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Crime and Punishment at Penn State, Part II Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 16 July 2012

Will the denials ever end?

In November of last year, I wrote a column here, Crime and Punishment at Penn State, about the infamous sexual assault case involving Jerry Sandusky. At that time, it seemed clear to me that legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January, was complicit in covering up the crimes of Sandusky, his longtime defensive coordinator, and I wondered how a devout Catholic, such as Paterno was known to be, could have failed – over the course of more than a decade of allegations against Sandusky – to see to it that police were brought in, thus protecting other children from the heinous predator. Had the scandals in the Church taught him nothing?

Last week, former FBI director Louis Freeh, also Catholic, released the report on the Sandusky Affair that he had been commissioned to undertake by the Penn State board. His investigation was meant to uncover why it took so long for Sandusky’s crimes to be stopped. (Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 counts of abuse against ten boys.) As ESPN reported after Freeh’s press conference:

Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other youngsters, according to a scathing internal report issued Thursday on the scandal.

In the aftermath of Freeh’s digest of conclusions, the supporters of JoePa (led by former players and the Paterno family) rushed in to insist, even as they acknowledged the facts in the report, that Freeh’s conclusions couldn’t possibly be true. Penn State linebacker, NFL star, and now pro-football analyst Matt Millen swore to ESPN anchor Chris McKendry that JoePa never cared about bad publicity. The Paterno family statement flatly admits that JoePa “wasn’t perfect” (which in court would raise an attorney’s objection that it refers to a fact not in evidence) but adds:

To think . . . that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.

But assistant coach Mike McQueary had told Coach Paterno in 2001 – during a face-to-face meeting the next morning (that included McQueary’s father) – that he had seen Sandusky raping a boy, 10 or 12 years old, in a shower room in the Penn State football facility. So how is it Coach Paterno can be said not to have “understood what Sandusky was”?


         The Lion in winter: the Paterno statue, snow-covered

As Director Freeh emphasized: “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who [sic] Sandusky victimized.”

And about the reason for the silence of officialdom at Penn State, the Freeh Report could not be more explicit: “In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university . . . repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.” 

As I wrote in November:

Football and basketball coaches make much more money and, therefore, command more power than most college presidents. Many believe they are a law unto themselves. The Program above all.

There was much talk on Thursday about how the Sandusky Affair must not be allowed to tarnish the legacy of Joe Paterno, but that’s wishful thinking that is both ridiculous as to the eventuality and immoral as to the circumstances, as we now know them to be. Freeh was not conducting a criminal prosecution, although there are civil cases pending and criminal action against other PSU officials is possible. Were Coach Paterno still alive he would likely be the object of an indictment, since he “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal” Sandusky’s crimes.

Rather like the “sex-abuse” crisis in the Church, Penn State’s nightmare ended in the aftermath of the revelations. Although colleges and universities large and small need to carefully regulate and scrutinize the power and practices of sports programs, the incidences of pedophilia in those programs is infinitesimal. When I say Penn State’s nightmare has ended, I mean the horror of the rape of children, not the dreadful legal consequences and painful moral questioning that will burden the university community for years to come. But we can all move on now, lessons having been learned. (And, contra the likes of author Buzz Bissinger or ESPN’s Joe Bryant, PSU should not drop football. However, Paterno’s statue should come down.)

Speaking of the Freeh Report’s conclusions about JoePa’s complicity, NIKE co-founder Phil Knight, previously a staunch defender of Paterno against charges of a cover-up, said:

“I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day.”

That’s well said. But how, we might ask Mr. Knight, since football profits at PSU are already $50 million annually, will the further inflow of his and others’ sponsorship money, and the TV money, and the alumni money into all college sports be accommodated without sacrificing higher education’s core mission? In the Sandusky case, the power of The Program allowed rape to go on; at other universities protecting The Program tolerates illegal recruiting, grade fixing, extortion, and a host of other crimes.

The lesson here isn’t that one good man can make a bad mistake (that’s original sin), but that a culture of greed and power has been allowed to put at risk the games we play. The games. We play.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review.
 
 
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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, July 16, 2012
You bring up good points, Brad. Let's not forget the Second Mile, the charity which Sandusky set up to assist young boys and which was lavishly supported by many of the Penn State elite. Those supporters have all run for cover in this aftermath. The Program. One of the issues that has shocked many people nationwide is that younger Americans tend to almost universally support "same-sex marriage". I ask what is the Program on university campuses across the country accomplishing when students are not being taught Right from Wrong? Sandusky and Paterno were not exceptional. They are just Americans,that's all. And so are we. What would any of us have done in the same situation? When my wife and I went to see Bp.McHugh in the Archdiocese of Newark some twenty years ago, concerning the pro-contraception/pro-abortion (subtly) textbooks which our children were encountering in a "catholic" high school, we were politely told: You are THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO ARE COMPLAINING.
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written by jsmitty, July 16, 2012
Very nice piece Brad. Now if Catholics of the sort who read this page can look past the politics of the moment, and see how the culture of power and greed has corroded many other aspects of American life, we'll actually be getting somewhere. Trouble is, in the current climate if you had written this article instead about how the culture of power and greed has undermined, say, the US financial system and the economy on which it depends, you'd be accused of being an Obama-loving socialist.
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written by Brad Miner, July 16, 2012
@jsmitty: I'll leave the socialism to you.
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written by Sir Mark, July 16, 2012
jsmitty,
No system yet devised has prevented the lust for power and wealth. There is always someone at the top. There is always someone who has all the "stuff". There is always someone who will do anything and everything to retain his position and reputation. It has always been thus.
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written by Grump, July 16, 2012
If Paterno was a "devout Catholic," then I'm a saint by comparison.
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written by b riggs, July 16, 2012
I see a line for line comparison between Joe Paterno and the Catholic bishops who covered up child/adolescent sexual abuse. All were concerned with the reputation of their organizations over the protection and restoration of victims. This pattern of cover-up happens in families where incest occurs, and in the public schools. The larger picture is that the pattern is human, and therefore tainted with sinfulness. If anything, this Penn State episode shows us that our bishops are, while being our apostolic shepherds, are fully human beings and subject to the worst tendencies of our race. While the bishops' behavior remains inexcusable, as is all sin, in some way I am comforted that their sins were not exceptional in the picture of humanity. The questions remain about the objective effects of the abundant grace available to all of us, and the even larger amount available to clergy and bishops. If the grace received in the Sacraments does not mitigate the sinfulness of these people, what hope is there for a world that closes itself off from grace in all forms?
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written by jsmitty, July 16, 2012
@ Sir Mark...were being a tad fatalistic aren't we. Why get upset about Penn State, after all?? (I'd ask Brad Miner the same question). Penn State is pretty much just the way things are, were and always will be. Where there is enough money on the table, people will overlook anything. Why waste the pixels? As a society apparently we should make no effort to punish greedy wrongdoers, or to design systems to deter such conduct in the future, or to promote a culture in which the acquisition and defense of wealth for its own sake is viewed skeptically rather than as an unmitigated good. Do you really think this?

Rhetoric aside, I really wonder why the Catholic idealism on this page concerns solely abortion, birth control, marriage, homosexuality and elements of pop culture like college football but never the behavior of Wall Street. Oh yes, we can talk about greedy govt. bureaucrats, but never greedy bankers.

I'm not trying to change the subject actually. I thought the article was good. Greed in college administrations and bid time football programs is a very big problem. Brad Miner is right!

Just wondering about the selective outrage. COuld it have to do with the fact that our current political strategy to fight abortion and gay "marriage" is forcing us into a political alliance with people who think that the unrestrained pursuit of private gain without concern for the welfare of the general society is ironically the best way to advance the common good and who get very upset when one points out that it isn't so? Just saying.



Just wondering why the baleful effects of greed
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written by Louise, July 16, 2012
Grump, i have been suspecting sanctity of you for some time...

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written by Grump, July 16, 2012
Louise, I should be so lucky.
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written by the earlier Louise, July 17, 2012
Louise and Mr. Grump:

My thought's exactly. He's just been kidding us along.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 17, 2012
jsmitty:

Re: your concern for those who you hold to be unconcerned with greed...

Prudence whispers that a "society" that consecrates abominations has little moral authority in reserve to sanction subordinate crimes, like greed. Among the "policy" problems with the greed program, where will the guardians of the same enlightened society draw the line for the inquisitors prosecuting the greedy? I venture to guess...the "ONE PERCENT," with, of course, perfectly respectable exemptions for the "enlightened" who have contributed to "the cause."
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written by Louise, July 17, 2012
@earlier Louise:
No, I think it is a totally unrecognized situation.

@Grump, anyone who longs to find God has already started to respond to the grace of the Hound of Heaven!

@chris, temperance is a cardinal virtue
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 18, 2012
To Louise:

It's not clear to me what you are getting at. My best guess is that your are saying that (1) my remarks are intemperate, or you may be intending that (2) I'm being imprudent to have remarked.

Per Aquinas, "temperance is the moderation of our own desires...In all cases, the practice of temperance requires the balancing of legitimate goods against an inordinate desire for them."

I'll keep an eye out for your response.
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written by Louise, July 18, 2012
@chris: No, not at all, sorry for the cryptic note, I didn't have time for more. it was not a comment directed at you but rather to yours and jsmitty's discussion re the root sin and I was thinking it was a lack of temperance that leads to today's sexual sins and greed so there seemed a connection to me although I would disagree with jsmitty that fighting abortion and the destruction of marriage is causing us to look kindly on greed. I don't know where he is coming from on that one.
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written by Dan Deeny, July 19, 2012
Brad,
What religion are Sandusky and McQueary? And did McQueary stop the rape? What happened?
Thanks.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 19, 2012
Louise:

Thanks. I think what is happening is that as tolerance of and indifference to sexual immorality is a "progressive establishment" position, the progressive establishment must to re-rack "society's" priorities by trying to re-define what are in the category of abominations. To assert that they hold some moral authority (in vain hope of escaping the desolation of conscience caused by promoting or tolerating what we all know in our conscience to be abominations) the progressive alliance defines mere greed as the new abomination substitute, the last barrier to the triumph welfare state.
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written by Kevin Boyd, July 29, 2012
Since his statue came down I've been asking myself, "how could a devout Catholic such as Joe Paterno have even slept at night, and for 13 years even, after knowingly allowing his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to have continued access to vulnerable children?" And then I came to the conclusion that it was "because" of his devout Catholic faith, not "despite" his Catholic faith, that he was able to sleep so soundly at night. My logic tells me that Joe Pa's rationale was likely predicated upon his knowledge that (some) Catholic priests have been violating children for millennia, and to date, not one Pope has formally taken a strong stand against them, or the bishops that have moved the bad priest to different parishes rather than reporting their atrocities to the proper authorities. JP must've reasoned, " if the Pope, who was appointed from On High, can turn his back on his moral obligation to the most vulnerable in society, well, then so can I."

I, for one, would feel much better about Pope Benedict, if I were to somehow learn that he suffered from insomnia.

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