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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. Joe

    What kept the NCAA from fining Penn State $600 million? And who exactly is going to pay the freight? That's right, every tax-paying citizen of Pennsylvania. At least the Catholics paid from their own coffers or from insurance policies (or they declared bankruptcy). Scream all you like about the Evil Catholic Church, but none of you non-Catholics had to drop a penny in the bucket to pay for the crimes of priests and the stupidity and cowardice of a bunch of bishops. That's not how it's going to go down in Happy Valley, though.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • marjee123

      Well they should have chosen people of honor to run the football program and the college. Seems like the ones at Penn State were more interested in power and glory and money than they were in the welfare of innocent children.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • hmmm

      why would the tax payers pay? this is a private college you idiot

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

      It's the money they've made from the football program over a few years so why would you have to pay that bill??

      July 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  2. Demo Joseph

    Hit them where it has always hurt the Catholic Church – Money. Don't give and see the change. Money is the driving force in ALL religion and all churches.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Ed

      .. and governments and schools...

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

    Pedophilia has a better chance of ending if victims went to the police, right away, not to an organization associated with the criminal, 20 years later.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • marjee123

      If you were a twelve old child and went to those in authority, who do you think they would have believed, you or the priest, or the beloved coach.

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

      What about your parents?

      July 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  4. How do you tell if a Catholic is in denial?

    Check to see if they're breathing.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      How do you tell if a Southern Babptist is in denial? First take the sheet off his head.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  5. Demo Joseph

    Since I am Catholic, I often wonder if the church was always a front for this type of abuse. After all the bible was written by man NOT GODS. It makes you doubt your faith when men can sit back and let this go on. What are we missing here. What can we do to change it?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Athiest

      It absolutely was written, and re-written, and translated, hand to hand by an incredible number of failable men.

      On the basis of reason and logic alone, I would have a hard time taking anything it said as anything more then stories.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      What we can do is what we are doing. Acknowledging the crimes, ministering to victims, making recompense, offering forgiveness to sinners, educating the faithful, protecting children, opening processes to accountability, preaching the Gospel and defending the body against the invasion of predators. What else can you think of?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • marjee123

      I have said this over and over . We don't know if what these men wrote was true , it might have been figments of their imagination, something they dreamed about. That is why I never really thought about all the things they wrote in the Bible.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Spell Check

      Athiest = Atheist

      July 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Bill

      How about actually holding these people accountable to the law of the land instead of shuffling them off to other parishes and not informing anyone as to their propensity for sexual abuse?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  6. JTS

    The NCAA is a governing body, imposing sanctions on Penn State. Penn State, left to their own devices, did not and would not have taken any action resembling those mandated by the NCAA. The catholic church has no such governing body. They are the equivalent in this story of Penn State, with no governing body to impose a corrective and compensatory measure. The common thread in this opinion piece is cover up of horrific, unimaginable abuses against children. And, what's worst, is that the abuses by priests of the church impacted far larger numbers of children than Jerry Sandusky. But, without a separate organization to drop the hammer on the church, don't expect them to do it themselves...

    July 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • DriftSS

      @JTS – Well said!

      July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Well said perhaps but inaccurate. The Church has installed numerous programs to offer counseling to victims, educate parishioners and prevent future abuse. All as you noted, without the mandate of a governing body other than our Bishops

      July 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  7. deb

    I am tired of you liberal writers bashing the church!!! Yes it was wrong and yes it has got to stop. But this had nothing to do with the Church!!! It has got to stop. The church has paid out millions of dollars. Why don't you write about those that are falsely accused that have had their reputations ruined!!! Not once have i seen that but then that doesn't sell!!!! ENOUGH!!!!! I guess CNN ratings are low so you stir this crap back up again. This is good for one thing...the bottom of a bird cage!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Athiest

      AWWWWW POOOR YOU. YOU'RE SUCH A VICTIM.

      Your bible belongs in the bottom of a bird cage... stop your leaders from allowing children to be the victim of these assaults then you can rant. Until then, you and the 1.2 Billion Catholics are ENABLERS OF CHILD ABUSE.

      Have a spine, Put your foot down, and do not support an organization that enables PREDATORS by looking the other way.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Lin

      Deb. "no the tree by its fruit." It has everything to do with the integrity of the Church!

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

      Deb....I am Catholic as well and yes...CNN is often bashing the Church...but you have to admit we have no grounds to walk on here...the Church admittedly tried to cover up many abuses by reassigning priests, etc....who cares how much they paid out when they knowingly put more children at risk...it's something I struggle with understanding

      July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • ST

      The church has paid out millions only after being taken to court by the victims. I think a more powerful statement by the Catholic church would be to call the police when these things occur as opposed to keeping it in house.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • AndyD

      As a parent of 2 boys that were victims of a deviant priest, I find your comments ignorant. The cover up is still going on in the Catholic Church and the air will never clear until all the stench is removed. When I went to the Diocese to make them aware of what was going on, the first words out of the Chancellor's mouth were – "You do realize this is beyond the statue of limitations?" That should tell you how Christian they were with their response. I guess Jesus was a lawyer when he wasn't working with wood or preaching.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Kristen You are not alone in your confusion and feelings. We in the church were betrayed also by the perpetrators as well as those who hid the crimes. If you look at each incident individually you can see that most of the priests who were moved were done from a basis in psychology's assertion that these men could be corrected added to the Bishops desire to offer forgiveness and however misguidedly to protect what looked like a priest but was in reality a monster. While their was no doubt some deliberate cover up and collusion, a number of the incidents under discussion currently (which go back 50 years) were really a cascade of bad judgements predicated on bad information and very human nature to protect and hide this kind of thing. Tragic? Absolutely. Understandable? Certainly. The end of the Church? Not at all.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kent

      Some of us are tired of conservatives in the Church wanting to sweep child abuse under the rug, as if it isn't an abomination. We're tired of you people making excuses and not holding the leaders responsible.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  8. geeeno

    st augustine complained of priests abusing boys over one thousand years ago. such complaints have continued sporadically since then (probably continuously in other venues).

    July 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yes pedophilia has existed since the dawn of time. What's your point?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Irma McCaffrey

    I think the NCAA should stick to rulling the sport. Granted what happened was wrong but a lot of innocent individuals are being affected by what NCAA has done. The individuals involved should be punished and not anyone else.

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

      I Agree

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

      But when a school hires a coach or admin then they are hiring them to represent that school...so if a person if that position does something criminal or immoral then the school is just as responsible as the individual and has to own their part of the punishment as well

      July 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  10. RUSH

    My take, this is a crimminal case that has been dealt with in a court of law so what gives the ncaa the right to profit off this case. I call this VULTURE CAPITOLISM. Does Bain Capitol have stock in the ncaa? Who gets the 60m from the fine? The ncaa should be required to answer that question or everyone should boycott watching any ncaa event. Thats my take.

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

      The NCAA made it clear the $60million goes to fund child abuse funds...

      July 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  11. David

    Does anybody know who the Cardinal was that was in charge when all this reporting began? He was told about the molestation's and rather than expose them, he relocated the priests so they could do it again in another parish. Hint...he was promoted since then.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  12. ryan

    penn state are amateurs in this dept compared to the church. the church are the all time heavyweight champions of kid raping

    July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  13. Demo Joseph

    I agree. Why punish the guys – they had nothing to do with this. This is sad but offen seen – the top level makes mistakes and the bottom crew – pays the price. They are still fools at that school.

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

      And that's why they can transfer.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  14. Mark

    Here we go again. Another CNN attack on Catholics. It is pathetic journalism that seeks weak link correlations in order to sensationalize and provoke dim-witted readers. Hey CNN, maybe you can tie the Church to the Colorado shooting while you're at it?

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

      Wake up!

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

      As a Catholic though I cannot defend the church on how they handled the abusers....they have botched it from the get go and children have been hurt...there is no excuse...

      July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  15. Halcyon

    At some point some of us need to stop stepping on the weekest spot of an otherwise beautiful floor and complain that it squeeks. Like any other family, even our own, there is more good than bad which leads us to say things like "I admired the Roman Catholic Church for taking clear stands on the major moral issues of our time". When abnormalities are revealed, nothing is easier than taking the convenient stand which is well-rooted in this new-age pop secularism that most practisioners dont even understand. So yes, there is a weak elemet in every society that filters through organizations, but that does not change the organization's principles. The Catholic Church may be slow in addressing this ugly subject, but they still deserve the respect of people who stand up for morality and advocate peace. Weigh your stones- one bag is fuller than the other.

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

      Are you talking about the same Roman Catholic church that burned people alive at the stake for 1260 years for not converting to the Catholic religion?

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

      The catholic church stands up for morality and peace when it suits their agenda so their stance ends up being selective and often immoral and violent. The Penn State football team should be wiped from the face of the earth, as should the catholic church.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Wiping people from the face of the earth who offend you is exactly the creed the Church opposes

      July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  16. Fairplay99

    Stephen Prothero does not know what he is talking about. He is just another cheap shot journalist.

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

      Mr. Prothero, would you dare write about Islam the way you write about Caholicism. No religion is perfect so I am curious if you have the b-lls to criticize Islam.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  17. Matt

    I do agree that the Church has chosen to cover up some of these scandles, which I also believe has hurt the church greatly. Our numbers are down and more and more people are willing to change their values more to the mainstream. IE. Contraception being used by 98% of Catholic women. The Church created this problem by not letting all of these preists be held to the same law that Sandusky was held to. As a very devoted Catholic, I am ashamed. Nothing good can come from this. The Church needs to do more. They stand up against all of these terrbile crimes when someone else does it, but we hear nothing when it is their own.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Let's not forget that 700,000+ believers per year in the USA get abortions. I'll leave it to you to figure out how many of them belong to the RCC cult.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • cyn507

      "but we hear nothing when it is their own." don't you mean "our own" You're part of the organization but conveniently remove yourself when speaking of their horrific deeds. It's "us" when it's about peace & love but "them" when it's about abuse? typical catholic hypocrite.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  18. Smitty

    The pope and Joe Paterno are the same in this situation. The problem is that the pope is at the top of the food chain, so whatever he does/says is how it goes down, whereas Joe Paterno doesn't make the law.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      Well Smitty, you have it all wrong. I suspect you are just another Catholic hater, and perhaps just another Christian basher.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Bob Baden

      I'm ALMOST annoyed at the position of the article. The church.....what else can be said about the Catholic church...it is the architect of it's own demise. The priests diddle, the cardinals move them around like chess pieces and the rest of the flock are simply lied to. What a great "foundation" to build a life on. I could puke.

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

    Remember, Joe Pa is the lowest man on the Totem Pole that is being punished or indicted. And he is dead! If the NCAA can blame it on poor JoePa then the Universities are free of liability.

    The NCAA is just trying to make sure that the University Administrators are never culpable in these crimes. They want to set precedence that they can always blame Football or some other Sports program and keep an arms distance away from them and their Universities real money (endowment funds). But, they are the ones culpable here. They are the ones eager for the money college football brings in.

    Remember, the NCAA is made up of University Presidents! Not AD's.

    They need to change out everyone in the administration at Penn State and investigate them all. This extends to more than 3 people.

    If the players can go elsewhere to play football (as some have said) then the students can go elsewhere to get an education. Penn State is culpable, not Penn. State Football

    July 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      Yes, like who let Sandusky adopt all those kids? Didn't they check up on him before letting him adopt? Seems some people missed something here...d'oh!

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

      Wrong! Joe Pa is NOT the lowest man, but everyone bowed down to his authority and power at the school. You are gullible or clueless if you think anyone at that school from the president down had power over Joe Pa and the money he generated for the school. Even the teachers and administrators had to bow down to his policies when it affected his football program or players...

      July 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  20. KGRKF

    The problem of priests molesting boys has been staring the Catholic Church in the face for "decades"?? Try subsituting the word "forever" and you'll be closer.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:53 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.