Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

In a previous blog, Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book, I mentioned a couple of postings from a sportscaster regarding the ongoing turmoil at Penn State involving a coach accused of sexual misconduct with some young boys.  I felt the Church can learn some lessons from that case on the risks of child sexual abuse and also a need to openly, transparently, immediately and without fail to deal with these types of allegations.  Whereas some may have anesthetized  themselves by believing that these type of problems only happen in the Roman Catholic Church, the allegations at Penn State show that they can happen anywhere and that any institution can fail to deal properly with the allegations.   Institutions can be more interested in defending the interests of the institution than in dealing with the personal crimes of rogue employees.  Institutions might assume that if they can avoid public entanglement with scandal that is better than having to deal with the crimes individual employees might commit.  That strategy in recent times has often backfired to the tenfold detriment of institutions.

I will note again that for me the issue of greatest concern is not that the allegations happened at a college or were allegedly done by a football coach.  My interest is the implication for the Church, and also parallels the Penn State situation might have with cases that have happened in other churches and could happen in the Orthodox Church.

I also mention again, I am not a great sport fan, so it is not that this issues involves a sports program that interests me.   Like in my previous blog, I had never even heard of the commentator I am going to quote below.  The significance to me is that some sportscasters are getting exactly right what a number of church leaders miss completely in dealing with sexual misconduct.

I accidentally heard Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed on the radio on Saturday afternoon and he made some very strong comments about Joe Paterno’s actions beginning with when Coach Paterno first learned of the allegations.   A lot of what he said is also in an article he wrote for ESPN (The Tragedy of Joe Paterno)  which I quote extensively below.    I quote it because in it are important lessons and reminders for Church leadership in dealing with clergy or any church sexual misconduct.

The first words I heard when I turned my car radio on (and what kept me listening) was Wojciechowski taking Paterno to task for trying to control the terms of how he (Paterno) would be dealt with by the university – Joe offered to retire at the season’s end and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about him or waste even a minute talking about him.  The Board to their credit decided Joe doesn’t get to dictate the terms of how he is handled.    Gene W. was adamant that Joe PA was in the wrong from how he handled the case on the day he learned about it, and so now he doesn’t deserve the right to dictate how he should be dealt with.  The Board of Trustees of  Penn State knew what had to be done and they did it swiftly and unapologetically.  Below is what is for me the relevant portion of Gene W’s article:

Paterno had equity at Penn State, the kind of equity that gave him the power to essentially stiff-arm the school’s efforts to coax him into retirement in 2004. He tried the same audacious tactic earlier this week when he announced his decision to retire at season’s end and added, almost as a warning it seemed, that the PSU board of trustees had more pressing matters to deal with than his job status.

It was the final, tone-deaf act of a man who failed to realize his own power base had eroded. Wednesday night the trustees informed him by phone of their decision to fire him, effective immediately.

A statement released that night from Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany included a six-word sentence that was perfect in its simplicity. The entire situation is so sad.

Profoundly sad because of the victims affected by the alleged acts of Sandusky.

Sad because a great university has been kneecapped by its very own.

Sad because there are so many questions involving Paterno’s role in the chain of events that led to his forced departure.

For example:

Why didn’t Paterno contact the police when first informed in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary of an alleged locker room incident involving Sandusky and a young boy?

Why did Paterno heir apparent Sandusky unexpectedly resign from Penn State in 1999?

Why was Sandusky granted special access to the Penn State athletic facilities even after the 2002 incident?

Why did all of this remain secret for so long?

“Joe doesn’t know why [Sandusky] resigned?” says a former athletic director at a rival institution. “Bull—-. That was the first cover-up. … In ’99, when Sandusky resigns, you think this coaching staff didn’t know what was going on?

“In 2002, this could have been a two-day story: ‘Ex-Penn State assistant coach is arrested.’ I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a painful story, but it would have been dealt with. But there’s so much arrogance to think they can keep it a secret. And it starts with Joe … Monumental ego and arrogance.”

These are the kind of opinions and statements you had better get used to. That Paterno had better get used to.

As a promised comprehensive and exhaustive Penn State in-house investigation begins, as the Sandusky trial hearings approach, as the expected civil lawsuits are filed, there are likely to be revelations that test the faith of even Paterno’s most vocal supporters. This is what happens when more than a decade’s worth of dirt is swept under a blue and white Penn State rug.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

One thought on “Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

  1. Pingback: Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book | Fr. Ted's Blog

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