An Uncomfortable Truth

All of us who have followed the scandal of Roman Catholic priests sexually molesting children have been horrified.

We have been horrified at the actual incidences of molestation …but we have also been horrified that the hierarchy of the Church apparently ignored what was going on and kept aberrant priests in the loop – meaning that far too often, these priests were merely transferred from one parish to another once their behavior was discovered or reported.

The late Joe Paterno, the beloved football coach at Penn State, was accused of much the same – ignoring something some say he knew was going on. Jerry Sandusky, who served as an assistant coach to Paterno, was eventually charged and convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of children; he was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation and was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. After the scandal broke, the beloved Coach Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees of the university. It was assumed or believed that he had known what was going on and simply ignored it, allowing Sandusky to not only keep his job but to keep on doing what he was accused of doing.

The commission of acts that are harmful to people over whom the alleged offenders have power is bad in and of itself, but the continual ignoring of those acts by superiors of those accused offenders, leaving them free to continue their harmful behavior, is just as disturbing. There can be no healing if the truth of what is going on is not acknowledged and the alleged offenders dealt with. At the least, those who abuse their offices ought to resign or be fired. What they should not be allowed to do is to continue in their positions.

Sexual offenses ought not be ignored, and neither should abuses of power as have been demonstrated by some police officers. Far too many unarmed, innocent black, brown and poor people have been beaten and/or killed by police officers – not just since Trayvon Martin, but, in this country, historically, perhaps heightening after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. Even when it has been obvious that police officers have been in the wrong, they have been either found to have used proper force or, if they have gone to trial, they have been acquitted of wrongdoing or given light sentences and …have been let back on the streets.

While sexual abuse of children is particularly heinous, so is the use of excessive and/or deadly force on innocent civilians. The “Blue Wall of Silence” has long protected police officers who are not in control of their emotions, any more than are sexual offenders in control of theirs. At the least, police officers whose actions have clearly been found to be questionable ought to have to go to some kind of treatment and be kept off the streets. Sometimes, the jobs we love to do are not the jobs we can or should do. That would be the case with priests (or others) who sexually abuse children, and that would be the case with police officers who believe that their badges give them an excuse to commit murders or horrific beatings, and know their behavior is sanctioned by law.

It is uncomfortable to think this way, but there is a truth within it which cannot be denied. It is clear that some officers, certainly not all, have some issues which they have not resolved. There is no reason for some of the excessive force situations which by now we have all seen via video. It is insulting that these officers do what they do and are not too worried, because they know they will be protected by their superiors and peers.

Sort of like the priests have been …supported and protected…by their superiors and their peers.

Lawsuits against people in power who abuse their power are a pithy way to deal with institutions which protect their members and continue to release them or reassign them so that they can be free to repeat their behavior. Survivors yes, get money …but far too often, offenders have been allowed to go free and the offenses never stop.

Something is wrong with that.

A candid observation …

Not Sorry for Sandusky

Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State Unive...
Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jerry Sandusky is on suicide watch, and I find that I am just not feeling sorry for him.

In fact, I am angry at him, and I find that I am angry at Penn State, for apparently being quiet about Sandusky’s alleged sexual activities with young boys. I find that I am as angry at Penn State as I have been at the Roman Catholic Church‘s hierarchy for protecting priests accused of sexually violating children, primarily young boys.

I suppose Penn State’s hierarchy kept quiet because they wanted to protect their beloved football program. I love football; I love Penn State’s team, and I loved Joe Paterno…but football should never have been more important than protecting children.

The whole issue of sexual crimes, and what institutions do when such charges come to the surface, is a critical one. Institutions, it seems, are more interested in protecting their institutions than they are in protecting victims of sex crimes, and because of that, are prone to keep silent when the possibility of such a crime has occurred within their walls.

Talking with a friend of mine this weekend, I learned that sex crimes, or sexual impropriety are really common in churches. The tendency, my friend said, is for churches to keep silent. It is the worse thing a church could do.

“What happens is when it comes out that there’s been a problem with a sexual predator and one child, there usually are more children involved,” she said. “It blows up. Churches have destroyed by instances of sexual violations of children.”

What bothers me most in the Sandusky case is that Sandusky didn’t “look” like a bad guy, certainly not a guy who could or would violate children. He looked like he could be anyone’s grandfather…and he had an organization he founded to help kids at risk!  To have violated their trust makes me sad and sick, but Penn State’s “looking the other way” bothers me, too.

In the conversation I had with the same friend this weekend, I wondered out loud if people who commit sexual crimes are sick, or are they evil? Or…are some sicknesses in fact evil?

Neither one of us had an answer for that question, but I asked because maybe there needs to be research, if sexual impropriety is a sickness, on how to treat it early on so that people will not grow into sexual predators. Sick children grow into sick adults …

I don’t know that there is a treatment for evil. I am not even sure if I am clear on what evil is. So many behaviors could fit into that category.

If Sandusky is sick, I am sorry nobody ever pegged it, but I just cannot feel sorry for him. No, I don’t want him to commit suicide, but the fact that he is despondent is not moving me. I keep thinking of all those boys whose lives were forever altered by what he is accused of doing…

And as far as Penn State goes, if they knew and were silent about it, they should have to answer for it in such a way that nobody ever does anything like Sandusky supposedly did and think he or she will get away with it. If their silence was driven by a desire to protect their football program, maybe they ought to be made to sit out a couple of seasons, and get a good policy in place on what the university will do should such a situation ever develop again.

I read that the investigation against Sandusky is not yet complete, that there could be other charges against him. I’m not surprised. After all, he doesn’t look like a bad guy; he looks like he could be anybody’s grandfather.

That’s part of what makes him and other predators so dangerous. They fit in…they don’t stand out.

A candid observation

Favor Ain’t Fair

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...
Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago, I heard a sermon by Bishop T.D. Jakes, in which he declared “favor ain’t fair.” He was addressing the issue of why bad things happen to good people, and why good things seem to happen to people who are, at best, a little less than “good.” “Favor” is defined as blessings that come from God, and, as the Bishop said, it is not always comprehensible on how God decides who gets good things in life and who does not.

It is a question that has plagued religious people for the longest time, and there is never a comforting answer, bu the issue came to me today once again as I read about why the Board of Trustees at Penn State decided to fire the late Coach Joe Paterno.

The trustees decided that Paterno had shown a “failure in leadership” after being told by a then-graduate assistant about some questionable sexual activity that appeared to be going on between a young boy and Jerry Sandusky. Though Paterno told the school’s athletic director, the Trustees believed he failed as a leader because he did not call the police. In an article which appeared on CNN.com, a report issued by the Trustees said, ” “We determined that his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.”

Wow. Favor…ain’t fair.

I found myself wondering what I would have done had I been in the coach’s position. If I had not seen the incident myself, I would not have called the police, but I would have probably advised the person who had told me what he’d seen to call the police. I would have told my athletic director, and probably would have asked what else I should do. Would I have been wrong?

It is virtually impossible for any of us  to “know” what we’d do in a given situation; we are all fairly good “armchair quarterbacks,” but I know that as a matter of course, I do not automatically take the word of someone who says he or she has seen something.

So what would I have done in his situation? As I read the story, I felt the pain I felt when the story first broke for Penn State’s beloved coach. I remember feeling that he did the best he knew how to do, but in the end, his best was not good enough. I tried imagining how it must have felt, knowing that he had devoted his life to Penn State,  only to be brought down because he hadn’t told the right people what had been told to him.

Favor is not fair, as Jakes said. Surely the Paterno family must be feeling some of that.

The whole situation opens, or should open, a conversation about just what to do in a situation like this. I am a pastor; if a member told me that he or she knew that a child was being molested, I would tell Children’s Services immediately. Wouldn’t that be the correct first step? Wouldn’t Children’s Services then be required to conduct an investigation and then alert police, should the accusations be true?

But back to Paterno…I feel a deep sadness for this man who thought he had done the right thing. Perhaps he DID do the right thing, but in this case, the right thing wasn’t “right enough.” In the end, he was brought all the way down…

You’re right, Bishop Jakes. Favor ain’t fair.

A candid observation…