around children today. One is a bishop.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • typer22

      The church fights to protect statutes of limitation... so that priest get a fair trial based on evidence and not one sided 30 year old recollections.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  5. Elliot

    If people were smart and didn't even go to church this dumb article would have never even been written.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  6. bap

    DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THE NCAA IS ANY BETTER THAN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH!!!!! You are one delusional dude!!!! In what way is the NCAA any better????? If they were, they would take the 60 MILLION dollars they are getting from Penn State and put it towards helping children that have been abused. Take it and teaching people to do not worry about your job when a child is being molested FRONT OF YOU and JUST STOP THE ACT and call police and help the child.

    Instead they will take it and spend it on themselves!!! Besides....they never said what they were going to do with all that money!!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Elliot

      Actually they are giving the money away for a good cause.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Tandy Scott

      They DID say. It's being donated to the very type of group you are suggesting. Read.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      who is giving money away for good causes??? Catholic charities is paid for by our tax dollar, grant money. wake up. The vatican gets richer each day, they ignore the many children who starve. Yet they have wealth,, pope in a gold chair wearing gold lined wardrobes

      July 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Dave

      You've got to be kidding me. The first sentence out of the mouth of Emmert was to announce the $60M fine. THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE OUT OF HIS MOUTH was that it would be donated to a third-party charity to help abused children. You and your comment are pathetic.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  7. mydogbill

    Practice faith. Let it's leadership befriend you. You are not alone. Be wise. Be kind.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  8. jason

    bizarre to see CNN advocating the return of the witch hunt

    July 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • erinn

      because they posted an article, they agree with it? Cant it be a news station publishing an article for its reporter?

      July 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  9. David Crosby

    The church has problems because they are worshiping and promoting a deity that they themselves killed 2000 years ago..

    July 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  10. Pame

    But the true pope is Fifa's president, the sport is the religion.So who cares about the Vatican and its "Midle Eastern" savior.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  11. joe castro

    Why do you think Penn state agreed so quickly,because [according to Prothero they were so rightheous about what happened.They got out with 60 million that's it.they are home free.Protero takes a shot at the Catholic Church because he's so appalled at pedohillia,why doesn't he go after the touchy-feely Judge in his area that gave a Pedophile TWO years for raping TWO boys repeatedly.YOU LIBERALS ARE A PIECE OF WORK.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Dave

      $60M is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount they'll be paying as a result of the civil lawsuits they're facing... this isn't over by a longshot...

      July 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  12. Scott B

    The church equivalent of this punishment would have been to ban all people attending the church from Ash Wednesday for the next 4 years unless you want to drive across town to a difference church every Sunday. All the while ignoring all of the people guilty of the crime and coverup except for one that passed away.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  13. frank

    what a hit job of a piece!!!!! you guys just can't help yourself. your premise is not true

    July 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • wrong side of the bed

      Don' t you mean HINT job.Let's get the dominoes falling!If you stand around and protect the criminals in the RCC, you will be on the wrong side of history, and you will be hit when the s #it hits the fan.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  14. Eric

    The NCAA acted without due process, and penalized those who are left behind. Their actions were populist and not how a governing agency should act, ever.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • jason

      here, here

      July 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Guest

      I agree. It was a blood offering to the screaming masses.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  15. biglifter

    Who cares about this. Sherman Hemsley died today.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  16. JerseyGeorge

    To quote Thomas Jefferson: "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature" and "In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty".

    July 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Nancy

      Yes Jefferson nailed it.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Just Sayin

      Jerzy Popiełuszko, Solidarity movement.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  17. as a Catholic alter boy who was never molested

    Why this hate and vitriol towards Catholics and the Church? The Catholic Church has done so much good for so long in educating, ministering to the sick, helping the homeless and being the voice for the poor.

    Yes, a very small percentage of priests are guilty (less than one percent) and should face civil penalties. Yes, there were cover ups and those who orchestrated them should suffer the just consequences. But the Church has indeed worked very hard to implement new regulations and safeguards for both clergy and laity. For Mr. Prothero to suggest they have done little indicates he has not researched the topic and seeks only to promote his agenda and garner attention.

    To the self-rightous types who contributed to the ugly comments regarding the Church in this blog, how about instead using your time and energy to do something good for someone in need. That is the core of Christianity and Catholicism, individually helping our brothers by becoming more self-less people and not so self-ish.

    While the Church has had it's problems over history, it is due to the fact that it is made up of humans, and every human sins. What has made the Catholic Church great over the centuries is that in spite of man's sins, the Church has survived as that was part of the Divine plan when the apostle Peter was installed by Christ as the first pope. It will survive it's self-created crisis and it will survive the hate of those intent on it's destruction.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Puhleeeze

      Because they are hypocrites, stupid! That's why.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • shawbrooke

      You are correct. Please note that some people are prejudiced and will take any chance to bash the Catholic Church. Don't be deterred by them, they are cause people and most are sad and stuck people who are working on auto pilot from high school. And please note that I am not a Catholic myself. I just dislike unfair causes.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Vince

      It's not hatred toward the Catholic Church...it's frustration that the church ignores their "sins" and covers-up these types of misdeeds...If I found a cure for cancer, and then committed mass murder, would it be okay, just because I cured cancer?
      I think not. Abuse of children is NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER ok.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • LAURA

      get your head out of the sand, you were lucky,,,, the catholic church has been using it's laws to cover up for pediophiles for centuries. They are the biggest shame of the nation. they are a money making organization who uses the lord's name to protect and harbor criminals so they can consume and make more money. AND YES, I AM A RELIGIOUS PERSON, SOMEONE WHO BELIVES VERY STRONGLY THAT GOD WOULD NOT LIKE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE IN HIS NAME. FOOD PANTRY'S ARE CLOSING ALL AROUND US, CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS ARE CLOSING...BUT YET IN THE MAIL I WAS ASKED FOR A DONATION TO REBUILD THE (PERFECTLY FINE) CHURCH WE HAVE ; THEY NEED TO KNOW IF I WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE GOLD CHALICES OR GRANITE BENCHES WITH MY NAME ON IT....PLEASE..........SERIOUSLY....GET A GRIP

      July 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Robin Jones

      None of your claims do anything to change the fact that the NCAA, and Penn State, in initiating an independent investigation, acted much more seriously, quickly and effectively than the Catholic Church. This despite all of the Church's hypocritical claims of moral standing and authority.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • dpk242

      "What has made the Catholic Church great over the centuries is that in spite of man's sins, the Church has survived as that was part of the Divine plan when the apostle Peter was installed by Christ as the first pope."

      What does that even mean? That sounds like religious mumbo-jumbo.

      Consider reading more history on the Catholic Church, because you're seemingly ignorant of the centuries of atrocities orchestrated by the RCC on humanity, which far outweighs the good intentions.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      The church hide abusers as an organization. The church claims morality and then acts in its own interest.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Loubies

      You are aware of the COMPLETE history of the Catholic Church, are you not?

      July 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • wrong side of the bed

      People do good deeds every single day, all around the world.These people do what they do because it's right.Not to glorify a church or to please an imaginary deity.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      pedos only attack those they are attracted too. Manson didn't murder you either.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  18. TomGI

    That picture of all those Catholic dudes with their robes, jewelry and their little red skull caps is about the funniest darn picture I have seen lately. How does their "flock" revere these old fossils in that get up? Weird and wacky!

    July 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  19. Name*Aline Frybarger

    AMEN!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  20. dscon

    and.......senator craig can learn something other tha the "bathroom stall shuffle".

    July 24, 2012 at 6:33 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.