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. kaal

    Why is abuse in Catholic circles "taken more seriously" than abuse in Protestant circles? Read estimates (yesterday) = 1.7% Catholic clergy :: 10% Protestant clergy.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Recovering Catholic

      Reference please. The short answer to your question is that catholics tend to preach to everyone else in the world about how they should live their lives. You know what they say about people who live in glass houses. The holier than thou should not be covering it up.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • chief

      bs comment .... it must be true, he read it on the internet..... go ahead and say some bs stats and add the word "fact" to the end of it.... other ped protectors do that

      July 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  2. Robert

    The NCAA knows they make mistakes so they correct those mistakes. The RCC, in it's infinite arrogance, believes it's perfect and therefore need not correct it's errors. As we all know, the earth is flat. What did Galileo know, surely the RCC must be correct.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  3. Keith

    They should've thrown a chain around his neck and tore it down like a statue of Saddam Hussein.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  4. Mike P

    The Catholic Church is really screwing itself over in not allowing the ordination of married men as priests. People have genetic predispositions to belief, just as they have genetic predispositions to just about everything else. The Church is unwittingly refusing to allow perhaps the most pious and devout segment of its population to breed (not to mention develop normally from a bedroom perspective - the idea that all persons called to the priesthood are also necessarily called to celibacy not only runs counter to common sense but to the Bible, in which the apostle Paul recommeded choosing priests and bishops from among married men with families). It's almost like the Church is intent on breeding piety out of its population. Thank goodness the Orthodox Church remains, for those who want apostolic continuity without the senselessness of the Catholic Church's celibate priesthood and their obstinate refusal to accept non-abortive artificial contraception.

    July 26, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • Deborah

      I agree. They can't find enough men to enter the celibate life of the priesthood so the positions are filled by peds.
      What really gets me is they say that the apostle Peter started the RCC. Well according to scripture in the Bible Peter was married. Jesus went to Peter's house to heal Peter's mother-in-law.???

      August 7, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  5. Recovering Catholic

    To all of you catholics who take exception to priests being judged by society in favor of allowing god to be the judge at the pearly gates...I feel exactly the same way about those who choose abortion or suicide. What gives the catholic church the moral compass to pass judgement on these issues but escape judgement on pedophilia? Hypocracy at its best. Yep, that's why I left the most corrupt and arrogant society on the face of the earth.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  6. The Asian Atheist

    Moral capital? The catholic church has no moral capital to squander, and it never did. The transgressions of the past cannot be overlooked. The church doctrine has been based on control through fear, and only in more recent years has it started to modernize.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  7. tolerance?

    Ah tolerance ... where for art thou? You must tolerate my behaviour but I will not tolerate yours because it differs from mine.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  8. Marnie

    Mr. Prothero couldn't be more on the mark. If only the NCAA could take over for the Pope. Don't get all excited and offended. I am not taking this lightly. I am simply a catholic who is ashamed of the way the church is handling this situation. I also think its time law enforcement stop dancing around this. The church is not special. If this problem were at a fortune 500 company, law enforcement would stomp down right quick. Again, a great article and qudos to the NCAA.

    July 25, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      Don't be ashamed of the church, BE ASHAMED FOR STILL BEING PART OF THE CHURCH.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  9. Opinion

    How about allowing priest to get married.

    July 25, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • gerald

      How about celibacy has little if anything to do with it. Far more children are abused by uncelibates than celibates and a higher percentage. Fact.

      July 25, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • tbird

      Only where gay marriage to under age boys is allowed

      July 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  10. Antodav

    The NCAA has more to lose than the Catholic Church does. That's why they're taking it more seriously.

    July 25, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  11. Phil Torres

    It's funny how much stricter the moral rules are (in this case, with respect to pedophilia) in the secular world than in the religious one! I'm reminded of the following quote from Bertrand Russell, which seems largely true to me: "Every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." – Phil Torres, author of A Crisis of Faith

    July 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  12. jennygirl

    i don't think the NCAA sent any message to the Vatican. That is your message to the Vatican, but the Vatican isn't listening.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  13. 3olivez3

    The Catholic church is facing ridicule and being targeted without just cause in this article. You are attempting to relate the NCAA scandal with Catholicism.

    What would you expect from The Holy See in this situation? The allegations against some of those priests may be true, if it is – God will judge them accordingly. Being that some were Americans, they are to be tried by a jury for their wrong-doings in a Court of Law.

    By the way, I am not a Catholic – yet.

    -Greater is being loved fully through Christ’s perfection, than being loved to pieces without.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • john the guy not the baptist

      You like Priest below seem to forget that part of the whole shtick of the christian religion is that the jesus messiah figure died for all of our sins, get it. God will judge them, you say, but if they confess seek redemption and follow JJJEEESSSUUUSSS, they wil be forgiven and home free. Lets just hope they have a special place in heaven to keep the perps away from children, just in case they were BSing.

      July 25, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  14. ronvan

    The catholic church has CONSTANTLY denied, hid, delayed, and kept secret these incidents. ONLY when faced with FACTS, legal action, and those abused, got thrown in their face did they start to do something! I do not, personally, see much difference between PSU and the church. BOTH covered up these crimes, paid off some of those involved to keep it quiet. BOTH have paid, and in the case of PSU, will pay out hughe amounts of money In the case of PSU it was public and they had the NCAA to levy punishments. How do you punish the church? SUPPOSSEDLY these are men of GOD, preaching the ways of the lord, while in the background were abusing young people. IF anything it shows ME, that these people are just human, with all those vices and evil acts/thoughts that come with being human! BUT, because of their position are "protected" by the church, and for us to be treated differently. NO!! They are the same and should receive that just punishment from the law as anyone else would get.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  15. anonymous

    Do not forget the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society

    July 25, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  16. Priest

    Obviously Mr. Prothero and others who have commented on here have only to show their ignorance and not do any research on just what the Catholic Church has done to deal with the sins of the past. First, Priests who have committed these horrible crimes have been removed from the priesthood – with no salary or any means of compensation to live on. Second, millions of dollars have been spent, not just given to victims, but spent on years of counseling and work of healing for the victims. Third, there is now a rigorous training program that all priests and lay volunteers who work with and around children must undergo prior to their ministry and work. Fourth, men studying for the priesthood today are given a battery of phsycological tests before even being allowed to enter the seminary (not done prior to the 1980's). There have also been invaluable healing services whereby the victims have been invited to participate and voice their concerns, their feelings and assist church officials to change the atmosphere of the past. This is not to mention the numerous priests who have been sent to prison for their crimes to pay their debt to society.

    So, I would like to suggest that before Mr. Prothero and others on here go "church-bashing" against the Catholic Church that they do their homework and find out what they are talking about – because obviously they don't!!

    July 25, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Ceasar

      Well said! Thanks for that insight.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Have they tried for FULL DISCLOSURE? How about telling the whole truth, and assist in the prosecution of those who did wrong, broke laws and molested children?
      So now that everyone knows, they are on a PR campaign to minimize the damage? That much is obvious, and now we are expected to be happy that they are going to police themselves, like they have done so well in the past?

      July 25, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • ML

      I do not doubt what you are saying about the corrective measures taken by the Catholic Church is correct. However, how do you feel about the $1.3 billion the church has spent on paying the defense lawyers and for the settlements to the victims? As for the settlements, I fully support the idea of compensating the victims. But why spend so much money defending the pedophiles/rapists? Yes, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. BUT, how can you justify allowing alleged child rapists to be relocated and be around more unsuspecting children while the investigations are ongoing?

      July 25, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Outsider

      Oh yes. We all forgot the the church is infallible. Look Priest, putting a few procedures in place does not undo the culture of power that the Catholic Church embraces. You claim to be the moral standard for the entire world and then when it is exposed that not only are your brothers abusive but that it was covered up for years, the only response was "well, we have as many child rapists in our midst as anyone else. We'll add a few training classes to clear it up."

      People were not mad that the church had some bad seeds. They were upset that you claim to be morally superior, all the while (and to this day) covering up such horrendous acts.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • john the guy not the baptist

      Happy to see how much has been done so that the sins and abuse of the past will not be repeated in the future, the culture change must be mandatory in all dioceses in all parts of the world. The one nagging question is how far up the chain of command does it go? From some reports there are still clergy at the Vatican that were part of the cover up that are beyond the civil authority and answer only to rather lax papal law. I have heard that in other countries, Canada for example, that the government actually apologized for the abuse done in the catholic run residential schools that the government forced native chidren to attend. Something similar, the apology, occured in Ireland, Italy and others.

      Another problem, in my perception, is that after the civil penalty is completed, the sinner through confession and redemption may still be able to achieve the ultimate fantasy of religion and have everlastihg life in heaven next to god. I hope I am wrong, please educate me.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Catholic Parent

      I sent my children to Catholic elementary school where the priest assigned to train them as alter aervers was arrested on charges of pedophilia. I sent my daughter to Catholic college where the Chrsitian Brother who was president of the college was arrested for pedophilia. Coincidence? Bad luck? Systemic ignorance?

      July 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Recovering Catholic

      You are wrong. Hate the sin, not the sinner is the battle cry of the church. Case in point, Father Cameron Mclean in Canada pleads guilty, gets a short sentence and then is given a place to live in a catholic "safe house". Wow that is rough.

      July 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • pm

      The abuse by priests has been going on for centuries, it's only very recently that the catholic Church has done anything to stop the abuse. The only reason they are providing all of those services now is because they are getting sued right and left because they are finally being held accountable. In the past, the Church would move priests around like pawns on a chessboard to avoid local law enforcement. They have even send bishops o Rome to avoid being arrested. How anyone cold consider the last Pope for sainthood is a joke. He knew about the abuse and it was uncovered on his watch...Joe Pope...I mean Joe Pa????

      July 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  17. johnquepublique

    I hit the "Report Abuse" button....but the Catholic Church is still in business.

    July 25, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  18. chefdugan

    The catholic church will never learn anything from anybody. That old fart in Rome, the one with the fancy dress and shoes, is beyond senile. The church is an abomination and all they have learned from the child abuse scandal is how to hide it better.

    July 25, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  19. Claudius

    What do you expect from men running around in skirts and buggering young boys? Responsibility? A moral stand? Get real.

    July 25, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  20. MrStupid

    Does he ever say what he wants the Catholic Church to do that it hasn't done?

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

      No but I will. I want it to go away forever.

      July 25, 2012 at 8:45 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.