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. sadie456

    No one should be surprised at the Catholic Church's response (or lack of) to the issue of child abuse. The Church's first priority is, and always has been, its own power and status. Anyone expecting effective moral leadership from the world's archetypal power structure is either naive or brainwashed. The sooner people start to take individual responsibility for their actions, instead of relying on organisations with different agendas, the better.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  2. jrc

    This punishment should be a wake up call for the Catholic Church. A guide to self-punishment. Remember, its never too late to repent. Never too late... We need a pope that will make a statement in leadership qualities to let all servants of the cloth know that these kind of crimes (sins) will not be tolerated and an automatic release from duty along with a trip to custody of the proper authority would become standard procedure. Zero tolerance. In order for this to happen, you must first direct your concerns to the Cardinals because they are the ones who vote on the pope. They need to vote on a pope with an iron fist. No offense to the current pontiff but this is not cutting it.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  3. pastafaria

    Mr. Prothero is comparing apples and oranges. The NCAA has to take a tough stance in order to maintain its status as the self appointed moral compass for the human race, otherwise its >1 billion members throughout the world might question its legitimacy and stop blindly obeying its every whim. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is merely an organization responsible for insuring the integrity of collegiate sports by enforcing rules and standards that the member colleges themselves establish, and agree to be governed by. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable for the church to rely on self policing and not have any legal or moral standards imposed on it by any outside authority. Oh wait, reverse that.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  4. vakamalua


    July 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  5. mike

    its part of the catholic church"s DNA unfortunately

    July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  6. unicorn

    regardless of who changes the books, you can't change what happened. Penn state won all of those games, just like it engaged in child abuse. Erasing the wins will not erase what happened. What is the point in giving them loses?

    The punishment does not fit the crime. It's odd because the punishment is neither slack nor too strict. It simply makes no sense. It's like a person getting a DUI and the punishment is the person has to pretend they have no work experience for the last decade.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  7. JohnnyC

    Ah yes, the weekly anti-Catholic, God-hating Prothero article. Nicely done, Prothero, I hope you enjoy the blood money they pay you to subvert God's will on Earth. You are an operative and you are hell bound most likely but fortunately we see through you. Saint Michael the Archangel defend us in battle!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • pastafaria

      You really need to start limiting yourself to one glass of Kool-Aid after mass.

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

      JohnnyC, Us infidels are winning the war of ideas. In 30 years religion will be totally irrelevant in this country because the youth are not buying into it. Kids believe in science and facts, they are smarter than EVER these days and simply do not buy into myths and fairy tales. You are free to believe what you want, i an not telling you different, I am just tel;ling you that modern is on a steep decline and for good reason.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Confused

      Defend you in battle? Did you even read the article? The Catholic Church isn't taking responsibility/accountability for the victims that have come forward and you're accusing the editorial of being anti-catholic? It's people like you that turned a blind eye to the suffering these people had to undergo before the truth came to the light....and if the people who represent 'the light' can't even hold those who commit said crimes accountable, they will continue to lose the faith of the people they rely on to EXIST.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Ah, another predictable pulpit rant from one of Christ's "warriors". If you believe in angels leading battles with swords, then believe it. It doesn't sound "Christian" to me. I suppose you think a guy named Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a whale, because your childish pop-up book tole you so. And who are you to say who is hell-bound? Did Jesus hire you for the job?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • joe

      Typical self righteous catholic bigot. Your priests are worse than Sandusky...

      July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • John

      Riding without a helmet again?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Nancy Myers

    Very silly comparison. Men, in a sports setting, go "over the top." It happens. No one wants to admit it is quite common. So they remove the statute and do all sorts of irrelevant things. The Church has tried to handle the matter case by case and with compassion and reason.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  9. Don

    I certainly understand the penalties directed at the individual's that fostered the abusive environment, but canceling scholorships and such penalizes the students.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Nancy Myers

      The penalty should be tailored to the crime. This is a instance of meeting out punishment on a grand scale and including all sorts of people who had nothing to do with t he matter.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  10. Richard

    Which school would get the most criticism from a scandal like the one happening at Penn State:

    1) Notre Dame
    2) SMU
    3) BYU

    Well, it wouldn't be notre dame. Their used to having child abuse happening every day. That wouldn't be new it would just be a bump in the road for them.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  11. Bob

    The NCAA is not fining or punishing itself. That is a huge difference.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  12. Bill, Bloomington Il

    There is nothing to be learned here. The NCAA is grandstaning using the PSU situation to repair the NCAAs tarnished image. While the Catholic Church has alot to learn still, so does the NCAA.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      I think you should take child molestation more seriously, there, Bill. I think it is serious enough, and their cover-up serious enough, to warrant sending this message. Sorry you think the NCAA's actions are motivated otherwise.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  13. Robert

    So......if they wipe out all baptisms since 1998, that will prove they are sincere?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  14. TheOriginalMe

    Religion (any religion) is good for only three things: control weak minds, replace addictions and make nice buildings (at least in the past). Football is good for: making money and get brain damage as side effect

    July 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bob

      It gives hate filled people like you something to post about as well.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • TheOriginalMe

      I don't hate religion Bob, but you're absolutely right religion filled people with hate too, just look at the history and present time, all the wars and hate crimes backed by religion.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • cinghoa

      Not sure where you see hate. He sounds more like he is expressing the same views that most atheists have, it doesn't involve hate, just the ability to use our minds for free thought and to see the world through our own eyes, not a 1600 year old book.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • TheOriginalMe

      oh! and I don't hate football either, I do think is a brainless thing to do ... literally , but in the other hand very lucrative

      July 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • TheOriginalMe

      You're correct cinghoa, but Bob maybe a religious person (sorry if I'm wrong, assuming) and they're usually train to hate people who are not religious.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  15. John Bradford

    More unscientific, misinformed propaganda from the liberal media. They will never get it right because they dont want to.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • JMM

      Huh? Are you defending the church? What needs to be scientific? or are you referring tot he fact that science debunks most modern religions? Catholic church is thousand times worse that Penn State, but go ahead and defend pedophiles. Great idea!!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Merc

      This is clearly an opinion piece. How is it "liberal media"? Because they let someone share their opinion?

      Weak troll is weak.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  16. Neri

    How long before the church realizes that Jesus does play around with sin? Psalm 45 declares that Jesus loves righteousness and hates wickedness as followers we need to do the same. I pray that the leaders of the Catholic will also stand up for righteousness. Covering up the abuse is a wicked thing to do and those involved will surely be judged if they do not repent. The day of venegance is in God's heart and woe to the one who receives his wrath. Have mercy upon your church Jesus!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  17. bill

    the vatican is like the mob and they have more money and influence than Penn State which allows the catholic priests to keep on abusing children

    July 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  18. mike

    If a priest ever touches my child, it will be the end of that priest's life.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  19. ELH

    Pointless to compare the two–the Catholic Church is the all-time champion pedophiliac enabler, Penn State is a tail-ender in the race to molest (pun intended).

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

      totally true, whereas penn state get caught in a mass coverup of the abusive conduct of a single individual, the catholic church suffers from a massive coverup of their organizational culture of abusing children

      July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  20. bob

    Wow your network gets more pathetic by the day.
    How about you start labeling all College Football Coaches Child Abusers just like you do against all Catholic Priest?

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

      Bob, the Catholic Church, as an ORGANIZATION, willfully and explicitly covered up and protected child rapists. No one is blaming all priests, but the organization as a whole should be punished. An organization is defined by its leadership.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • bill

      because not all college coaches are child abusers...

      July 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • JMM

      The church has hundreds of Jerry Sandusky's that have molested thousands of kids over many decades. The Catholic church is a total disgrace just like Penn State football. Just an fyi, the pop himself is linked to cover up in Germany and Poland so their issues go strait to the top. Since we have zero jurisdiction over the Vatican (not does anyone) we should revoke their tax exempt status. Fed Gov could certainly use some coin to pay down our debt.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:09 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.