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. erich2112x

    Catholic priests will never stop molesting kids, we know this. Otherwise, they'd have put an end to this horror 30+ years ago when it all came to surface. More kids will be molested, more parents will give these filthy pigs access to their children, more lives will be destroyed. Based on what we've seen, there are priests lying in wait, right now as we speak, waiting to hurt children. Nuclear war, contraception, gay marriage, divorce, abortion...........but on the issue of pedophilia, they continue to stonewall endlessly.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  2. Rinn

    i can't believe the commentator on ESPN just siad the NCAA had to take action due to the public outcry, can you say mob rule, i believe the pledge of allegience says, to the republic for which it stands , a republic is about due process not knee jerk reaction like the ncaa did with duke lacrosse, and now Penn State.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Clint

      Don't start quoting the pledge unless you point out that "under god" divides "one nation" and "indivisible".

      My father fought in WWII, you know, the so-called greatest generation.... won the war and all that, and they did it without having to alter the pledge. Weird.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Rinn

      clint read your history about the pledge orginally adopted by congress in 1942, it did not include the "under god" phrase. that was proposed in 1952 and added by congress in 1954 . My father also fought in WWII and is buried at Arlington

      July 25, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  3. lejaune

    The church has the God given power to do whatever it wants. The NCAA doesn't.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • John P

      Not with innocent US citizens, even if they are just altar boys.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Clint

      Don't throw common sense at religious folks, most of them don't understand it.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  4. mydogbill

    pray for peace

    July 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  5. Mark

    The Catholic is a pen of swine! The God in which they believe will deal with them!

    July 24, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • TeaClown

      Yep, there will be a surprise trap door at the Pearly Gates for many gun toting tea buddies.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Lawrence

      Out of 400,000 priest there were about 1% molested children.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Peter

      Just a perfect example of primitive thinking... I am Catholic and very proud of it!

      July 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • The Way It Is

      Actually, the lowest estimate based on actual cases is 4%, which is the Vatican's number. Every other estimate is higher, as that ignores the numerous people who must have been dead before information was gathered (these figures come from 1950-2000, so many are dead from those early years), or who have just chosen not to speak.

      THis information is freely available, Lawrence. You shouldn't invent numbers like that. Lying is not supposed to be a Christian characteristic.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Johnny Blammo

      Peter, if I may ask, what have you personally done to let your church know that you do not approve of their stonewalling and obstruction and reassignment of dangerous priests and the blaming of the victims, and the tactic of bankruptcy to avoid paying the victims?

      Have you done anything?

      Personally, the Catholic decision to be partisan instead of championing the cause of good and right is the most repugnant thing about this whole scandal. Had catholics stood up and let there Clergy know that they wanted thing handled better. the rest of us would be very impressed with you. But you chose to protect and support the perpetrators of the cover-up.

      In a choice between good and evil, you went partisan and did not choose good.

      And it's your own children at risk. Those were and are Catholic children; not atheist children or Muslim children, but you children.

      Form the actual prieststo the clergy to the laity, I have yet to see one display of moral courage, not one moment of Catholics standing up and telling the Vatican "enough, God damn it!!!"

      From top to bottom, the whole thing has been a spectacle of moral cowardice from a religion that believes itself to be the repository of morality.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • John P

      Lawrence, the percentages are higher according to every study I've read. And are you citing the large number of priests, 400,000, in an attempt to suggest it is not a severe as commonly perceived? To me, your data suggests that the most successful strategy in curbing child molestation in the church would be to try to get that 400,000 number down as low as possible.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  6. They can BOTH learn from the Boy Scouts!

    They can ALL learn from the Boy Scouts, keep those people OUT of anything to do with children. The risk that a Sandusky is lurking amongst them is too great a risk to take to be fashionable and politically-correct.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • TeaClown

      Such a nice,bigoted, intolerant rant complete with the code phrase used by Ann Romney..."those people"

      July 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • The Way It Is

      Pedophiles and gays are distinct and separate groups. A bit of research would help you illuminate your intellectual darkness.

      And the Boy Scouts have had their pedophila problems too.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Bobby J.

      It's not an intolerant rant. Perversion is perversion. It's not normal. Just look around. Gay men have no business being scout leaders any more than men do being girl scout leaders. Wake up. Common sense is not common anymore in this PC age. 'Nuf said. Now I brace for the "tolerant" crowd to unleash their hateful rhetoric at me...

      July 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • John P

      I certainly don’t hate you Bobby, I just pity you and nearly weep at what God must feel as He kicks Himself for letting clergy misinterpret Him to mean that you are to pervert your greatest corporal gift from Him, your human mind. It’s painfully obvious God would want you to know that you do not grasp even the slightest handle on common sense. I’m not PC, yet I honor my creator by employing common sense – the one true common sense – not your kind. I can’t be continually setting you straight, so you’ll have to do your own growing from here. It’s all part of being normal. ‘Nuf said? Super!

      July 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  7. Leftcoastrocky

    Catholic Church should also stay out of the politicking business (or relinquish its tax exempt status).

    July 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  8. volsocal

    Why not compare the NCAA sanctions against Penn State to the moslem practices of misogyny and mass murder of infidels?

    July 24, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • TeaClown

      Another lame tea buddy blurb.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  9. Journey

    This whole PSU has nothing to do with any church...it is more a commentary on the breakdown of all family values under the Administration of President Obama plain and simple.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • TeaClown

      A break down in gun lunacy brought to us by the Tea Party.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Mark

      Are you in touch with reality in any way at all???

      July 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • mea3126

      How does this have ANYTHING to do with Obama? Sandusky's offenses span a minimum of 15 years covering Obama, Bush Jr, and Clinton. The church's issues that are coming up in the media are 20-30 years old. There are tons of reasons to dislike Obama, but pick one that makes some sort of sense. If anything, someone can argue that because Obama's president people felt they could speak out. I don't think that's the case either, but that argument would at least fit the time period. By making statements like this, you discredit yourself, not Obama.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Mark

      Since you are one of the fools that voted for George Bush TWICE – you need to keep your political opinions to yourself. You are unqualified to speak! You've done us all enough damage!

      July 24, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Colin in Florida

    The board (or whatever it's called) fired Paterno and the University President. this cleared the way for the new president to clean house-it can only reflect good on him.

    Nothing like this happened in the church. The pope is still the pope, and the cardinals are still the people who were complicit in the cover-ups. THey figure they have ridden out major storms in the past thousands of years, and they will do so again.

    Very few, if any, organizations are as arrogant as the church.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • TeaClown

      Naw, the Catholic Church is STILL in the cover up mode.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Joe Doran

      If the Pope was unaware of the abuses and cover-ups, then should he be the leader of the vast catholic membership? I think not. And why is it that none of these pedophiles and their sponsors have not been arrested. Is this an abuse of the separation of church and state doctrine?

      July 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • John P

      On the contrary, this may not be arrogance at all, rather humility practiced at its purist. Maybe this is just one of those cases in which God works in mysterious ways. Just as Sandusky was working in a mysterious way with boys in the shower, the Pope and the rest of the Church hierarchy were working in mysterious ways in either their ignorance or their complacency of these mysterious practices by some of their clergy. Perhaps it is not the role of the laity to fathom such mysteries.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  11. b4bigbang

    Anyone who says science has proven there's no free will is feeding you a load of baloney.
    Read the entire article on wikipedia and you'll see:


    July 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  12. Elea Lee

    Not a big football fan but I am a NCAA fan today. Good ruling

    July 24, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  13. rasalus

    Comparing the NCAA ruling to something the Vatican should be doing is crazy. The NCAA stepped way over it's authority. It is supposed to govern athletics. Players selling tickets, taking money, coaches not recruiting fairly – these are things the NCAA governs and has rules to follow. The NCAA was not set-up to judge civil infractions. They are punishing the school, students & faculty for something they had no involvement with. What did they have in place that set guidelines for this sort of thing? Penn State can take of it's own just fine and is doing so, unlike the Vatican. And it's easy to blame Paterno since he's not around to defend himself. I don't believe Joe would have tried to cover up anything he thought was unethical, despite what the "Freeh" report concluded. Meanwhile, the Vatican has been turning it's head for hundreds of years. Maybe Italy should suspend Vatican services for a year?

    July 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Colin in Florida

      rasalus, are you for real? you said " I don't believe Joe would have tried to cover up anything he thought was unethical, despite what the "Freeh" report concluded." The key word is 'believe'. So, your belief is more important than evidence?

      99.9999% of the people at Penn State had nothing to do with this, and are as shocked as the rest of us, but they ALL benefitted from the good will and money brought in by the football team over the decades, so all must suffer.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. Erik B.

    This is an easy one...The catholic church views children as inherently evil. In need of the 'rod'. They have been beaten and abused by catholics for years. I was one of those. We all were in one way or another growing up under its tyranny. According to them we are all born evil. With original sin. Only to be 'civilized' by adults within their religious perspective.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Tom250

    Simple, you have to consider the revenue potential from both references. Also where is the media to follow up on chruch pedophilia scandals. CNN Please do a better job on those cases.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  16. Why_Bother

    The Catholic church has it's own country... the Vatican. They can start treating folks like Assad treats his Syrian people if they wanted and no one would do anything, not even this so called G.O.D.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  17. CJ

    There is no supervising board overseeing the catholic and other churches with the power to hand down sanctions. Which means that those organizations have been largely free to 'police' themselves. And we all know how that usually turns out.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Bishop Hairy Palms

    The Catholic Church is an international crime syndicate set up for the sole purpose of robbing the gullible, molesting the innocent, and grabbing as much power as they can.

    It has no moral authority whatsoever.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Hey... c'mon now... thats no way to talk about me.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  19. mema

    This is all great and fine but why compare their reaction to the church? I mean the whole reason it got to this point is because of cover ups from the bottom up. Now it has just become clear just how far that cover up reached. Also the vatican self rules and self punishes. There never going to fine themselves, hello...

    July 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • as a former catholic and victim of pedophilia by 4 catholic priests

      more so they lobby to stop laws that would expose the truth.. And the crimes are from the pope down.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  20. Elen M.

    The Vatican locked the Jews in a getho for 300 years and then gave Argentina passports to Nazi war criminals.Natural that CNN will campaing against them with front page abuse stories .Wont change a thing.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:08 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.