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. dave

    Bad analogy. The better one is the church and penn state. Both covered up this crime and allowed it to continue because they feared the immediate backlash from society. Neither would have stopped and both were procecuted by the law. However, there is no rulilng body over the church like the ncaa. Only the people can create a backlash by finding another religon or practicing it without attending church.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  2. beelzabarber

    HAHAHA! Great headline!!! I think its more like Sandusky learned from the Catholic Priests. Corrupt bunch. Both of ya

    July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  3. Bill Duke

    The NCAA only cares about football and the NCAA image. The recent Penn State decision did nothing for the victims.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  4. Richard

    The NCAA merely learned from the Church AND Penn State that a coverup compounds the original crime to the nth degree.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  5. lvmsleader

    I totally agree with this article. How can a school which (rightly so) receive a huge penalty for their actions and the "men of God" have a hand slap.

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

      These are not men of god, they are men of the church. There's one hell of a difference.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Bill Duke

      Going to prison is a hand slap? You live in a weird world.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  6. Josef Bleaux

    Churches – learn? That's an oxymoron.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  7. scott

    Exept the church can't fine itself. They are too busy asking for donations to cover their legal fees.
    Now if only there was a way to have the Feds get involved...oh wait seperation of church and state, how convenient!

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

      Interesting that everyone believes that the NCAA was more responsible because of a $60 million dollar fine and some sanctions. The Catholic Church provided victims $660 million in Los Angeles alone. The $60M is merely a fraction of the money that the church paid directly to victims for the abuse they endured. Penn State is one school. The church is global in scope and their exposure to abusive employees is hundreds, thousands of times more than that of a single school in PA. Unbelievable the lack of real knowledge and the apple and orange comparisons made in this article and these comments. Perhaps the church should have added sanctions to their settlements to make it more appealing sports minded catholic church haters..

      July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  8. bassmaster22

    Since God controls everything, works in mysterious ways and has a plan, this Penn State situation had to be part of the masterplan. The common reponse to most bad situations is that "it's God's will"... all though most folks seem to be empowered themselves to declare when it is and it is not god's will. So was this part of the mysterious plan, or is a corrupt football coach more powerful than god. It's only one or the other, so which is it?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  9. Mike

    Thank you so much for this article. It's truly mind boggling that the comparison has not been made more starkly and more often.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  10. Tuff Cookies

    and dont get me started on the Catholic church....Bigger scam then Penn State there!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • paul

      Only the Catholic church is a scam? Name one that isn't.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  11. Iman

    Look at the history of the Catholic Church, it's some of the bloodiest in the world. Now given their actions of the past do you really think they care about the common person?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Busted

    Comparing Penn State to the church is silly and not fair to Penn State. Comparing the two is like comparing a low level pot dealer to Pablo Escobar

    July 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  13. Tuff Cookies

    Good for the NCAA....it wasnt about the dead guy – it was about his knowledge along with numerous other peoples knowledge of the events that took place, they covered it up rather than take the sick old pervert out and shoot him....they should take a sledge hammer to the statue...i will gladly help them

    July 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Ashley

    CNN was this honestly the best story you could work with all day? Hey folks, foxnews.com...check it out.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • J.W

      There is no belief blog on fox news

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

      Yeah, over a foxnews.com they interviewed little girls who started a lemonade stand and the fox news "reporter" asked if the girls received government aid in starting their lemonade stand. This is news? No wonder the tea baggers are so insane and off their rockers.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Dean

      LOL. Fox News! Now there's an oxymoron (or maybe just moron)

      July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Bill Duke


      July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • paul

      First, it's not news, it opinion. Second, it's hardly the only thing for the day CNN has posted or written. You might as well go to Fox, because you're over your head on this site.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Ellen Thompson

      I completely agree! CNN has been running the Penn State story on their front page for a month straight! You would think that their top story today would be about Dianne Feinstein calling out the White House for leaking sentsative information for political gain. But of course CNN wouldn't run that story. It is such a biased news source that they bury any big story that doesn't go along with their liberal agenda. At least Fox news has the guts to report all stories, even if it doesn't go along with their conservative agenda!

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

      @Ellen – the insane off the rocker tea bagger we were looking for. Here's a fun fact for those who like to make fun of the tin foil hat crowd (aka people like @Ellen), most of the big name "reports" over at fox news got their start at CNN where they hosted their own conservative talk show. But of course facts like that only get in the way of tin foil hat conspiracy theories, like the, media is liberal... Oh wait, @Ellen – where was B. Obama born?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  15. gubernova

    This article is like a long tweet. I saw it and thought here goes another round of flame wars. Thank you Mr. Prothero for waisting everybody's time. I guess drawing comparison like a sixth grader counts for cnn journalism...

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

      it's wasting, not waisting. catch simple errors before making jokes about education levels...

      July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  16. Robert

    So what organization for the Catholic church compares to Penn State's NCAA? Who has the power to impose sanctions on the Catholic church? God? So far he hasn't seen fit to move upon the situation.

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

      I think the Catholic Church will eventually answer to a higher power and when that happens they'll wish they could have gotten off as easy as PS did with the NCAA.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  17. Not All Docs Play Golf

    The biggest penalty to the church over this is that more people will walk away from it. After 8 years of Catholic gradeschool 4 years of Catholic high school, and 4 years of Catholic college, I have come to completely reject all of the dogma and bronze age crap history that I had been force-fed. The Catholic church is driving itself toward well-deserved irrelevance.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  18. OilmanBC

    If all the Penn State athletes are guilty by association, and all Priests are guilty by association, then i guess all CNN people are guilty by association for some of their collegues doings. When does this logic stop?

    GSA people effectively stole money from us :: all government employees are thiefs


    July 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  19. Stupidity Rules

    Yeah, they can learn....blame the dead guy right!?
    Hey Vatican, pay for an investigation that clears you of wrong doing...like the Trustee's did!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  20. bobdevo

    The Catholic Church IS Penn State. Both are patriarchies who rely upon rah-rah obedience to advance their corporate goals . . and who protect the inner circle of powerful males against any and all complaints.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
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About this blog

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.