One More Comparison Between Penn State and the Catholic Church

One question a lot of people are asking in the wake of the Penn State scandal is: Why didn’t anyone who knew about Jerry Sandusky‘s crimes go to the police?

Mark P. McKenna has a theory about it — and it connects to the Catholic Church:

… I have significant doubts about what an associate at a law firm (or a junior person at Goldman Sachs, or an intern in Congress) would do if he witnessed a sexual assault. Because this is not about a problem at some other institution; it’s a reflection of a universal human tendency to look out for oneself, and to preserve hierarchical institutions about which one cares and upon which one is dependent. It’s also a reflection of the nearly boundless capacity to ignore inconvenient facts and to make excuses for those within our own circle. Think about the Catholic Church. Predators flourished in parishes for years, not simply (and probably not even primarily) because higher-ups worried about financial exposure. They flourished because many otherwise good people could not bring themselves to believe or to act upon information that their priest was a rapist.

Part of the education that needs to happen right now is making sure people know that even when people they love commit a crime as awful as child molestation (or other types of physical abuse), there’s no reason to keep that information to yourself. And you’re never to blame for what happens to the rapists and abusers. By turning them in to the authorities, you’re making sure the abuse stops there and no one else gets hurt. No one should keep that information to themselves for any reason.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    Google Kitty Genovese!

  • 59 norris

    Google Boondock Saints!

    Seriously though Hemant, this is a great post on your part.  The dynamic of otherwise good people doing nothing in the face of evil acts like murder or child rape needs to be overcome, done away with.

    I suspect the silence for many comes from fear.   I once saw a man beat by a mob outside a bar once.  I wanted to do something but feared I would only be beaten too.  The mob was wild.  A number of cars were severely dented by this man being bashed into them.  I don’t think he survived.   I was not beaten, so you can draw your own conclusions about my actions, or lack of.

    Fear can be a terrible thing.

    In any event, we cannot give child rapists any quarter.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think McQueary’s or Paterno’s or anyone else’s life was in danger, was it? The football program was in danger. Reputations were in danger.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      And children’s mental health.

  • William Garvey

    Bravo!  I think we all need to realize that we are susceptible to the bystander effect.  There was a lot of self-righteous “well if I saw that…” talk from commentators, but in reality you don’t know what you would do if you witnessed a senior member of your employer’s staff committing a crime.  There are lots of studies on the bystander effect.  My own college did a study that found that 55% of people said they would speak up if they heard a sexist comment in a conversation.  But only 15% actually did so when the researchers arranged for a sexist comment to happen later on.  You never know what you’ll do until the moment arrives.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    It doesn’t help when the cops dismiss your report… (personal experience.)

  • http://twitter.com/nmniskanen Nina Niskanen

    Google The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. It’s the absolute best thing to describe what happened at Penn State. Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect don’t apply because all of the neighbours interviewed thought someone else had already called the cops whereas in Penn State everyone involved knew that no one had called the cops and knew that children were in danger but decided to preserve their Omelas instead of actually doing something about it.


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