THE COVER-UP TO PROTECT THE BRAND NAME:PENN STATE AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, PART II
Joe Paterno seems to have been driven by a desire to protect his god-like image, rather than money. The man had more money than perhaps one would think a football coach should have. This of course is part of the problem. Something is definitely amiss in the college world when athletic coaches have higher salaries than university presidents. College, overall, has become a huge money-making enterprise and big-time football programs only increase a university’s monetary windfall. College presidents are hired primarily for their fund-raising ability, not because they are the wise old academic of by-gone days. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the athletic director and president at Penn State would perjure themselves concerning Jerry Sandusky, not only to protect their legendary coach, but the cash cow football program. Nittany Lion football raked in $50 million during 2011, third in the NCAA behind only Texas and Notre Dame. The school thought it might defuse the scandal by summarily firing Paterno, the A.D. and president in one swoop after Sandusky’s arrest. The sacking of Joe Pa appeared momentous, until one remembers he was 84 and dying of cancer. Any chance of Penn State retaining the smallest shred of integrity vanished when the Board of Trustees decided to play the rest of the 2011 season.
Sexual abuse of children had been going on for 15 years or more under the auspices of your football program, and the money from a few games was more important. It would not be fair to the current players the university said. No, it would not, but there are more important things than football, like the welfare of kids. The school offered an apology before the first post-Paterno game, but said it was moving forward. The fall-out from Jerry Sandusky was still in the stratosphere, no where near the ground, and the university was moving forward- don’t want to lose the revenue from one game, do we? Sandusky went to jail and the NCAA slapped Penn State with the heaviest sanctions ever imposed- reduced scholarships, no post-season play, heavy fine, and forfeiture of all wins since 1998 (this last one aimed at the now dead Paterno- he no longer is the all-time wins leader), but the football program lives on. Perhaps it would be too much to expect that Penn State could have suspended football for a few years in order to straighten out their priorities. The Nittany Lions had a winning season in 2012. Almost every game was broadcast on national T.V., though the announcers made sure they threw in some perfunctory comments about how awful the scandal was, but the school did set-up a $2 million dollar fund for the victims- remember them? Can’t stop the money train, so it is full speed ahead for Penn State football. Jerry who?
The Catholic church faces what Penn state does on a much larger scale, as it is a world-wide, multi-billion dollar corporation (sorry, institution). It has employed, however, many of the same techniques to cover-up its scandal- minimize, distract, distort, buy-off, among others, as well some not available to a single college. The most prominent alternative, and usually the Church’s first response to accusations of priestly misconduct, was to transfer the offender to another parish. Maybe Penn State could have sent Jerry Sandusky to Notre Dame, the priests would have shaped him up (no, wait, I guess not). Father is out of control, molesting young boys? Let’s move him to another church. Surely the change in scenery will bring an end to his aberrant behavior. One little hitch- the new parish had altar boys as well, and young men participating in church activities, probably much to their parents’ delight. The rationale behind such actions, mind-boggling to the normal person, had a ruthless logic behind it. By moving a wayward priest, the clamor concerning him could die down if he is no longer visible, and his past might take longer than 3 years (the statue of limitations on legal action) to catch up. This process can and was repeated many times, which is why we hear stories of priests leaving behind trails of abuse that stretch 20 years or more. Sometimes the law caught up and a financial settlement had to be paid, but the Church would have been bankrupt long ago if every victim abused by a priest over the past 50 years received a monetary judgment. Overall, a fairly cost-effective strategy, morally corrupt as it is.
The Church turned to time-honored methods as well: 1. Blame the victim- he is a disturbed young man. How could he possibly accuse Father, who is such a wonderful priest, of these heinous acts? 2. Propaganda blitz- all church employees must now undergo background checks and sexual abuse training (a bit late for this one). 3. Change the subject- U.S. bishops expressed outrage concerning the attempt to make religious organizations pay for their employees’ contraceptives. If the public is up in arms over this purported outrage, they will not be talking about how the Philadelphia diocese played revolving doors with its abusive priests. The bishops are not quite in a position of moral authority at the moment. The game is also being played almost comically (if it was not so sad), in house by Rome. The Vatican has cracked down on nuns in the United States, feeling they have become too radical. The nuns are involved in their communities, helping the poor (gasp!) and other disadvantaged people, instead of staying in the convents, concentrating on church doctrine. Pope Benedict’s butler was arrested and thrown in the Vatican jail for plans to release a tell-all book about his holiness. Does Benedict really have that much to hide? Does any priest? Obviously, they do.
Instead of addressing the main causes of the scandal (only allowing supposedly celibate men to serve as priests being a primary one), tragically, the Catholic Church has hunkered down and become more conservative. A 10 year project instituted changes to the Mass and the prayers during it, just recently. You think the time and money spent on that could have been used somewhere else- helping victims perhaps? Attendance and contributions to the Church are way down in Europe and the U.S., but Rome seems less interested in repairing the damage there, then seeking new fields in Asia and Africa. Will the people find inspiration in a group of tired, out-of-touch, old men wearing black dresses? I can’t see it, but you never know. If the Catholic Church changes, it will be the members, not the clergy, who are the driving force behind it. Instead of dealing openly and honestly with their scandal, the Catholic Church’s decision to cover it up may have done irreparable damage to the institution. I hope not, for the good people who form its foundation deserve better from those pledged to foster their spiritual growth.