December 2, 2011


Lessons can be learned from the Penn State scandal

The scandal at Penn State University relating to the alleged child sexual abuse by one of its former assistant football coaches apparently couldn’t be reported without dragging the Catholic Church into it because of its similar scandal. There are similarities, but also differences.

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked to comment on the situation at Penn State during a press conference during the U.S. bishops’ meeting on Nov. 14. We thought he was wise to begin his comments by admitting that the Church’s sex abuse scandal “makes us a little timid about wanting to give advice.”

Nevertheless, Archbishop Dolan continued, the indictment of several Penn State officials, and the firing of the university’s president and its longtime football coach, Joe Paterno, “shows that the scourge [of sex abuse] is not limited to any one faith and certainly not to priests.

“It’s in organizations, in universities, all over the place, in families and, yes, in priests,” he said.

That is one of the things that we have learned since the Church’s sex abuse scandal broke into the news nine years ago. Sexual predators can be present wherever adults have intimate contact with children or teenagers.

The abuses that Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have done took place in 2002—about the same time that the Boston Globe broke stories about the Church’s sex abuse scandal. There is where the similarities are.

The difference, though, is that officials at Penn State did nothing about it, while the Catholic Church has done a great deal.

Indeed, the Church was already doing what it could before the extent of its problem became known. Priests were sent to counseling centers to receive therapeutic treatment. We know now that that seldom worked, but we didn’t know that then.

The Penn State case demonstrates again that the first natural response when something like this occurs is to defend the institution. In Penn State’s case, it was primarily the football program. In the Church’s case, it was the institutional Church.

That, in the case of the Church, is definitely no longer true. Nobody who works for the Church in any capacity should have any doubt that the child must come first.

We invite you to check the archdiocesan website——to find the archdiocese’s policies and procedures regarding sexual abuse.

They were originally created in the early 1980s, published in 1994 and 1996, and revised in 2003 and 2004 to incorporate the policies and procedures in the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

By reviewing our policy, you can see its extensive protections and procedures. They make it clear that they “deal with sexual misconduct, which is broader than sexual abuse. Sexual misconduct is understood to include sexual abuse, child abuse, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation.” The policies pertain to all Church personnel.

There is also a link to the review board, composed of competent professionals. Its members currently are John M. (Jack) Whalen, chairman; Ann DeLaney, Msgr. Anthony Volz, Mary Catherine Horty, Eileen Ahrens and Ed Haskins, Ph.D. The victims’ assistance coordinator is Carla Hill.

As this is being written, new stories keep coming out about Penn State, including one in the The Wall Street Journal about the power that Joe Paterno wielded at the university. Too much power can be corrupting, and it has affected the Church, too. That’s why the U.S. bishops have taken such strong steps to cure its sex abuse problem.

Sex abuse, pornography and other sexual ills are constant evils in our society. However, no other institution has done as much to combat them as has the Catholic Church.

—John F. Fink

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