I find the situation at Penn State to just be sad. It is sad all around. The child abuse that took place at the school is sad. The fact that the school created an environment that allowed the abuser to continue to victimize children is sad. The fact that the people that knew what happened- from the janitor to the school President and chose to ignore the abuse is sad. And the protests that are now occurring over the fallout from this terrible situation are sad.
I think that the public reaction to the firing of the beloved JoePa at Penn State is quite interesting. This man turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children that occurred in his program- in his locker room. Sure, he alerted his superiors, but he did not seek to stop the abuse. And that is wrong. More children were harmed because of his inaction. He valued his friendship with the abuser more than the safety of children. And yes, there must be consequences to his poor decision. I understand that he has given so much of his talent and life to Penn State, but, nevertheless, his terrible lapse in judgment that perpetuated this situation needs to be addressed. I think the trustees are justified in removing him from his position. But the public seems to disagree. Many think he should keep his job. Many think the trustees are being too harsh. Many don’t understand why the coach’s misjudgment has cost him his storied career.
This situation reminds me of another child sex abuse scandal that has a much different reaction from the public. The Catholic Church has been rocked by this very situation. There have been Priests who have taken advantage of their trusted positions and committed similar crimes. Like the volunteer coach at Penn State, there have been Priests who have sexually assaulted children. And in some of those cases, their superiors did not do enough to stop it. They did not do enough to protect future victims. When the public got wind of these crimes, they were outraged. They wanted some one’s head on a platter. The fall out has included not only the justified removal and prosecution of the abusive Priests, but also the resignation of many top level church leaders such as Cardinal Law of the Archdiocese of Boston. But some think that this is not enough. Some think that the Pope should pay for these crimes. Some want his head on a platter. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to belittle the public’s outrage in their reaction to this terrible crime. I think they should be mad. I think this reaction is justified. I disagree with people who paint all Priests with the sex abuser brush, but I do think that the public is justified in their anger. And good things have come from this situation for the Church. Thanks to this scandal, the Safe Environment programs developed by dioceses have never been more comprehensive. The children and vulnerable adults the Catholic Church serves have never been safer.
So, my question is, how is the situation at Penn State different that the situation in the Catholic Church? I know that at Penn state we are just talking about one abuser and there were many more than one in the much larger community of the world-wide Catholic Church over a longer period of time. But the crime is the same. In both cases, the abuser was allowed to continue to victimize due to the negligence of his superiors. So why does a football coach get a reprieve from the public while all Catholic Priests must wear a scarlet A? Why does a football coach’s justified firing anger the same public that wants the pope’s head on a platter? I don’t get it.