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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. MrStupid

    Myself, my family, and the rest of the 1.8 billion Catholics on the planet are the "Catholic Church." Do not lump the rest of us in with the 10,000 sinning priests, or .000001 percent of Catholics.

    July 25, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • wakko

      I agree with that but why did they lump the whole school and all of the students, teacher, and everyone else up and inadvertently punish them too?

      July 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  2. Keota

    That's why I am glad I worship the only one and true deity: FSM! More powerful than Yahweh! It says so in the FSM Bible. Read the truth!

    July 25, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  3. wakko

    I would like to know where the money for the fines and the money they are taking off Penn state is going. Are you going to give it to the families that where affected or just keep it for yourselves? Also, by taking all the wins off the coach what do you really accomplish, besides hurting those boys that played in those games too. I really think that you have who you need but they are just kicking a dead horse to make themselves look better. What about the mother of the one boy that did not report this to the police too when she knew something was going on? Is she not just as much to blame as they are? Really lets get the blame where it needs to be and stop punishing the school and students.

    July 25, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  4. Reality

    As noted below:

    FEAR, SHAME and/or GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy".

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan or football coach since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Penn State officials, Paterno, Clinton, Cardinal Law) or child endangerment (Penn State officials, Paterno, Lynn) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

    July 25, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  5. k

    The situations at the NCAA and the Vatican are apples and oranges, at least with regard to public perception. The Church is (and priests are) viewed by many as a unified whole. And so abuse/cover-up by some is de facto abuse/cover-up by all. And the Church's many detractors love this, as it makes it easy to paint the entire Church with the same brush. The NCAA situation is quite different. The abuse (to our knowledge) was restricted to Penn State ... a well defined sub-set/member of the NCAA. Being wise politicians, the NCAA came out with their punishments against this sub-set as a means to further delineate the line between them and Penn State, thereby insulating themselves against this incident. Of course, many will argue that the punishments were not sufficiently severe (vacating wins? really?). But quick action is what the NCAA wanted – and they got it.

    As an aside, the NCAA also had the benefit of hindsight. They saw how a slow response from the Vatican has slowly bled enthusiasm (of some) within the Church and fanned the flames of its detractors. The NCAA wisely realized how bad this would be for them.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  6. Gedwards

    Interesting concept........the Catholic Church should just annul all of the marriages that were performed not only be the priests who abused, but also the last rights, ordinations, and other ceremonies done by their superiors over the last couple of decades.

    I wonder how all of the 1000s and 1000s of couples would feel knowing that they are suddenly no longer married. I suppose some would be ecstatic. Good idea.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • Mello

      Great comment.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  7. fr xavier lobo

    the NCAA had nothing to cover, fear or favour. it dealt with the case in all urgency to do justice to the victims n rightly so. will the church do likewise? no. it has many things to cover for fear of total exposure. as a result total injustice to the victims till of late. now that mgr lynn is given 3 to 6 yrs sentence n 2 other bps in U S r called to court things may change but cover up n secrecy is the grand motif.
    today we here that gabriele of vatileaks has sought pardon from the pope. pope will pardon him n that may end the vatileaks scandal.

    July 25, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  8. WillieLove

    CATHOLIC TRADITION – Pope called Holy Father.

    WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS – The term Holy Father is only found one time in the entire Bible. It was when Jesus prayed before He and His disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane. He referred to God the Father as Holy Father. It is blasphemy to call a man by God's name

    John
    17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Mello

      You are twisting words. Do you call your dad, father? If so, there are many passages in the bible that you can twist to say you're being blasphemous.

      July 25, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • AGuest9

      It's only blasphemous if you believe the nonsense in the first place.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  9. WillieLove

    CATHOLIC TRADITION – Mary is the queen of heaven.

    WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS – Worshipping the queen of heaven (which is not the Mary of the Bible) is worshipping another god and it provokes the Lord to anger.

    Jeremiah
    7:17 Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?
    7:18 The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
    7:19 Do they provoke me to anger? saith the LORD: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?

    July 25, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Mello

      Mary is a queen because she gave birth to Jesus. Jesus honors his mother because he is a perfect son. She does not have any godly powers nor do Catholics worship her. We honor her as a extraordinary example of a Christian and how a Christian should live.

      July 25, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • gerald

      Jesus established the Davidic Kingdom for eternity. If you look in the Old Testament that Kingdom not only had a king but many other offices. One of those offices was the QUEEN MOTHER. The Old Testament is a forshadowing of the new and of the Kingdom. We should look for a queen. Who else?

      July 25, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • chief

      way to go gerald..... proof that pot is stronger now.... mother what....

      July 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  10. WillieLove

    RCC is a lie .....taking poor people's money, lying about the Bible....
    Matthew 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  11. C Todd

    Why, People Can't see. Who is all ignoring the Catholic Church's who have same exact issues...To bad Penn State was not a Catholic Church..Still comes down to who, or what we are and money and then some can get by with about anything. Who are is neglecting to act. and report and take necessary action. Abusing there power and authority to cover up and hide the same thing for 3 times as long.. In one example one Priest was transferred around to different churches and the information was hidden, this was all over the news. Look again who ignored it.. That would be like transferring Sandusky to a different College every time he committed an act.....Know Difference at all.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  12. Nilkinggary

    The Church doesn't deserve much applause these days, but I would hardly hold up the NCAA as an exemplar for the rest of us.

    July 25, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • pockets

      Religion poisons everything.

      July 25, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  13. hectorr45

    I hope that the media does a better job at distinguishing the catholic body from the christian body. I know that CNN is not a church channel and made to produce anwsers to theological questions, but the catholic has seperate beliefs then that of the "Christians." Instead of church the should simply say catholiscm or something.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Scowl

      You don't get to pick and choose who is "Christian"; in fact isn't it very un-Christian of you?

      July 25, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  14. felipphi ruiz

    The most important issue for vatican and rulers, is control on the mass because their power and asociates don not want to lose for economic and political reasons rather than espiritual matter, that is the way they are " Christians".

    July 25, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Ryan

      I would say that's 100 percent correct.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  15. TD McGann

    A few points: the Freeh Report was a scam. Freeh is part of the cover-up, as the Mark Emmert. Also, Rome has built any moral capital over the centuries. Have you forgotten about the Crusades and Inquisition? If the Catholic would take a stand on numerous things, such as are illegitimate president, our country wouldn't be in such dangerous straits.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  16. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    So Steve P, the religiously uncommitted religion professor from Boston U, wants the Vatican to fine their archdioceses another $60 million/each even though most are either bankrupt or near bankruptcy from paying billions of dollars of legal judgements and settlements?

    And the Vatican should reduce the number of candidates for priesthood for these archdioceses when said dioceses are quickly running out of priests? And also reduce any funding for seminaries?

    And the Vatican should reduce the number of Masses and other functions like centennial celebrations held in these archdioceses to really punish all the parishes for their ghastly deeds?

    "Professor" Steve needs to take up chess as obviously his commentaries are wasting his and our time.

    And to get his required 2000 + words in his commentary, Steve P regurgitated all of the NCAA's penalities. i.e. he gets paid by the word, not for thinking or keeping commentary short or to the point.
    =======================================================================================

    July 25, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • rdub

      No, the Vatican shouldn't do these things...the people should remove them from our thoughts and and symbols of them. They are a scam and a plague on the world.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Ryan

      I think you have grossly missed the point. The point was that the NCAA came down hard and swift on the part of their organization that was corrupt and complicit in horrible crimes; the Vatican does and did not. They protected priests for years. There was no definitive "THIS IS WRONG and we shall turn these men over to the authorities at once". Instead the obfuscated and hemmed and hawed and blamed priests raping little boys on the 60s. It is an absolute joke and quite frankly if not another person joined the priesthood I'd be more than content.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Reality

      FEAR, SHAME and/or GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy".

      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

      Neither is being an atheist or pagan or football coach since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Penn State officials, Paterno, Clinton, Cardinal Law) or child endangerment (Penn State officials, Paterno, Lynn) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      July 25, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  17. frodo1008

    If the Catholic Church ever actually went by the bible, and the precepts of Peter who they state was the first actual pope, then they would allow their priests to marry. Please observe:

    Matthew 8:14, 15 " And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them."

    Not only does this show that Peter himself WAS married, but that Christ himself thought so honorably of that marriage that he directly healed Peter's mother-in-law!!

    Sooo, with this in mind, just where does the Catholic Church get off denying such a state to its priests?

    While this might not alleviate all of the pedophilia problems with Catholic Priests, it certainly would help. And as they could then have their own children, it would practically eliminate the problem totally. But evidently the Catholic Church will go on shooting itself in its proverbial foot.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Veritas

      Prothero is feeding you what you want to hear so all the haters and bigots can have their monthly "fix" of rants.

      It is NOT a well written article – it is produced by Belief Blog which is run by an ATHEIST. He pays Prothero to keep the kettle boiling!.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • shawbrooke

      You are aware of the replicated finding that priests offend less often than do married men? What is it – you did the research and decided to ignore it, or you are so arrogant that you just spouted off? Not that I'm Catholic and I favor marriage for everyone who finds someone they want to marry.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  18. Mike

    The catholic Church has been and will always be filled with corruption.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Mello

      You should tell those millions of the hungry and forgotten souls the church feeds and helps this fact of yours.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • rdub

      Mello, who are these forgotten souls? I see homeless people in every city I visit and little done for those without health insurance or food for their families...unless they are part of the "holy crowd".

      July 25, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Mello

      These forgotten souls don't even have a city to call home, clothes on their back, or are left to die without the world caring. It's great you volunteer and visit. The church provides this for the world more so than any other charity on Earth.

      July 25, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • AGuest9

      There is no such thing as a "soul".

      July 25, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  19. Dave

    OK, I've had some fun, posted under a pseudonym and read some of these comments. It's time to be serious.
    As a middle of the road kind of guy I have the fortune of agreeing with and laughing at the majority of people, because apparently the majority of the people who comment on here are overzealous radicals.
    For starters, CNN. A coward shot at 80 some odd people in a movie theatre, and for the better part of the day an opinion piece was the main splash on the home page. Really?
    Now, for the left winged athiestic types who profess science as the end all, be all. Science has not really explained much. Nature has, but not science. Science does not explain why we don't float, it's a natural thing. With all due respect to Higgs, his particle, unfound but something consistent with the remains of what appears to be it has been detected, also does little beyond explaining how mass gets its weight. Despite this, it is not a scientific discovery, it is a natural one. It does not explain or confirm that there is no God. It does not explain how the particles came to be. It doesn't explain how after the universe was created the earth was formed and inhabited and why we are what we are.
    To the right-winged religious types – science is much needed. Anyone who fears being questioned is blind and scared. There was much wrong done in the church, from the abuse to the cover ups. Being an ostrich to these crimes is foolish.
    To everyone – why speak as if your opinion will change someones mind? More importantly, why speak without thinking? As you can see, people will follow what they believe no matter what the evidence.
    To the opinion writer – please make an apples to apples comparison next time. The NCAA did not punish the school, force them to sell assests and close down buildings and programs. They took away future money, nothing currently earned or of value. The church has had both done. Buildngs have been closed, assests seized, current money lost. The Vatican really has nothing more to do but let the legal system work.
    The true test will come if/when the Penn State officials are found guilty. Monsignor Lynn just got 6 years for his role and he wasn't even the top dog in Philly. Anything less will show how that the church is a target, but then again, despite the evidence not everyone will see it that way.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Veritas

      Dave – respect to you for a well written comment. Best I've seen.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • shawbrooke

      Excellent comment. Brings back the facts of the matter.
      I assume that when you say science you are talking about real scientists like those that "found" the Higgs Boson, and not the amateurs who want people to follow "logic" based on untested or false assumptions.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • rdub

      Yaaawn.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Ryan

      Last time I checked science was the study of nature.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • barlowc

      Dave, you are a middle-of-the-road kind of ignoramus when it comes to science. As someone else says, science IS the study of nature – what the hell did you think it was?

      "...we don't float"? What in water, or off the planet? Really Dave, you are a twit. Science is the ONLY thing that explains why we do or do not float. Religion would highlight that witches definitely do not float.

      "Science has not really explained much". No, Dave. You must be as thick as sh t, in not understanding much. Nature doesn't 'explain' anything, it just exists. Man tries to explain things, and to work out good ideas from bad he's come up with a method called, well, what do you think, Dave?

      "mass gets its weight". Dave, go read a basic physics book or something. Gravity is what gives mass its 'weight'. The Higgs boson is what gives particles their mass.

      "not a scientific discovery, it is a natural one". No, Dave. We've already determined that you don't know what science is, but even someone as dumb as you might appreciate that it has taken billions of dollars, man-years of effort, and years of time to build a machine to detect (with 5-sigma confidence) a Higgs boson. This is not natural, this is definitely man-made and as 'scientific' as anything we've even done. Dave, I know you are only up to sneezing and finding snot in your hand – so I understand why you might think everything is a natural discovery.

      "It does not explain or confirm that there is no God". Good grief Dave, what has God got to do with it? Its just a Higgs boson. Its discovery bolsters the already rock-solid Standard Model of particle physics, and gives Inflation theory a boost too since that relies on Higgs-like fields.

      "It does not explain how the particles came to be". Dave, if you had two brain cells to rub together you could read about big-band nucleosynthesis and Inflation theory. The latter is a likely explanation for where all the particles came from [hint: from nothing, Dave]

      "[why]...the earth was formed and inhabited and why we are what we are". Dave, you starting to sound like a complete idiot now. We know exactly how the Earth was formed – go and google it for Christ sake. As for why we are what we are, I have a pretty good idea what YOU are.

      July 25, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • geedee

      Dave,
      Besides learning how to spell "atheistic" correctly, you should ask yourself why you thik "atheistic types" are all left-winged. There are plenty of right-wing atheists. One need only point to the followers of Ayn Rand.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • Dave

      thanks geedee, I knew something didn't look right. Late night. I never said all athiests are left wing, I'm referring to the overzealous ones. See paragraph #2.

      To barlowc – I'd be more impressed if you left the name calling out. Doing so makes your points look second rate and that you are trying too hard. But I did appreciate your correction on the result of the Higg Boson. Again, I knew something wasn't right. My reference to God in the Higgs Boson comments was a response to the athiests who claim the finding is concrete proof God doesn't exist. Considering this comment board is rampant with said extreme athiests it seemed appropriate to include.

      "Dave, if you had two brain cells to rub together you could read about big-band nucleosynthesis and Inflation theory. The latter is a likely explanation for where all the particles came from" – right to my point about extreme athiests. Let me break my point down for you. They place concrete determinations on theories and likeliness. Sorry, but almost doesn't actually count in much. I'm not knocking science or real scientists at all (see shawbrookes comments). Such works will always serve a tremendous good in the world and I will rely on the ones relevant to me in my daily life. I was speaking to those who would use something they don't truly understand to knock someone else. It's much the same as extreme religious acting as Biblical scholars to govern day-to-day life because they read the book, or you throwing in useless insults to try and sound superior.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  20. jo an

    They should do to the POPE what they did to Paterno...put a bag over his head and take him away...This POPE is much worse than Paterno ever was with not reporting what he knew....I love the beautiful Catholic Churches but could never enter one without thinking of the children this church has abused...ALL OVER THE WOLRD...

    July 24, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • rdub

      Agreeeed.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:55 am |
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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.