The Penn State football team brought in $50.000, 000 dollars a year to its University. That tells you something right there about the corruption of how low you can go when money becomes your mojo. Secondly, when football coaches and sport celebrities are treated like cult figures that are so far above the law that to become a whistle-blower is the crime.
No one saw this Molotov cocktail falling out of the sky. The seemingly invincible, the legendary Joe Paterno, head football coach at Penn State who thought he could pick the time of his own retirement, was fired by the school’s board of trustees only days after the scandal went public. He got the news over the phone. The irony is that only two weeks prior he received a reward for the most wins of any NCAA Division One football coach in history.
The Plot Thickens
Almost a decade prior to this catastrophe (2002) a graduate assistant told Coach Paterno that he had eye-witnessed an assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, sodomized a ten-year old boy in the school’s football locker room showers. Immediately the cult figure syndrome raised its ugly head. Sandusky was already a cultic name in Penn State football; possibly the successor to Paterno’s reign To add insult to injury Sandusky gave considerable sums of money to a non-profit organization for boys, many whom he brought onto the Penn State campus. This was self-serving generosity at its best. Nevertheless, with disgrace piled e upon disgrace he continued to do so even after his own retirement from Penn State’s coaching staff.
After hearing the report, Paterno informed university officials of the accusation. But like inside politics little or nothing was done about it. This witch’s brew had been brewing for months and months, until finally on Saturday, November 5, 2011 the lid blew off. On that day Sandusky was cuffed, charged and arrested with 40 felony counts of sexual abuse involving young boys. Penn State had been harboring a serial pervert, a child sex abuser for a long long time. And there were no senior leaders with the moral fortitude to blow the whistle on their powerful cultic compatriot. They have made the field of honor a gridiron of disgrace. Kicked through the goalposts along with Sandusky were the university’s athletic director and its senior vice president of business and finance. Both were charged with failure to report the abuse and with perjury.
And The Bad Played On
What about Paterno and the university’s president, Graham B. Spanier? The Pennsylvania grand jury said that both men had knowledge of the 2002 first-hand report of abuse, and neither contacted the police. Furthermore, Sandusky was allowed some use of university facilities even long after this report. Paterno went back to coaching football. Spanier went back to raising money and building the school’s reputation. Jerry Sandusky had every opportunity to keep on sexually abusing young boys.
When the facts became known, the firings of both Paterno and Spanier were inevitable and necessary. Both men had credible knowledge that young boys were being sexually abused, and neither did anything effective to stop it. Most crucially, neither man did what they should have done within minutes of hearing the first report — contact law enforcement immediately.
The Sexual Abuse of Children Is A Criminal Offense.
The detonation of the Penn State scandal has shaken the entire nation into a new moral awareness. Any failure to report and to stop the sexual abuse of children must be made inconceivable. There can be no doubt that all of these officials bear responsibility for allowing a sexual predator to continue his attacks.
Realty Check for the Church
The Church is not above the law any more than any sports hero or coaches or cultic leader is above the law. In fact as Christians we are to models of moral responsibility. And what is that moral responsibility? To report any suspicion of the abuse of a child to law enforcement authorities right away.
Sometimes Christians are reluctant to report suspected sexual abuse because they do not feel that they know enough about the situation. They are afraid of making a false accusation. This is the wrong instinct. The reason is because we do not have the ability to conduct the kind of investigation that is needed. Criminal investigation is not the duty of the church. This is the function of government as instituted by God (Romans 13). Waiting for further information allows a predator to continue and puts children at risk. This is itself an immoral act that needs to be seen for what it is.
The church and Christian organizations must not become safe places for abusers. These must be safe places for children, and for all trusting parents who send their children to their Day Cares and Children’s church and Sunday school. Any report of sexual abuse must lead immediately to action. That action cannot fall short of contacting law enforcement authorities.
What is the lesson we can learn from the Penn State debacle; that dealing with the problem internally is not good enough simply not good enough? Law enforcement authorities must be notified immediately. And than afterwards the church can put in force its own discipline on the offenders involved.
Church leaders and pastors must decide now — not later — that they will respond to any report of sexual abuse with immediate action and that they will not allow themselves to think that we can handle such a challenge on our own. Every church and Christian institution needs a full set of policies, procedures, and accountability structures. As leaders, we must develop the right instincts for right action.
I’m sure that the first and foremost thought that came into the minds of the council of pundits upon first hearing these allegations was; “At all costs we must protect the reputation of the university. Well we now know how that worked out for their reputation. It is a scarlet “A” across the forehead of Penn State that will not fade away for many years. It must not become a recurring tide.
Something to Think About!