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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. The_Pope_is_just_another_man

    The Catholic church has a lot of explaining to do about this subject.The priests work off the old Bush doctrine of no child's behind left.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Nabun

      You mean; No child's behind, left behind.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  2. EPAB

    The message will not reverberate to the Vatican! They live in an entirely insular world accountable to no one. They have their own country, dictator, and capos ( cardinals and bishops ). They believe they are the re-incarnation of Christ. As the last lay person leaves the Church, they STILL won't believe anything they do is wrong.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  3. joe34543253

    The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) should not look to the NCAA, but rather, it should look to God's inerrant word of the Bible that the RCC has chosen to disregard. The RCC has far, far too long placed it's man-made traditions at equal or higher value than the word of God and turned it's back on God. That is why there is priestly abuse in the RCC. The RCC is apostate in it's heretical, unbiblical and apostate doctrines such as salvation by works, veneration of Mary, transubstantiation, purgatory and confession to a priest, just to name a couple. The RCC needs to repent and turn back to God and put their trust in Jesus and be obedient to His will. The same is true for all mankind.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Journey

      former catholic?...BTW the "true" church of God is the Greek Orthodox...but doesn't make quite the target in the U.S. as it didn't have the same immigration waves. Your nonsense perpetrated by a bunch of corrupt 16th century German, dutch, and English power brokers is a shot in the dark.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  4. Clyde

    The CNN Headline for this story now reads "Church can learn from NCAA". If the Church were to respond in a similar manner to the NCAA they would fine all Catholic parishes and prohibit them from going to heaven because some of the priests had molested children. But they would also allow any priests in training to transfer to the Baptist seminary. Oddly the facts are these, Penn State (not to be confused with Joe Paterno) quickly fired four individuals who conspired to cover-up this atrocity in the first week after the Penn State community first learned of the travesty and Penn State (once again not be confused with Joe Paterno) has been acting responsibly ever sense and long before the NCAA decided to punish 100,000 students, faculty, and staff who had nothing to do with the child abuse or cover-up. In conclusion, the Catholic Church should be following the example of Penn State (not to be confused with Joe Paterno).

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  5. Massman

    this article is racist and hateful against catholics

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Keef

      You don't really understand what "racism" is, do you?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • The_Pope_is_just_another_man

      Yes, you forget about the bigotry and we will forget about all the atrocities the Church has committed over the centuries.
      It's a long,long list.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  6. j

    There aren't enough lawyers on the planet to right the wrongs that the Catholic Church has done.They are all criminals...from the top to the bottom. Jesus would be sooo proud!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  7. John Vollman

    Is this guy for real?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • What

      Yes, F all religion, they are a cult. They divide people and killing each other. All of religions

      July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  8. brussell

    Looks to me like the Church taught Penn State all it knows.

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

    The priests are kind of like cops; stick together no matter what unlawful, horrific, predujuiced actions are perpetrated. Replace the robes with blue uniforms and well...

    July 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • What

      Well said

      July 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Thie Catholic (to which I belonged for the first 2 decades of my life) is a man-made organization lead by a guy in a pointy white hat riding in a bullet-proof rickshaw advocating bronze age beliefs while preaching against the use of condoms in 3rd world countries where children are dying from starvation and AIDS. Nope, I left this backward church years ago, and my only regret is that I didn't leave it sooner.

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

      Right..the reality is that the Church is currently run by HUMANS..who can sin and be greedy and selfish...they lost their way a long time ago...they need to channel some WWJD

      July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Josh

      The Catholic Church is a bureaucracy. It is NOT lead by a guy in pointy hat. Matter of fact, the guy in the pointy hat is told what to say and do, by the bureaucracy.

      When Pope John Paul II wanted to excommunicate all priests who molested children, it was the bureaucracy in the form of Joseph Ratzinger (who now goes by the alias of Pope Benedict XVI) that stopped or vetoed it.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  11. KristenJane

    This is weird..but I agree with a CNN opinion article as well....am I in a twilight zone??? I will give PSU credit though...that the CURRENT leaders have been open to all investigations and have said they won't fight any punishment...that's a mature response...

    July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  12. linda Operle

    The reason so many people practice the Catholic faith is they can continue to live destructive/alcohlic/sin riddled lives all week as long as they step in the box on Sunday & "confess" only to be forgiven until next week...They can say their church goers and christians without actually living like one. And of course Mommy & Daddy perpetuate and brainwash the kiddies to believe this also so on & on...

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

      This is so true and where I have struggled with my faither...i HATE how the church has responded to the abuse and how judgemental people can be...I would rather never attend a weekly mass but have a good and pure heart then show up at church every sunday while I sin and judge and ignore crimes...it is so hypocritcal...God wouldn't protect an abuser!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      I agree, except that I would extend it to include Protestant evangelicals as well.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • y

      oh,please.......... you self righteous goon!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • kelley taylor

      This is an incredibly ignorant and offensive comment. In order to repent for you sins in the Catholic Church you must really wish to change your life, or that shows you are not truly sorry. I am a Catechist and can tell you that the Catechism of the Church states that you are not forgiven for sins unless you are truly sorry. It is no one's place but God's to judge if someone is truly repentant. Clearly, you are not basing your comment on actual knowledge of the Church teachings. If you are a true Christian, how can you judge others?

      As for this article, I believe that the author's statements do no compare apples to apples. The NCAA is totally different than the Catholic Church.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • John

      Maybe the Catholic Church should be required to forfeit all their baptisms since their scandal began. Oh wait, that would be most of them.....

      July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Catca

      @Kelley Taylor,

      I understand what you are saying and I am a fellow Catholic who took a course in judaism in college. Here's how the two faiths differ in their response to "sins". In Catholicism, yes you must be truly sorry and say your 10 hail mary's, our father's, etc. after confession but you are not obligated to right your wrong. In Judaism, you don't go to a rabbi to confess what you did, you go to the person you wronged and make amends for your sin to the wronged person. I may remain a Catholic, but I'll also say I think Judaism has a better handle on providing a moral compass for dealing with one's sins than the Catholics. There really is a disconnect when the Catholic religion remains silent on the whole accountability thing.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • SyGood

      Catca, study your Catechism and the Bible. Repentance comes from the greek for "change of heart". You can't be forgiven for something that you are not sorry for. Secondly, the Jews were focused on righting wrongs with each other. The Catholic focuses on righting the wrong first with God (who's law you broke) and also in your own heart (where the change needs to occur). It is also suggested on many levels that righting the wrong with the other is a form of penance and encouraged.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Catca

      SyGood,

      You don't see the difference between "a suggestion of making amends to the person you wronged" and having it be a practice of regularly and actually make amends to the people you wronged? I think there is a big difference and while there are many things about the Catholic Church I like and admire, I still think Judaism handles this particular issue better.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • The_Pope_is_just_another_man

      Yes, just like the Evangelicals.Sin all week.Whip out the "get out of jail free" card on Sundays.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  13. Missy Daise

    If the NCAA can profit ($60 million fine) from this horrible event, does it mean that they can get sued as a responsible party?

    July 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      True. Could the NCAA be in some way neglectful in not clearly setting and enforcing it's own standards, for which it is making up penalties on an ad hoc basis? It's easy for the NCAA to take a stand now that all the heavy lifting has been done for them. Still, at least they took a strong stand and came down on the correct side fo the issue.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Ryan

      The 60 million is going to charities for victims of abuse. Please get informed, and if you're not, don't post.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • KristenJane

      Sorry..you are misinformed...the $60 mil doesn't got to the NCAA but goes to Child Abuse funds anywhere other then PSU

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Missy Daise

      Actually, I am not misinformed. NCAA stated that they would give money to Child Abuse charities, but the NCAA gets the money first. Until the money is disbursed to the charities, it is the NCAAs. How much of an administrative fee will be charge for determining which charities get the money? Will there be other fees charge, processing fees, legal fees, etc.? Most charities charge administrative fees and legal fees and lots of other "fees". I have my doubts that the entire $60 million dollars will go to the charities as stated. So, until there is an actual disbursement of funds, I will consider it a "profit" for NCAA.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  14. gar2199

    The NCAA is punishing the dead – Joe Paterno- and the totally unenvolved- current and future PSU football players. Obviously, to be consistant, they should apply the same sanctions on the football program at Notre Dame.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  15. Chuck

    Here we go again, yet another anti-church article.

    Too bad Islam doesnt punish its believers for daily mass murder of its own people and others

    July 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Catca

      Yes, it questions the moral compass of the Catholic Church in its response to the priest pedophile scandal, but can you seriously argue against the point being made? It is a rather glaring contrast in response to scandal, is it not?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • SyGood

      Chuck, I'm right there with you. What Mr. Prothero is really saying is that the Catholic Church needs to a) pay hefty fines, b) stop recruiting priests, c) forfeit the afterlife maybe??

      Somehow the NCAA penalties don't seem to apply. Apples and Oranges but basically it comes down to most people think that the Catholic Church just needs to go away. Again, they seem to forget that it has been around for 2,000 years and just won't go away regardless of what sinners try to do to it both from the outside and the inside. Catholics believe the Church to be the Body of Christ. The Church is holy, the faithful in the Church are sinners. That is why we pray every Mass for God to look not on our sins but on the faith of the Church. People on these blogs will throw around their one liner replies with no research whatsoever.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  16. onestarman

    During the 14th Century the CHURCH was OWNED by the MEDICI BANKERS and Run by the BORGIAS – A Family that makes the SOPRANOS look like Alter Boys. The CURRENT POPE grew up a NAZI and the went on to head the Office of the church which from the Time of the BORGIAS till 1900 was KNOWN as The INQUISITION. Many POPES have been Killed or Disabled by POISON administered by those around them seeking POWER. Remember the Previous Pope Incapacitation to the Point his Underlings were REALLY in Charge. Some Popes throughout History have been referred to as ANTI-POPES. Until CLEANSED of this kind of EVIL INFLUENCE the Church is Not Able to Be Redeemed.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  17. dennis

    This is an oxymoron ie catholic(church)

    July 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. BobZemko

    Why is the Catholic Church so vehemently anti-gay, yet they will cover up their priests poking little boys?

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

      The same reason why Penn St. covered up their thing. Penn St is not pro-child molesters. They were trying to protect their image. The church is anti-gay, so why would they want to publicize one of their members preforming a gay act? Think about it first.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Ed

    Tne NCAA is in reality punishing an entire college for the actions or inactions of a few. The NCAA does this with its "ethics" clause since the NCAA has no authority to do criminal investigations or punish criminals. What if a coach muders his wife or kills someone while driving drunk or covers up for another coach they know did it? Does the NCAA punish the whole college for this? What crimes does the NCAA determine are "ethics" viiolations or not that they need to punish the entire college for?

    As to the NCAA being better than the Catholic Church in taking quick action – the NCAA went out and destroyed a college which was easy for them to do since they were not the victims of their punishment. If the NCAA had an in house scandle – would they have acted so soon or been so hard on themselves? I think not.

    There is no excuse or way to excuse anyone that abuses a child in any manner. Those people should and do face criminal charges. The NCAA should limit it's ethics punishment to those found guilty of criminal charges – not make the innocent suffer to "to make a point".

    July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • abcdxyz

      "The point" is that if you were thinking of covering up some wrongdoing to avoid a NCAA penalty, know that if the cover-up fails, and it will, the penalties will be much, much worse than if you had, for example, thrown the former assistant football coach under the bus to begin with.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Robert

      Ed,

      The NCAA is not the enemy, here. If the innocents are to be angry with anyone it should be the administrators and leaders of Penn State who perpetrated this gross injustice against humanity. The NCAA did what it had to do, just as teachers and coaches sometimes must punish the lot because of the wrong doing of one or the few. That's life, my brother. Accountability.

      Rob

      July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • bryanpetty

      Ed, you're right, the college as a whole will suffer for the actions of a few. But guess what, that is how it works. It might not be fair to everyone, but that is life. The Army and the Marines suffered consequences as a whole for incidents such as Abu Ghraib. NCAA wanted to make an example, and they are doing so. If these steps they take will make another University think twice about turning a blind eye towards such hanis crimes, then by all means make an example of them.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Leigh

      This has been my point all along. An entire student body, university, and a community dependent on the university should not have to suffer because of one very sick, disgusting man and the shortcomings of high ranking officials. Further, some said high ranking officials' guilt are being overlooked so the masses may be appeased. It seems trial by mob reigns supreme over legitimate justice.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  20. DL

    Holy Crap, I agree with you!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:33 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.