The allegations of child sex abuse occurring at Penn State involving a football coach has caused literally a riot among fans, friends and the public. Though a lot of the energy which has been reported has focused on what some see as the head coach being treated unfairly, what everyone in the Church should note is the direction in which U.S. law and the courts are headed when it comes to child sex abuse. Zero tolerance means just that.
I’m not particularly interested in Penn State, I take note of the events because I serve on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee. I point to what happened at Penn State as yet another wake up call to bishops, priests and parish members. Sexual predators are real, they aren’t limited to a minority of Catholic priests. They exist in every walk of life, and our Church is no less susceptible to their predations than any other organization in which children are present.
I advise you to read two articles from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the events. I’m referring to these articles from a sports magazine as I’ll assume the magazine is not involved in current politics but is viewing the events from the point of view of sports writers. Both articles are written by Andy Staples (I know nothing about him, I admit I don’t normally read SI and am a luke warm sports fan at best). The first article is titled, “With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go.” The second article is “Paterno’s Penn St. legacy forever marred by Sandusky scandal.”
I want to repeat and emphasize I have no real interest in this being related to sports, football, Penn St., or Joe Paterno. I have nothing against any of these institutions. My interest is purely what implications any of this has for the Orthodox Church. Already the press, including my home town newspaper are making the connection: Institutions in Sex Scandals try to Protect their Own.
Coach Paterno is not accused of sexual abuse. The story is that someone reported to him witnessing a sex act between a coach and a 10 year old boy in the college football complex. He reported it to Paterno, Paterno apparently following policy reported the event to a campus atheletic director. But then nothing happened, no follow up, no outcry, no report to the police. Life went on as if nothing happened. As it turns out there were other victims of sex abuse from the same accused coach. I think I heard he is indicted on 40 counts. (You can read the indictment on line.) Some of those might have been prevented had Paterno and others taken the allegations seriously and followed through in an investigation. No one did.
All Orthodox in America need to pay attention to these events. Child abuse is not merely unfortunate, nor is it merely a deadly sin [the type of which Jesus Himself suggested the perpetrator of such a horrible sin should have a millstone put around his neck and be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2)], it is also a crime. That is the part of child abuse that is now coming to roost in every church. It will not be enough for us to feel sorry that sin happens. The state in the case of child sexual abuse is saying we must actively and proactively work to prevent it from happening. If we fail to do so, we will make the headlines of every news agency in the country. But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is we will have failed to protect a child. However terrible the behavior of the predators and sex abuse, it is those who suffer abuse whose suffering we should be concerned about.
Bishops, priest and parishioners of the Orthodox Church must not stay silent or on the sidelines on this issue. We must all actively work to prevent child abuse in our parishes. Wherever there are children, predators are interested in being there too. Fortunately, predators are a very small portion of the total population. But we must work proactively against them. We each and all should be demanding our parishes, parish councils, priests, bishops and dioceses to take every step possible to help prevent even one child from being abused in our churches. (See also my blog Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State).
We also should take note that we cannot hide behind having good policy. Joe Paterno appears to have followed policy. He reported the event to an atheletic supervisor, just not to the police. Bishops and priests especially should take note of this. If we try to “protect” ourselves by merely following policy, rather than by following up with real investigation of reported sexual abuse, we will find ourselves both in the scandalous position of Coach Paterno, and with the searing knowledge that we failed to protect our children.
Maybe the publicity of the Penn St. case will awaken more of us to the problem. Too many have thought this a problem of the Catholic Church, or that it could only occur somewhere else. We see now the problem is in society and the world of the fall. This is the world in which we too abide.
See also my blog series which began with State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds