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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. nifi

    He lost me when he mentioned he admired the Roman Catholic Church for taking clear stands on the major moral issues of our time. Sorry, I don't see it.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • erickalis

      lends too much credibility to his opposition in that statement; what an idiot.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    So Steve P, the religiously uncommitted religion professor from Boston U, wants the Vatican to fine their archdioceses another $60 million/each even though most are either bankrupt or near bankruptcy from paying billions of dollars of legal judgements and settlements?

    And the Vatican should reduce the number of candidates for priesthood for these archdioceses when said dioceses are quickly running out of priests? And also reduce any funding for seminaries?

    And the Vatican should reduce the number of Masses and other functions like centennial celebrations held in these archdioceses to really punish all the parishes for their ghastly deeds?

    "Professor" Steve needs to take up chess as obviously his commentaries are wasting his and our time.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • bryanpetty

      This is not a lateral comparisson of punishments. Steve is simply suggesting that the Catholic Church should have reacted more quickly. Hence the words in the beginning, "procrastination and obfuscation".

      July 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Reality

      And yet to get his required 2000 + words in his commentary, Steve P regurgitated all of the NCAA's penalities. i.e. he gets paid by the word, not for thinking or keeping commentary short or to the point.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, there's no NCAA for the Church. It's self-governing. And we have found out it's real interests is not the soul of humanity. It's money. Pure and simple. And as the Bible says, beware of the "great deceptor"; the wolf in sheep's clothing. For it is the devil. Kinda fits the description of the Church.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  4. mhill1234

    What a stupid article.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      It makes a good point though. Especially when you consider the church's response of quietly moving priests around to protect the church's reputation, which was held as more important than discontinuing the pedophilia. The Catholic leadership, in an effort to 'cover itself' knowingly gave these priests the opportunity to commit further pedophilia within church walls. How can anyone who possesses a moral compass possibly defend such an obviously evil act??!

      July 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  5. David

    The church does and should preach forgiveness, but that does not omit the ramification of the sin. The priest sinned against God and the children they molested. They have caused, in some cases, irreparable damage. We should forgive them for sure, but they should have been exposed and taken out of a position where they continued to molest children. To say that they should be forgiven with no ramification would be comparable to saying we should forgive a murderer and allow him to stay on the streets to do it again.

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

      Well put!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      As bad as the sin of the pedophile was the sin of the church leadership who decided to cover this up by moving priests around, knowingly giving these priests the opportunity to prey on more boys. Those leaders made the choice that further pedophilia by sweeping things under the rug was preferable than any damage to the church's reputation. Such a decision is purely, unequivocally evil.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • TrueGrissel

      If you live in Mississippi you can get a Pardon.

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

      "...taken out of a position where they continued to molest children."

      You forgot to say that those priests should also be in jail. The RCC worked to keep these men from the justice system, knowing they deserved to be in jail. That's what people have a hard time understanding.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      Yes, Jimmy, that's correct. Protecting the church's reputation was held as more important than either justice or stopping further pedophilia. That's the bottom line of the actions the church took by protecting known pedophiles by quietly moving them from church to church. In my opinion, committing such an amoral act entirely destroys the church's credibility or any claim they have on morality altogether.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  6. dav

    Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar ,that description is very doubtful.Any athiest can say they are are a religious scholar.This guy sounds like the typical do nothing liberal that pervades BU.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      yep.it's about politics.....to the partisan hacks

      July 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      The author is correct however. As bad as the actions of the pedophile priests was the action of the church leadership who decided to cover this up by moving priests around, knowingly giving these priests the opportunity to prey on more boys. Those leaders made the choice that further pedophilia by sweeping things under the rug was preferable than any damage to the church's reputation. Such a decision is purely, unequivocally evil.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  7. WDinDallas

    NCAA can learn from the Church. We have had the one strike and your out rule for over 10 years and everyone is told to call 911 first and then the Parish or Diocese safe environment hotline.

    Everyone has to have an invasive background check to volunteer for anything.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I have been through that background check every three years for the last eleven since I started serving as an extraordinary minister of the church. I applaud the diocese for maintaining it.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  8. Ex-GOP

    Remember...Jesus didn't want a new rigion he wanted to include many into Judaism and for those in Judasim to evolve and adhere to some of their own teachings.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Ex-GOP

      "Religion" please forgive the typo

      July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  9. racegirl1

    It makes you sick to think how many of these old men may be abusing young boys.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      but you never hear about the young boys abusing old men...it happens people!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      the number is 2%

      July 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  10. Ohio Catholic

    I disagree,
    While the catholic church may have not been speedy in the correction and prevention of abuse, they are getting to the heart of the problem and making huge strides to prevent abuse from occurring again. The catholic church over the last 10 years has been very selective in who they take into the priesthood and sisterhood. Applicants must be college educated and have ZERO debt. they also go through rigorous psychological analysis and a seven year training period. Instead of treating the symptoms of the problem like the NCAA, the catholic church is trying to prevent the problem from ever happening again

    July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Hey, we made soime mistakes, but you can trust us to police ourselves, I mean we're the church...you can trust us
      Our long history of trustworthyness should be enough...right?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • bryanpetty

      NCAA isn't treating the problem, thats the long arm of the laws job. They are making an example, demonstrating that consequences of actions will move beyond the law. Essentially making everyone else involved with the NCAA think twice before trying to do what Penn State officials did. Ensuring that Universities keep a watchful eye on their officials...etc....

      July 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Ohio Catholic,

      And it took them 2000 YEARS, allegedly being "inspired" all the while by a real smart "God", a real smart "Jesus" and a real smart "Holy Spirit", to figure this out?... and then only after being exposed and forced to do so by secular law.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Athiest

      Stick your head in the sand more.

      Applicants must have a college education and 0 debt?

      What in the world do either of those have to do with being a p3doph1le?

      You probably think that being h0m0s3xual means you're a child m0lester too. And that the world is 6000 years old, and flat.

      No wonder the church is so messed up, even its lowest members are stuck in a time and place which makes no sense. They have no sense of reason or logic.

      Get it together.

      If the catholic church doesn't act swiftly and publicly condemn these acts because it's scared of bad PR, they are embracing and allowing it.

      These vile practices MUST be stopped.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      However, in many ways the initial response of the church to pedophilia was evil in and of itself. As bad as the actions of the pedophile priests was the action of the church leadership who decided to cover this up by moving priests around, knowingly giving these priests the opportunity to prey on more boys. Those leaders made the choice that further pedophilia by sweeping things under the rug was preferable than any damage to the church's reputation. Such a decision is purely, unequivocally evil.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      Sorry for the sloppy grammar there: preferable "to".

      July 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • jimmy

      Like so many, you seem to worship your church more than the god it ostensibly speaks for.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Ohio Catholic

      Who invite me?:
      Stop being sarcastic and condescending, it solves no problems and negates any valid points that you might make.

      BryanPetty:
      The priests who committed abuses were subject to the law, including those who covered it up. The catholic church also brought down punishment, but unlike what the NCAA did, there is no collateral damage. There was already so much damage done by those individuals and they saw that no more innocent people had to suffer for the evil acts. I agree that the NCAA was making an example of Penn State. But if they really want to fix the problem, they need comprehensive reform and protocols.

      A Frayed Knot:
      The Catholic Church have evolved very slowly, developing into what it is today. (and don’t make a comment about evolution and the Church, Catholics don’t take everything said in the bible literally, only some things.) they take things slow because they want to get it right. There is no reason to make immediate changes if they aren’t the right changes. And the Church is made up of humans, and humans make mistakes.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • briachon

      I agree that it's about time some sort of action is taken. But I think it would be a great lie to believe that the issue with the Catholic Church was ever taken serious enough. If you were honest and searched your heart, you'd know that these horrible deeds were never in the public eye and taken to the level of seriousness that it deserved.
      I wouldn't doubt for a minute that the pressure on the church to reform comes from the continuous pressure from the Atheist community using it as an example, rather than the church itself.

      Our morality comes from our own wishing to be decent people, not from a church telling us how to act.
      The evidence for this comes not just in the original sins of the priests, but runs through the very fabric of the church.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      The problem here was that the church did anything it could to avoid a scandal/blow to its reputation–including moving known pedophiles from church to church to cover things up, despite the fact that this would obviously expose more children to the pedophiles. This was the response systemically, a choice made by the very leadership of the Catholic church, which only took steps to punish the priests after it was all over the newspapers that this was how the church leadership had reacted in the first place.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  11. TrueGrissel

    If I had to chose between the Catholic religion with the few pedophiles that are slowly being tried as such over the heretic religious sect, the Episcopal s. count me catholic.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • sam stone

      good for you. i hope you and father o'malley have a real romantic moment together

      July 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Roger

      1600 called, they want their rhetoric back.

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

      sam stone Roger; please !!!

      Stop with the quips, if you both really have an opinion sell it.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • jimmy

      Another "proud" catholic. Pure idolatry.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  12. GoSniffAnus

    Latest news is that the NCAA has just fined the Catholic Church $600 billion and suspended free wine and wafers at communion for 4 years.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  13. sumguy

    Actually, if they acted like the NCAA, they would punish the Parishioners by invalidating any baptisms, confirmations, or wedding done by the offending priests. They would also need to figure out a way to punish all the non offending priests that knew nothing about what was going.

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

      boom. and they should probably fine them $60,000,000. it only makes sense....

      July 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  14. erickalis

    Someone needs to hit this Stephen P. in the face really, really hard. Is this guy just a "religion scholar" or is he actually a member of the Catholic Church? At no point in this article does he mention his religious affiliation...

    July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      He will never mention his affiliation but he is most likely not Catholic

      July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • erickalis

      true. but he provides STRONG ethos as he lives in the US state with the most catholics (cool).... Oh, and he admired certain aspects about the catholic church when he was a kid (even better)....

      July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Jason

    Amen!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Gin

    Excellent.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  17. Texas Q-ueer Hater

    WHO CARES LETS WORRY ABOUT BIGGER THINGS LIKE A BLACK PRESIDENT SELLING THE COUNTRY FOR FOOD STAMPS TO THE DAMN CHINAMEN

    July 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • mary c

      So you hate Blacks and Chinese too. Wow.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      and he's just as white as he is black, a shade of grey like every other american.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Jon

      Be gone, troll!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • racegirl1

      Willard will sell you down the toilet where you and your other racist belong for one shiny penny.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • alex

      idi ot

      July 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Bugmenot

      Yo TQH! Why don't yous just go stand on your head and soil your pants eh?

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

      Did your parents have any children that lived?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  18. LCA

    This was a rather simplistic article for such a complex issue, don't ya think?! What exactly is the Church supposed to take from the NCAA sports rulings and penalties and how would any of this apply or compare to the Church? Considering the Roman Catholic Church has 1.2 billion members and Penn State is less than 100 thousand enrolled. Sorry I wasted my time reading this, I thought it might actually be something insightful and thought proviking. Only thought it provoked from me is WTH??? *sigh* .

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

      typical catholic response. your an idiot.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • weezer

      It is simple. It's called accountability. It's also called doing the right thing. The Vatican's struggled with that for over a thousand years.

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

      slaney....actually YOU'RE the idiot....go back to school. 😛

      July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • David

      I agree! The media has a way of down playing the real issue and look like they are doing a good thing.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  19. John

    If the Catholic Church can take a lesson from this, Islam needs to take the whole semester including finals.

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

      On second thought maybe I should be posting this on any article having to do with Aurora

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

    The difference between the NCAA and the Catholic Church is that the Church's reason for existing is the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of sinners. For the Catholic Church to adopt zero tolerance of any sin is the equivalent of Gandhi taking out a concealed weapons permit – it provides protection but at the compromise of its guiding principles.

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

      I think the key words here are, "procrastination and obfuscation" from the Catholic Church.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • rjp34652

      Well said sir. You went right to the core of the subject. I agree completely.

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

      The commission of a sin does not exclude the sinner from the consequences, therefore, even though forgiveness is a must the person has to face the consequences of their actions. The Catholic Church should be ashamed of their lack of prompt and appropriate responses to the numerous cases of child abuse!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      very nicely put rasputin. Of course non-Catholics will pass right by this because the guiding principle of the world is the exact opposite. Still, as Catholics, we have a duty, an obligation to commit to the safety of our children. I think the actions of the Church will be seen as a model in decades to come and our lessons of forgiveness still allow us to proclaim the Gospel

      July 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      The big problem with comparing these two groups is that the Catholic Church is not policing a member organization. Did the Church screw up? Sure. Should it have acted with more swiftly and decisively against the priests who hurt minors? Absolutely. No one, not even the Church denies any of this. But lets keep in mind that the Catholic Church is more like Penn State than the NCAA. It is a lot harder for men (and that is what the bishops are) to take actions that will send people they know to jail. I suspect that in nearly every case where a minor is abused, the facts are known by more than just the minor and the abuser; this is true in the Church, in Penn State and in the countless other places youth are abused, including families and schools.

      As any Christian should know, all men, even those who hold great positions of authority as priests, bishops, pastors and rabbis can and will sin. We can only hope that the sins of such men will not harm their congregations. Unfortunately too often they do.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Dano

      You would not be so sympathetic to the sin, or the sinner, if you or a family member were abused by a priest.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • AmazedinFL

      As bad as the actions of the pedophile priests was the action of the church leadership who decided to cover this up by moving priests around, knowingly giving these priests the opportunity to prey on more boys. Those leaders made the choice that further pedophilia by sweeping things under the rug was preferable to any damage to the church's reputation. Such a decision is purely, unequivocally evil. Stop glorifying it by talking about church 'forgiveness', when it was a matter of the church trying to cover its own tracks even to the extent of creating a situation where known pedophiles could commit further pedophilia under the roof of the church.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Tom

      Am I reading you correctly? I think you're confusing forgiveness with accountability. The concepts are not mutually exclusive – you can have both. Members of the Roman Catholic priesthood committed horrible crimes against children. The Roman Catholic leadership, in attempting to avoid scandal, effectively enabled future abuses to happen. This is a crime in our society and those who perpetrate such crimes must be brought to account. But they can also be forgiven by God as well as those they have harmed, and I hope they will be. Had the church leadership reported these crimes to the police and stood by the victims, as Mr Prothero I believe is suggesting, we would be having a different conversation.

      Also, and I'm sure you won't disagree: when you say "the Church's reason for existing is the forgiveness of sins" I'm sure you mean that the church, that is the body of those who follow Jesus, exists to encourage all humanity to accept the free gift of forgiveness resulting from his death and resurrection. Surely you're not suggesting that forgiveness comes via Rome?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:27 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.