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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. Jackson

    THANK YOU!!!!

    I posted this EXACT comment yesterday on a story on yahoo. We should sic the NCAA onto the church.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Lew

      Call in Louis Freeh, Pay him 6 million and have him write a garbage opinion piece and blame all the dead folks involved. EASY MONEY!!

      July 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Ca Ed

    So, to follow the on the NCAA theme, all Baptisms, Marriages, Blessings and other official Church Acts (other than the Pedo-Priest parade) are going to be voided for the past 20 years?

    July 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • sam

      LOL

      July 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Mike

      So would my annulment be nullified also? Please don't tell me I am still married to that woman.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  3. achepotler

    I agree. THe Church should be fined 45 Billion dollars for assaulting children and all statues of Jesus should be removed.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mello

      And what would you fine the other 99+% of child molesters?

      July 25, 2012 at 3:18 am |
  4. flipmd

    I smell lawyers making money on this case. There smell is smelly from the distance.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Hmmmmm

      They smell a lot like Jerry Sanduskys penis...

      July 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Raz

    If only the Pope had punished pedophile priests by not letting them play in Bowl games, then Stephen Prothero could rest easy.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  6. hawaiiguest

    @fred

    You haven't made sense on the posts against me on the other article, or on this one. The bible does not match with science, and it never has.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      wrong damn article.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • sam

      That's ok, I'm sure he'll be over here soon being a dimwit anyway.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  7. CCD

    Mr Prothero: The Church has already paid hundreds of millions of dollars to victims, far before PSU ever did. The Church also accepted blame, something PSU has yet to do.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Jackson

      But you left out one important point....the priests still have their jobs. They just got moved to other parishes.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Vic

      Excuse, PSU has accepted blame. You'll note the university has accepted NCAA's violations with out appeal, something we (yes I am an alum) actually have a right to do but are not. The university commisioned the Freeh report themselves independently and have accepted the findings fully, even though they are filled with very little objective evidence and full of subjective evidence (its ok if you ignore this, everyone else has). To say PSU has not accepted blame is just plain wrong.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • TheV

      What are you talking about? The PSU Trustees hired former FBI director Freeh to do an investigation on it's own dime, the NCAA used the report commissioned by Penn State. Penn State IMMEDIATELY accepted started implementing the recommended changes and accepted the punishment by the NCAA with no protest. When it seemed clear that the charges were valid the University declared that it would be working to support the victims.

      If you think the University hasn't admitted guilt, I don't know what world you live on.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Greg

      The church hasn't accepted blame, other than as much as they've been forced to, the priests weren't forced out until criminal charges made it necessary, the bishops that covered for them haven't faced a single consequence. They Vatican is still deflecting, still blaming secular society, lgbt, etc. There's no reason to believe if it hadn't gone public that they would've ever done a thing about it. Look up the baby stealing in Spain and Australia in Catholic hospitals. The church's list of crimes against humanity is horrifying and scattered across the globe in diocese after diocese. Makes PSU & Sandusky look pretty tame.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Mono20

      Are some people on here suggesting the abuse was simply hearsay, conjecture and subjective? How much proof do they want or need?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  8. edpeters101

    Look at the story the church has been spinning for the last 2,000 years! Nobody can compete with that kind of spin!!! YMMV

    July 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  9. Me

    To suggest that the Roman Catholic "church can learn" shows great ignorance.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Ciero01

      Shows ignorance. What about the kids that were abused and the coverup of the Catholic Church. What are you a priest?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Greg

      @Ciero I think that's his point.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Evans kingsley

    I think a SPADE should be called a spade. All evil doers will perish in the lake of fire on the last day

    July 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Lake of fire?

      You wanna buy a bridge?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  11. Russ

    Isn't it obvious by now? The church only gives a damn about the church. Who cares if father pete is some child raping freak... Hes catholic, a priest, and a figurehead of the church. Just move him to some other city. The kids will get over it, its all about jesus and forgiveness and the pope.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Me

      It's all about power and wealth. Jesus is only a tool.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  12. BC

    The wins aren't turned to losses when a school vacates them. It's as if the games never happened to Penn State and the losing team retains its loss.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  13. Christa

    This doesn't take away from the point of the article or anything, but it was the Big Ten who decided that Penn State will not be able to get their share of the conference's bowl revenue, not the NCAA. Just a small point 🙂

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  14. Eddie

    NO free speech at CNN.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      Eddie, Perhaps you ran into the word filter...

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
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      July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • oneofzero

      @Helpful Hints....

      Bwahahahahaha! funniest thing Ive read in a while.

      thanks!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  15. Michael

    The answer is simple. The NCAA will not be sued by Sandusky's victims. They do not have direct ownership of Penn State or its football program, and they had no knowledge of any child abuse or coverup. The NCAA is simple a loose group of colleges who play sports together, which Penn State can either be kicked out of or withdraw voluntarily at any time. Having that degree of separation makes all the difference in being able to stand up and do the right thing versus covering up a heinous crime.

    You start off with a poor analogy. A better analogy is to compare Penn State to the Catholic church and the NCAA to Christianity in general. Christianity in general DOES condemn the coverups by the Catholic church.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Your analogy fails for a couple of reasons:

      – Penn State, at least the current administration, did do something when allegations became known. By comparison and actual action, the RCC has not

      – while christianity in general may condemn child abuse, they have done precious little, nothing compared to the NCAA's action.

      I would be more impressed with christianity in general if every chistian boycotted all churces one Sunday in protest of the general handling of the problem and recognizing that there are many victims and that the victims have not been well treated – by their cults or their gods.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Why would non Catholic Christians boycott their church?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      To indicate that all churches have handled this issue very poorly? To show solidarity with their RCC cult members? To bail me out from hyperbole and weak thinking?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Non Catholic Christians have nothing (officially) to do with the RCC. I mean, that's basically why the reformation happened. Non Catholic Christians should not be expected to share any blame.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Sara Logan

    The church should take a page from NCAA and go after pedophile priests. This madness has been going on for years, I have a cousin who is in his 50s that was in a Catholic home for boys in Honduras he had a friend that was constantly abused by the priest the only thing that saved him (my cousin) was his skin color.... No child should ever have their childhood taken away from them....

    July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      The church has been taking measures and dealing with this since about 1990. You've apparently read tabloids or have been taking a very long nap. Right now the RCC is the safest place on the planet against . Can you say the same thing about public schools? Movie theatres?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • J.W

      The issue is still the punishment of the ones who have committed crimes already

      July 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Jackson

      PrimeNumber, if the church has been taking care of this since 1990, why did Cardinal Law get a promotion? He had all those accusers in the Boston area, and suddenly, he's working for a parish tied to the Vatican? How is that "handling the situation"? Just because they pay out money, that does not mean they are handling the situation. Handling the situation is in firing and excommunicating the priests, which they are NOT doing.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  17. PrimeNumber

    Penn State was taking too much attention away from everyones' favorite hatred – the Catholic church. Thus, Mister Prothero's article. We can't have CNN readership going somewhere else because their prejudices aren't being fed.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  18. Larry Bob

    Oh, gerald, it's 4,392 PRIESTS, not victims, and that's just in the U.S. between 1950 and 2000. Which excludes those who died long ago who no one bothered to say anything about because they are dead.

    It's 10,667 reported victims. Which of course excludes people who choose to say nothing, and those who died.

    Guess who has this hands over his ears, gerald? Yep, the answer is in your mirror.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      Larry, 1% of priests are responsible for 80% of pedo cases. Like it or lump it. We expect that the next time you post, you list of victims will have increased by a factor of 3.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  19. scoto

    1) Don't revere a belief system that is based on nonsense- Catholic church
    2) Don't revere a system in our places of higher education which has no place there- throwing balls around.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  20. William Demuth

    To those of you who continue to play apologist for the RCC, be warned.

    When your children or your grand children are inevitably molested, you will be considered complicit

    You are all no different than the mothers and fathers in Jonestown who willingly put the poisoned Kool Aid in their own childrens bottles. You are enabling the destroyers of your own children out of some self centered desire for immortality.

    You should all be ashamed

    July 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • gerald

      38million – 4,000 children are abused by non priests and William calls me a Catholic apologist when I try to put attention on the root cause, societies perversion. I am all for prosecution of priests and bishops and any coverup/actions they are guilty of. Put your hands over your ears so you don't have to hear my post William. I am for getting to the root cause of child abuse and helping ALL children, not just punish perpetrators after the fact which is what you are about it seems.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Larry Bob

      What are you actually doing about it, gerald? What are you doing to get your church to deal with these thousands of felonies and stop covering up?

      What have you actually done to your Church to get them to change?

      July 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Gerald, spare me the cult mumbo jumbo.

      The organization is corrupt and morally bereft, and you and you fellow sycophants have been enabling their abominations for several centuries.

      I have no doubt several hundred years ago your great grandfather was swearing to help the helpless as he gathered for his annual witch burnings.

      Your religion is not just an inconvenience, it is an active evil that damaged or destroyed the lives of millions of innocents.

      It is based on egocentric propaganda, racial and social prejudices and irrational lies.

      It belongs in the cesspool of history, rejected and refuted by all those of good will and rational intellect.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Snow

      Lets not forget that RCC heads (ah the popes) has the distinction of organizing the biggest se.xual or.gies IN their "holy" temple.. organizing the most hostile occupations of kingdoms just to fund their extravagant living through its past years... history speaks for itself man.. try as you can, you can not hide from it

      July 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • gerald

      Larry, Do you think the Church has done nothing. The fact is many changes have been implemented including mandatory reporting, education of children and adults, background checks for all who are involved in positions dealing with children, etc. etc.. The fact is that the yearly reports of child abuse in the Church have gone down drastically. There were only 9 in 2009. Some might say this is due to more coverup, I find this very unlikely in this age when attention is so focused. So back at ya lare, what have you done about the societal problems?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      Gerald, here's the problem you're facing: when you are an apologist for the church, you are dealing with people who deem themselves masters of logic. But when logic is applied against them, it's not what they'd hoped for. One wonders how many of these people can even manage their own lives. Ask them why a "rational" secular society produces so many rapists, mass murderers, school shootings (all in public schools!) , school bullies, teen pregnancy, drug addictions, STD's and so on, and notice how quiet they become.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @catholic engineer

      Cite the studies for your assertion, otherwise your just pulling things out of your ass.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Once again, catholic engineer is lying... Or maybe he doesn't consider the Amish to be real christians with real schools...

      July 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • JohnnyC

      William, the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, period. It is full of sinners and is, in fact, a "hospital" for sinners. It is not a "club" or a "human organization." It is not going anywhere.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • lollin'

      "Ask them why a "rational" secular society produces so many rapists, mass murderers, school shootings (all in public schools!) , school bullies, teen pregnancy, drug addictions, STD's and so on, and notice how quiet they become."

      They probably become quiet because they're amazed at the absurd nonsequitur you just pulled out of your prolapse.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Greg

      "Ask them why a "rational" secular society produces so many rapists, mass murderers, school shootings (all in public schools!) , school bullies, teen pregnancy, drug addictions, STD's and so on, and notice how quiet they become."

      Prisons in the US are overwhelmingly filled with the religious, and Catholics overrepresented compared to their percentage of the US population. Care to try again?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:40 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.