This is What Siding with Victims Looks Like

Stephen Prothero has it pretty much summed up over at CNN’s Belief Blog today:

“Far too often, Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals have identified not with abused children but with their “band of brothers,” their fellow priests.

In the case of the sex crimes committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, officials at Penn State also looked the other way.

They must be credited, however, with commissioning a no-holds-barred investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose report (PDF) concluded that Penn State officials engaged in a cover-up that allowed Sandusky’s sexual assaults on children to continue for years.

They should also be applauded for removing a statue of head coach Joe Paterno, who for far too long was revered as a demigod at Penn State.

On Monday, however, the NCAA took the higher road. In a shocking departure from the foot-dragging in Rome, it sided quickly and definitively with the victims.”

I know that a lot of people think the sanctions are too harsh.  That they will end up harming the innocent marching band member (hey, I was one of them in high school), that the local businesses will suffer, that players who did nothing wrong are missing opportunities they earned.

It seems to me, though, that most of the reasons I’ve heard people give for not sanctioning Penn State severely sound eerily similar to those given for not reporting Sandusky in the first place.

But it’s about culture.  It is with the Catholic sex abuse stories, and it is with Penn State.  The perpetrators are only the beginning of the problems that need to be addressed.

As my friend Katie put it,

“You know you’ve lost your moral high ground when college sports have higher levels of accountability than you.”

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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • jerry lynch

    I believe that we must make a strong (unrealistic, impractical, unreasonable) stand for Restorative Justice and break as completely from the common sense and basic instinct of Retributive justice. Yet this is not a “hug-an-abuser” solution and let it go.
    There is a gross and widespread misunderstanding of love amongst Christians. Most of them see Love and Justice as separate: therein is the great divide. In twenty years, I have heard the most outrageous and heated arguments against Love put forth as failing a “Christian’s duty.”
    Love, if it is love, sees with immaculate perception, knowing exactly not only what is for a person’s ultimate being but acting to draw that forth through sacrificial acts (placing their personality and opinions aside).
    Love does not punish the innocent to suffer and it does not turn a blind eye to injustice. In this instance, Restorative Justice would not have been a sentence on those involved and the school, ruled on by an outside agency; it would come together in prayer for victims and perpetrators alike, recognizing both the enormous harm done to those abused and the need to address those wrongs in a healing fashion. Penn State needed to be provided the space, the opportunity, to address those wrongs in conjunction with the administration and student body. Any redress of wrongs done and means of change needed to come from those affected, by the actions of a few within their group, but not involved in the harm. It is a lifetime experience that when that grace is given, people rise up to that grace and display great generosity and care.
    Under the present conditions, the whole school can only feel like another innocent victim. Yet the sanctions applied give a visceral and soothing boost to a misplaced (yes, misplaced) rigtheous indigantion for those looking on.
    A horror was perpetrated on innocent children and allowed to be perpetuated, for misguided reasons, by those aware of these heinous acts. A terrible tradgedy. Yet sentencing all those innocent of these crimes does nothing to heal the wounds or resolve the problem. The only demonstration of the ruling is injustice and vengence, not growth and change. The students are uninovlved. Without a voice in the proceedings, most will remain conscious only of being unduly judged. Where is the lesson? Where is the progress?