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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. awasis

    Blame others because you can't face the truth. And you call yourself a Christian?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Texas Q-ueer Hater

      have fun in h-e-double hockey sticks with the rest of the liberal trash and the mexicans

      July 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  2. LA

    Why doesn't the Church care if kids are abused under their watch?

    Because it is a business, and it is more concerned with $ as opposed to individuals.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Joseph C

      I was born and raised as Roman Catholic, no longer, however. Whole heartedly agree with You.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  3. oldbones24

    Amen!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  4. Puckles

    Catholic Church = Den of Satan. Catholic followers = supporters of pedophilia.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Jerry Sandusky

    GIGGITY

    July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Pope John Jimmy XLLI

      Quit stealing my gimmick

      July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Jim

    I don't understand how taking the scolerships away and some of the football victories will help any of the victims. The only thing they did to penalize the school was the fines. Again the big dogs get off free accept Sandusky. Most of the other actions taken actully hurt the students.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Everybody Else not living in Fantasy Land

      Take off your Penn State underwear and quit ignoring the truth.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Andrew

      But the school didn't cover it up. Just a group of high ranking officials within the school did. They have brashly punished innocent people for the crime of a few before any real civil or criminal action has been taken against the individuals actually responsible for this terrible act save for Sandusky himself.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Andrew

      Before anyone begins to jump onto the concept that these individuals represented the school. Yes they did represent the school but there needs to be sanctions directed towards them. Not the population. Saying all of Penn State is guilty is saying every American is guilty for the Iraq War. That means even if you protested against it or ignored taking part in it. You ae just as guilty as George W Bush for being an American citizen.

      So if you don't like being grouped up like that then maybe you should reconsider your irrational hatred towards the average Penn State supporter.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Texas Q-ueer Hater

      ^PENN STATE ALUM ALERT^

      Andrew, go back to polishing the crotch of your JoePa statue nd lets the adults talk here sonny

      July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Mg

    The Church likes boys. And its a boys club. Thats why they will not do what Penn State did. The Church does many great things.....but it was a very ugly road getting there and they still have a long way to go......just turn it into a charity and leave the storytelling to books.....

    July 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  8. WTH

    The papalcy is bankrupt in finances and has been in moral decay for hundreds of years. As if anything outside their little domain really matters to them.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • marie

      "Papacy"

      July 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  9. Dale

    Islam is just as bad, they force people to join, especially women.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  10. Willie12345

    What ? Joe Paterno's statue is being moved to Vatican City. Didn't you know that ? Do you homework, Stevie.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  11. mot

    We all could do better at fighting child molestation, punishing and such,... not just the church. Often it is hidden in families, it is hidden by coworkers who don't want to believe it is happening in schools, etc, etc, etc,...

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  12. Steve

    The church shall learn from the sanctions imposed on Penn State. If the Catholic Church does not reform their ways, they will be fined $60 million dollars and have every basketball game they've won over the last x number of years nullified.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  13. Josef Bleaux

    Hmmm... isn't there something in the bible about a young boy that Jesus was particularly fond of? I guess it goes with the territory.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • dennis

      You are clueless.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  14. Brett

    time to remove their tax free status, this is ridiculous. the people of this country doesn't need to subsidize religion anymore. maybe if we did they would stay out of politics and actually get back to what the church is for, to give people a place to go to feel part of a religious community, not a place to be brainwashed and controlled

    July 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Catca

      That's a bit extreme. The Church continues to do many great things as well as an enormous amount of charitable work. They certainly should keep their nonprofit status.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  15. gerald

    When will the US learn and what will it learn? 38million victims of childabuse by 21milloin perpetrators and we focus on the less than 1/10th of 1% of the problem as if we are somehow better that "those" people. THe issue is not about children. It is about pointing fingers and vengence. If it were about children then we would address the root cause of the problem which has nothing to do with the Catholic Church and everything to do with perversion of this nation. The problems in the CC are just a symptom of society.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • sam

      You are Mr Comedy today, gerald. Do you practice this material in front of the mirror, or just your stuffed animals?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • J.W

      What if those others are looking to the Catholic priests as a model or morality? They may think this sort of behavior is acceptable.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      No, sir, it IS about the children.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      It has everything to do with the Catholic church. There seems to be a propensity of Catholic priests to molest little boys and the Church looks the other way and covers it up rather than hold the responsible parties responsible. So it's definitely about children and it's definitely about the Catholic church. And it's not just American priests.

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

      What's one step lower than an organization that protects pedophiles? A person who denies that the

      July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • dennis

      You need to be ashamed you commented.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      There is no propensity Joe. The stats show that priests are two to three times LESS likely to molest than others in our culture. What has people worked not a frenzy is three fold: First religious leaders are held to a higher standard so when they do fall, the crash is louder. Second, cover-ups, like they always do, exacerbate the problem and thirdly, some people love to pile on the church.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Show us the stats Bill. I don't think you will produce them because they would show you are comparing the low end estimate for Pope-A-Dope's priests against the high end estimate for the general population. I think gerald tried the same bullshit a couple of days ago and never produced the data.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  16. CB

    I think almost the opposite is true, Professor Prothero. The Penn State case had the Church's example from which to learn. You don't mention that the Church commissioned the John Jay College study in the midst of its abuse scandal. http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/4688.php. The USCCB created a zero-tolerance policy and dioceses now automatically involve civil authority for abuse claims and that some feel completely disbands any "band of brothers" mentality that you refer to. I think the Penn State case had an advantage in looking at the Catholic Church's proceedings.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      I agree with you that the example of the cowardly hiding this issue by the Catholic church set a model for those at Penn state, and influenced how they handled this .

      July 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • CB

      I'm pointing to things that the Church did that one could argue were influential in the deliberations in the Penn State case, since Professor Prothero has drawn this connection in his piece, but I that I think is incomplete and lacking in current information.

      I also think that there was a missed opportunity in drawing a connection between the relationship of the Vatican and a diocese or local church and the relationship between the NCAA and a particular school's athletic program. It seems to me that there are parallels here that would be interesting to explore in terms of NCAA jurisdiction, responsibility, and accountability for its member organizations.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      not all docs rationally discuss issues either. You should take up golf

      July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  17. fromtexas

    I grew up catholic and I must say it is the most corrupt and hypocritical religion i been involved with. This religion main goal is not to teach about god but about how much money you donate. I couldn't batiste my daughter if I didn't become a member, disclose my job and how much I earn and donate monthly by using their envelop system. Priest feel like they have all the power and full of themselves and use the name of God for cover their corruption. As I grew older, I saw this things and wonder how this religion can have so much followers when it is obvious that it is the most corrupt. Anyways, I guess the good about being Catholic is that all it takes to be forgiven and earn your spot in heaven (according to the catholic teachings) is give money and say a few hail mary's.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • jake

      one nun makes sure the other nun don;t get none

      July 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You were misled. Possibly by the same people who taught you to spell

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  18. boyamidumb

    Come on look at these guys. Give me a break. Who wears pinkish purple with black these days.

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

      Exactly! I just look at that picture of the old men wearing dresses and pink hats and I want to scream, "Run, children, run, creepy men!"

      July 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  19. Libdumb

    So what Church is CNN now attacking, the Jewish or Muslim Church? Time to reinstate the Modern Day Crusades.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      No thank you to the crusades.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Yeah, let's reinstate the Salem with trials too. There are a few teabigots that need be burned at the stake.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • alex

      i guess you think it's ok because it involves a church? you are as creepy as those freaks

      July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • mary c

      Spoken like a good Christian. And I'm supposed to WANT to go to heaven to live with the likes of you for, gasp, all eternity. No thanks!!! And I believe in GOD

      July 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  20. Max

    Johny C. The RCC is NOT the church Christ founded. it is the church that man founded! I am sick of hearing that our Lord founded the RCC! Go back and study history of Christianity (not what your RCC teaches you – but what really happened.

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

      We keep telling him that, but he won't listen.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      What really happened? So... you were there and you know what really happened? Sorry but there's no way I'd rely on an old book of ancient mythology and superst!tious nonsense to tell me what really happened.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Journey

      Actually Jesus and the Apostles founded what today is called the Greek Orthodox church. But it is a small church in the U.S. and doesn't make near the target that the RCC does for people like or Mr. Prothero.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:48 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.