Betrayal and the Power of Relationship

I lack a sports gene. Also, I’ve been crushingly busy. Consequently, I have been slow to follow the monstrous story coming out of Penn State and slow to absorb the full horror of the thing. Colleen Carroll-Campbell sums things up succinctly through:

According to the grand jury report, Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky spent years using his reputation as a celebrated football coach and community do-gooder to sexually prey upon disadvantaged boys. What’s worse, a string of witnesses came across Sandusky in compromising positions with young boys and either ignored his behavior or reported it to athletic authorities instead of police.

In the most egregious case recounted in the report, a 28-year-old graduate assistant found Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the football building’s shower room. The assistant’s reaction? He left the scene and told his father, who advised him to tell head coach Joe Paterno, who told athletic director Tim Curley, who heard the assistant’s testimony along with Gary Schultz, the university’s senior vice president for finance and business. Curley then told university president Graham Spanier. No one told police.

This infantile rendition of the classic telephone game did nothing to stop Sandusky, who remained free to abuse boys for nearly 10 more years. Last week, Sandusky finally was arrested and Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury and child endangerment.

The Penn State scandal is yet another reminder that when it comes to the problem of sexual crimes against children, an in-house solution is no solution at all. Predators thrive in environments where cowardice or concern for appearances trumps a commitment to justice, where protecting the reputations of adults takes precedence over defending the innocence of children. And the story always ends the same sad, sordid way, with a final revelation of the truth that shatters a community’s trust and leaves an entire institution tarnished in its wake.

If the Catholic Church’s painful experience in this area can offer any lesson for others, it is this: Genuine love for and loyalty to an institution never demands the sacrifice of a child’s safety or innocence. Anyone who believes otherwise does not belong in a position of authority.

I find it stunning–still, after all these years of appalling revelations from Catholics (both ass-covering bishops and laity who did nothing when the abuse against their own children was discovered)–that people need to be told, “When a crime is committed against a kid, you call the cops.” If it were an isolated incident, that would be one thing. But that this happens over and over across a wide cross-section of people having nothing in common but membership in the species homo sapiens, I start to wonder what it is about us that makes us hesitate to confront the face of outrageous evil.

Recently, I had a conversation with somebody who believed they had a ton of evidence of sexual abuse, criminal wrongdoing, conspiracy, etc. against a wide variety of unnamed clerics, bishops, etc. This person contacted me for reasons I am still unclear about, other than that I have a blog and a big mouth. As we talked, I kept trying to make clear that no matter how much stuff this person sent to my email box allegedly proving their claims, I was in no position to do anything about it since I did not know this person, nor could I verify whether the documentation they sent me was genuine or a clever forgery since I am, at the end of the day, a guy sitting in his room with a computer, not a professional investigator or even a reporter. They told me how they were allegedly being stonewalled by sundry clerics and so forth and asked what I could do to help. Finally, I said, “Why not just go to the cops?”

Why not just go to the cops? Why don’t people do that first when they are confronted with a gross crime?  Why contact a blogger 2000 miles away?

I suspect some of it has to do with power. People are afraid they will be made to pay for blowing the whistle. It’s not an unreasonable fear. The spectacle of savagery in Pennsylvania because Coach Beloved got canned for not reporting the rape of a child to the law is one of the more depressing displays of NIMBYism I have seen in some time. Whistleblowers have reason to fear that sort of irrational hatred. And so, like it or not, people *do* fear for their careers, *do* fear the hatred of the mob, and *do* think first, “Maybe I can just pass this on to somebody higher up the institutional chain of command.”

We saw similar things with Father Beloved over the past decade: for every bishop who engaged in ass-covering, there were two parishes gathering round Fr. Beloved when his disgusting crimes were uncovered and saying he was being persecuted and they would stand by him through thick and thin. We saw it very recently (and still are witnessing it) with the people who savaged Fr. Corapi’s accuser.  I have the hate mail from Corapi zealots to prove it.  We saw it with Clinton.  We are seeing with Herman Cain.

My point is not “Herman Cain is guilty of sexual abuse.”  I have no idea what the facts of the case are.  But then neither do those who are busying themselves attacking his accusers and defending him.  That’s the point: People don’t wait till investigations have shown the facts about the merits of the case. They pick a side and start attacking the Enemy.

When the one you love is accused, everybody is certain they know who the *real* guilty party is: the accuser.  When it’s somebody you don’t know and evil is exposed, everybody is sure they are a hero who would have beaten the living hell out of the wrongdoer, deposited his sorry ass on the doorstep of police headquarters, and confronted the Forces of Institutional Inertia who protected him with oh-so-bold prophetic righteousness. This is particularly easy for the courageous denizens of blogospheric comboxes who are fantastically good at comparing themselves favorably to whatever Emmanuel Goldstein the media serves up for this day’s 15 Minute Hate.

But though lots of combox warriors are quite adept at fantasizing about how bravely they would have behaved and how vile Mike McQueary is in comparison to their brave selves, how they would have taken a baseball bat to Sandusky had they caught him in flagrante, the reality is that, if the Milgram experiments are any indication, a huge percentage of people are pretty well programmed to avoid trouble with authority figures rather than open a can of whupass. Sorry, but that’s the stuff we fallen humans are made of, as our first Pope learned when he confidently declared, “Though everyone else deny you, I will never deny you.”  Indeed, despite the flattering and heroic picture so many Laptop Ninjas have of themselves, righteously battling evil with flawless martial arts moves and utter rectitude like Buffy and Angel, the real picture of fallen humanity given to us by revelation is that of the apostles in Gethsemane on Holy Thursday: big talk, sleepiness while Jesus sweats blood, a brief show of bluster and bravado against the wrong person (resulting in a severed ear) and then bolting, ass-saving panic such that one of the disciples peeled out of his clothes and ran off naked rather than defend the innocent from evil authority figures.  That story is painful to read because that story is a paradigm, not an isolated incident.  It has been replayed again and again down the centuries and we chicken shits in comboxes boasting about our courage over Those People Over There know it damn well.  That’s why we talk so big.

So I look at McQueary and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Recall that his awful discovery and act of cowardice all happened before the sex abuse scandal in the Church brought the issue to the fore of public consciousness and gave them a chance to think “How should I prepare to react if I ever encountered something like this?”  Recall that McQueary just stumbled on the scene and was flummoxed. People do weird things in such situations. I hope I would have instantly assessed the situation and, like Buffy and Angel, cleaned Sandusky’s clock, kicked his ass into next week, and called the cops. But had I been in McQueary’s shoes at the time and place, who knows? If the evidence of, not just bishops and clerics (and the apostles of Jesus Christ), but even the parents of victims is any indication, people often respond to monstrous acts of evil by… doing nothing, or trying to kick the problem upstairs to somebody in a position of power who will make it alright and not drag them into further trouble. The fight or flight reaction tends to favor flight since fight often gets you dead or injured.  People gripe that McQueary was a big strong guy and should have manned  up and kicked butt.  So was Peter.  But when the big buff fisherman was confronted by a serving maid with the words, “Are you not also one of his disciples?” he displayed utter cowardice and then went and wept bitterly as the cock crowed.

More than this, though, is something beyond fear–something much more powerful: a perverted understanding of love. It is relationship, far more than fear, that makes people avoid trouble. Sandusky is your friend. Sandusky is your colleague. Sandusky is beloved. Sandusky is charming. Sandusky has done all this charitable work.  Surely there’s an explanation. We don’t have to instantly go nuclear with cops. Something can be worked out. He means well, but he’s “troubled”. He’s one of our guys. Children are resilient. I couldn’t live with myself if I destroyed the guy’s career. He’s done a lot of good things too, you know. It will kill his family.

And so forth. For ten more years. We are built for relationship and we have to be very hard-pressed to take the step of destroying it. And we cling to relationship even in the case of very weak relationships.

Case in point: Some time back, a family I know was confronted with the fact that their former dentist had performed thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of unnecessary and painful surgery on them (root canals), inflicting great suffering, doing crappy work that must now be repaired at still further cost, and robbing them of the money they might have used for college for their children and savings for themselves.  He did this to hundreds of patients.  Had he been a thug in an alley robbing the family of that much money and threatening them with that kind of pain, the father of  that family would have been justified in shooting him in self-defense.  But the dentist did it with warm smiles and ingratiating chit chat and a veneer of Christian bonhomie and professional competence over the years, so that his victims formed a relationship with him and trusted in his good will.  Consequently, when the incontrovertible evidence of his fraud, physical abuse, and theft was made clear to this family the wife, being a great soul full of love and charity, immediately began to try to find some way to believe he couldn’t be the monster he so clearly was.  It’s perfectly natural.  They were in a relationship with this crook and abuser and so she tried to find some way to save the relationship first, rather than immediately do what they finally realized they had to do: sue the crooked abusive bastard.

So we rationalize about those with whom we have a relationship–even a very tenuous relationship like dentist/patient–while people who are not part of the relationship are able to make an instant evaluation in hindsight: call the freakin’ cops! Don’t kick it upstairs and think that’s good enough! The guy raped a boy in front of your eyes!  The guy did dozens of unnecessary root canals, preyed on your trust, hurt you and your family, and irreparably harmed your future (the father will, barring a miracle, never be able to retire and never be able to provide much help to their kids college careers or a nest egg for his wife should he die.  The dentist’s insurance company will only pay a small fraction of what he stole).

It’s much the same dynamic behind why a woman will let herself be beaten by her man or make excuses for her drunken daughter while her friends, who have no relationship with hubby and daughter, beg her to call the cops. It’s not crass monetary self-interest. It’s a twisted idea of love and the dread that no relationship is worse than an abusive one.  It’s the belief that, surely, there’s been some mistake.  Maybe we’re the one at fault for being judgmental, etc.

All this is also, by the way, something that is much *more* likely to happen *away* from an institutional setting than in one.  Case in point: the amorphous, emphatically non-hierarchical culture of radical egalitarian anarchy of OWS, where the policy is, in case of rape, don’t call the cops. This is how, in many families, mafiosi, and loosely affiliated groups, Things Are Done–precisely because they lack the institutional machinery to file complaints, enforce rights, and get traction.  It’s all run on personal relationship–and therefore prey to our chronic inability to challenge personal relationship.  Institutions, for all their failings (failings I have no desire to downplay in the least, particularly in the Church), typically have some way to help the victim pursue justice, because institutions create distance between people and allow some objectivity to find its way in–albeit very imperfectly as Penn State and the Catholic Church demonstrate.  Indeed, precisely what failed was that, in the case of the Church and Penn State, the institutional machinery that existed and which should have called the cops instead was jammed and personal relationship was allowed to trump that machinery in its proper functioning.

The insidious evil of priestly sexual abuse is that priests are, in a way that a coach is not, entirely ordered toward relationship. They relate God to man and man to God. To betray that relationship is uniquely evil–demonically evil. It preys on the deep desire to trust and remain in relationship that is already deeply built into us, even with such a low level relationship as that between a person and their dentist. That’s why so many victims and their parents were so slow, for so long, to do what those outside the relationship see instantly (and rightly) should have been done: call the cops. I hope those outside the relationship can refrain, however, from boasting about how much better they would have done in their shoes till they actually stand in them.

Gedankenexperiment: Think about your best friend or most beloved and trusted family member. Now imagine yourself stumbling in on them in sexual congress with a 10 year old boy. Tell me true, could you instantly hit them with a baseball bat? Would you really be able to snap from “I believe and trust in you as a decent person” to calling the cops in seconds? I submit that if you easily answer “Yes” you probably haven’t really thought carefully about how powerful relationships–even pretty weak relationships–can be. Very few people have what it takes to display the courage to lose a friend or loved one for the sake of righteousness. So let’s not boast too much about how much better we’d have handled it than Mike McQueary (who, to his credit, did at least blow the whistle).  I suspect most people would try to kick it upstairs if they were in McQueary’s shoes. Doesn’t make it right. It just illustrates (if further illustration were needed) why that sacrifice

was necessary to redeem us. We are a deeply depraved race of, among other things, miserable cowards.  But that’s just as true of us as it is of That Guy Over There.

May God give healing to Sandusky’s victims through Christ the Great Victim and may the Crucified One grant grace and salvation to Sandusky and to all who enabled him and looked the other way. Sin is what you died to expiate, Lord Jesus. Let not your sacrifice be for nothing but bring salvation, mercy and glory even out of this, to the glory of your Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • Zach Foreman

    I think you can push the Gedankenexperiment further: Imagine that one of your most junior employees comes to you and accuses one of your oldest and most trusted friends and colleagues of a most horrific crime. You certainly wouldn’t hit your accused friend with a bat. You would probably do exactly what Paterno did– report it to your superiors and make sure that the witness reported it to your superiors.
    Could you do more? Yes, you could confront your friend and/or you could report the incident to the police. We don’t know whether Paterno did the former and the latter would be difficult since he was not an eyewitness and his superiors assured McQueary that they would do what was necessary.
    Should Paterno have followed up with his superiors? Undoubtably. But again, we can’t be sure that he did not. They committed perjury, why wouldn’t they just have lied to Paterno as well?
    Now, I am not defending Paterno, but pointing out that he was the middle man in the situation. He didn’t see the crime and he passed along the info to his superiors whom he justifiably thought would do the mandated reporting to police. Yet, since Paterno is the most well known, he gets most of the heat. Yes he could have done more, but we don’t actually know what he did and didn’t do and I would caution people not to jump to conclusions. Based solely on the grand jury report, Paterno did nothing wrong.

    • ds

      Sandusky was a celebrated defensive coordinator and shoe-in as Paterno’s successor when he abruptly retired and never coached again in 1999. Sandusky was investigated for child sexual abuse in 1998 but not charged. It is likely that Paterno knew something about Sandusky’s behavior in 99, but was satisfied to let him not coach the team any longer. Sandusky WAS allowed to have an office and phone at Penn State, and keys to the athletic facilities including the locker room where McQueary witnessed him sodomizing a 10 year old boy in 2002.

      Sandusky was also still recruiting for Penn State at late as 2010, while the grand jury proceedings were going on. It it impossible, to me at least, to believe that Paterno didn’t know about Sandusky recruiting. Paterno knew enough about Sandusky that he wouldn’t let him coach at Penn State, but still knew he was being sent to have contact with minors on Penn State’s behalf.

      Everything about the case points to Paterno caring more about football than children getting abused at his school.

  • JoAnna

    Amazing reflection on the whole Penn State debacle. Thanks, Mark.

  • Seraphic

    Well said, Mark.

  • James H, London

    There’s a longish post and even longer comments thread by Vox Day, a certifiable AFB fundy:

  • Kirt Higdon

    I’m still unclear as to whether there is a moral obligation to report even every crime that you personally witness to the police, let alone every crime that you hear about. As far as legal obligations go, these seem to be all over the map. Some designated persons have a legal obligation to report some designated crimes to the police even on hearsay while most people have no legal obligations in this regard. As far as moral obligation is concerned, are you morally obliged to report your kid to the police if (for example) you catch him or her selling a joint to a friend or “sexting”? What if someone merely tells you that your kid is doing this? Report that hearsay? What if it’s not your kid, but a friend or acquaintance? And doesn’t the victim of a crime, who is after all the primary witness, have a moral obligation to report it to the police? It’s easy to bishop bash or Penn State bash, but there are implications here for everyone. As I mentioned in a prior theme, I once warned a friend of mine to throw away or destroy a CD she had that contained child pornography, but I did not report her to the police because I didn’t want to see her go to prison. She told me that someone else whom I knew slightly had given her the CD. Should I have reported her for what I directly witnessed and the other person on hearsay?

    • Erin Manning

      Kirt, here’s how I see it:

      If your friend had a CD (DVD?) which contained child porn on it, her first duty (and, by extension, yours) is to show some concern for the children shown on the devilish thing. Whether you could, or should, go to the cops and say, “Hey, a friend of mine told me she has a CD which has child porn on it, but I didn’t actually see the CD so I can’t say if she was telling the truth or not,” is a separate question. But whether *she* had an obligation to report the CD’s contents–if, in fact, she was telling the truth about where she got it, etc.–is an entirely different matter.

      To me, anybody who has child porn in his or her possession is a person who is not safe to allow around children, period. If someone truly innocent comes across such material, he/she should be willing to contact LE about it. If he/she is worried about his/her own liability, he/she could contact a lawyer first–but to do nothing is to continue the exploitation of the children, some of whom may still be at risk.

      Now, whether it’s a deplorable act of moral cowardice to do nothing, whether it’s totally human and understandable to do nothing, or whether it’s both is something we can discuss philosophically all day long. But it’s *not* morally neutral to ignore the abuse of children, and we get nowhere by pretending that it is.

    • NMH

      You should have advised your friend to turn the disc over to the police immediately, anonymously if need be. To withhold material evidence of child pornography is to aid and abet an industry that routinely abuses children. They’re part of a wide web of kidnappers, human trafficers, and child molesters and rapists. Every image on that disc is that of a real human being. How do you NOT hand it over to someone who might be able to use it to stop at least a portion of that industry? How selfish can you get?

      If her friend had the disc because he was using child porn for personal gratification, you should’ve advised her to report him, and if she didn’t, you should’ve done it yourself. And if he/she had it for that reason, why are they anyone’s “friend” anyway?

      Possession of child porn is a crime. Advising a person to destroy material evidence is a crime.

      The day fear of having a potentially embarrassing conversation with someone is greater than saving a child from life-shattering abuse is a pretty freaking sad day indeed.

      When did people turn into such a bunch of pansies?

  • jkm

    Well done, Mark. Provocative and prayerful–and with a Buffy and Angel nod!

  • John B

    Excellent column. I’ve seen a lot of self-righteous self-deception in the commentary in recent days. The scapegoating of McQueary has been particularly disgusting. One question I have: Is this an NCAA issue? It seems to me that a proper punishment would be to shut down the Penn State football program for 2-3 years. These offenses are far worse that recruiting violations.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      I’m glad you call it like it is: McQueary is indeed being scapegoated here. As someone who listens to ESPN radio regularly, I can blame the sports media for this one. The really don’t want to blame JoePa, so they have to hand the mobs another villain.

  • Babs

    If I were not a parent I would agree. As a parent and a ferocious defender of babies and innocence, I can’t get there. That’s where I get my disgust. I maybe can see one man who is not a father being a coward in that situation, but I can not believe all those fathers and coaches could live with such denial. But I am glad I can not understand. I do not ever want to understand.

    In all of our righteous anger and fury, it is important to remember our Father loves all these poor creatures involved, and wants them for His own…and it’s not too late for that.

  • kevin

    Even going to the police back then wouldn’t necessarily have done anything. You would have needed evidence, probably the boy himself, for the cops to have taken any action. A visit to the state’s attorney office would likely have yielded the same result, i.e., no prosecution or investigation without the boy willing to press charges.

    I hate to say it but I do fault Paterno in this situation. He is a Catholic and had the ability to banish Sandusky from the university system. He could have hired a private investigator to look into the situation. He also could have gotten the word to directors the Second Mile Foundation about his behavior.

  • Becky

    Kirt — whether there is a moral obligation to report a joint isn’t in the same league as whether there is a moral obligation to do something about a known sex offender. Sandusky was allowed continued access to the Penn State facilities for activities involving children (and putting them at risk) even after more than one boundary violation or instances of abuse was known. Paterno didn’t fail by not calling the police once, he failed by not intervening when a known abuser had continuous access to kids. The incident in the shower wasn’t the first indication that something was wrong. Sandusky would not have been able to continue without the enabling of the other coaches, the university staff and the community.

    A teen with a joint isn’t putting of children at risk of being raped and sodomized.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Becky, you took my example of a joint and ran with it, ignoring the examples I gave of instances closer to the sex abuse theme. As far as Paterno goes (a man I could not have even identified before this all broke, so little interested I am in football), I don’t believe he directly witnessed any criminal activity. So are you claiming that he had a grave moral obligation to report hearsay? And wouldn’t the graver moral obligation have been on the part of those who were direct witnesses – including the victims? I’m not sure at this point that there even are any complaining witnesses (self-alleged victims) although I’m sure many will come forward, lured by the prospect of a big money settlement.

      • Becky

        I do believe that he had a grave moral obligation to protect children whom he knew were at risk.

        Child sexual abuse is so insidious precisely because the adult uses his relationship as leverage to coerce the children into cooperation and silence. It seems you are saying the child victims had a greater obligations to protect themselves, than the adults, who knew of more than one report against Sandusky, had to protect the children in their community?

        • Becky

          Basically — I am saying that abuse of children is an exceptional circumstance. An abuser rarely abuses once, and the obligation to protect children which is incumbent upon all adults necessitates firm action.

      • Marthe Lépine

        A 10 year old victim might be too afraid to say anything. And, in my own past experience, an 11 year old victim was not even believed by her parents and (repeatedly) blamed for making up disgusting lies!

        • Pudentain

          I was 16 years old when a relative who had coerced my mother into forcing me to go to another state to babysit his children – tried to rape me. I was a married adult when I finally had the courage to tell my mother this – and she was indifferent to what I shared, which only increased my shame. I was in counseling at age 55 before I shared this with anyone else – and for the first time was comforted and reassured of how sorry he was that no one was there to protect or comfort me. It has taken me another 20 plus years to truly forgive this relative. And I still go on healing retreats when the ghosts of this abuse and other instances of attempted abuse or physical abuse bring back the pain of victimhood. Children who are physically or sexually abused never completely heal from that trauma. So quit blaming the victims – some of us were raised and mislearned our catechism – which taught us to look at our own sins, not the sins of others. I am a strong woman now, but it has taken years for me to completely recover the self esteem and to know that I am an honored and beloved creation of God.
          My heart goes out to these children victims. Why is there not an outcry of compassion and sympathy for these children, rather than sympathizing with anyone who had a part in not reporting this crime to police authorities.

  • Steve

    Sorry, Mark, I have to disagree. Long before the cover-up in Boston broke, and long before the Dallas Charter was signed in 2002, good, sensible people knew that if one had strong evidence that a child was being sexually abused, the right thing to do was go to the police. The year 2002 may have been a watershed year for the church, but that’s largely because the rest of American society was already far past the bishops in responding to suspicions of sexual abuse. In the Penn State case, McQueary had not just a suspicion, but he witnessed the rape of the boy first-hand. The argument about how 2002 was an eye-opening year for everyone falls short. Most adults knew long before 2002 that you don’t just call your boss and leave the cops out of it.

    As for blaming parents for not calling the cops directly back in the 1960s, ’70s, and 80s — yes, that was probably a more naive time. And it didn’t help facts that bishops and their staffs were lying like crazy to parents. (“No, I can assure you that we have never, ever received such a complaint against Fr. Smith before. His mother died last month, did you know that? I suspect he may have not been sleeping well and therefore not using his best judgment when he patted your son on the leg. Yes, I’m sure that’s all he intended to do, Mrs. Jones.”) The parents may have been naive. The bishops and diocesan staff with whom they had contact were, just as often as not, engaged in fraud and were knowingly allowing a pedophile to abuse more children. The parents of sexual abuse survivors do not deserve the blame. (Any parent today, on the other hand, should know well enough that the first call needs to be to the police, not to the diocesan headquarters. The Kansas City case shows that some folks at the diocesan level–despite the existence of the Dallas Charter–still do not understand the seriousness of this problem. The folks in the Penn State case operated in a fashion far too similar to how Bishop Finn and his staff dealt with the abuse in KC.)

    • NMH

      Steve, parents did call the police and the police went to the bishops and were told the situation was being handled internally. In those days, the police accepted that answer. Remember, most of the cops in cities like Boston, NY, Philly & Chicago were Catholic themselves.

  • Henry Dieterich

    There was a man in our parish, father of a large family, who was discovered to be sexually abusing the children of several of his friends’ families (also members of the parish). At first, his wife staunchly defended him. While eventually she realized that her husband was guilty, this illustrates the principle described here. He is now in prison, still believing, it would appear, that his actions were not bad. His ex-wife has learned that their own children were among his victims. It is very hard to believe that someone whom you love has committed an enormous evil. Perhaps it is the very enormity of the evil that makes it hard to believe.

    This may explain the reaction, or rather lack of reaction, to the Holocaust. The attempted extermination of an entire “race” of people was an action of such evil, carried out by persons of such apparent normality, that decent, charitable people could not believe it possible. It is easy to believe that someone might do a small evil; but good people find a huge evil unimaginable. We now know it happened, because the camps were liberated and the victims seen and photographed; we have the testimony of those who survived. But at the time, how could people whose minds were in general oriented toward good believe that anyone would attempt to do such a thing, let alone succeed?

    And similarly, how could the coach, the priest, the teacher, the counselor who loves children so much, who is “so great with children,” possibly be a perverted monster who preys on his charges to satisfy his twisted lusts? We like him; not only would his absence from our lives make them poorer, removing the good image of him we have in our minds and hearts would leave a painful hole. We too would be victims in a way, duped out of our affection by his twisted plausibility. We prefer the comfort of deception to the pain of the truth, even the truth that will set us free.

  • Joseph

    “…That story is painful to read because that story is a paradigm, not an isolated incident. It has been replayed again and again down the centuries and we chicken shits in comboxes boasting about our courage over Those People Over There know it damn well. That’s why we talk so big.”

    Absolutely Fabuluous! Very good blog post.

  • Br. Gabriel, OP


    Every vice is either an excess or a lack. There seems to be a natural inclination for solving a problem “in house” if possible. I don’t think that this is a bad think. In fact, it is appropriate if you see the family as the fundamental building block of all human society. The principle of subsidiarity applies here. If the family, or the social group can solve the problem without recourse to a higher governmental authority the it seems that it should. However, if something is beyond the competence of the family or social group then it should seek help from the higher authority.

    This, perhaps, is part of the problem. When we witness some wrong we often have a hard time choosing what authority is best suited to address the wrong. Being human we don’t always practice the proper acts consistent with virtue. We err in our judgment. This specific problem is an example of choosing recourse to a lower level of authority when it belongs to a higher level.

    With the Church it is a little different; but that is another topic all together.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Brother, I agree with your citing the principle of subsidiarity here. Like many, I don’t see the reason for jurisdictions labelling “sexting” as child pornography with the resulting permanent sex offender label applied to juveniles and the possibility of prison time. This is a problem that could simply be solved by parents depriving teenagers of their cell phones or not letting them have a cell phone to begin with.

      Obviously a person who stumbles across a rape or homicide in progress should be dialing 911 and if reasonably able should be interfering himself without waiting for the police. But I question whether there is any moral obligation to report hearsay. Given the gross overuse of imprisonment in this country and the corrupting, life-ruining effects of prison on inmates, I can’t see putting someone in jeopardy of prison unless you have clear evidence (not just hearsay) that they are a menace to others and this menace cannot be removed in any other way.

      • NMH

        No one goes to jail on hearsay. There has to be some kind of material evidence. Of course, when you advise people to destroy material evidence, such as discs containing child pornography, it’s hard to put actual offenders away, isn’t it?

    • Pudentain

      Oh Brother Gabriel, OP – your comments shock me. What part of
      SEXUAL ABUSE OF A CHILD IS A CRIME – do you not understand?
      Do you think it is morally right to not report a crime? Do I need to quote Scripture about what Christ felt about one who injured a child? “Better a millstone be tied around their neck and thrown into the sea than that they should be allowed to harm a child.” And he was not talking about sexual abuse – or was he? That certainly is harming a child in one of the worst possible ways. You need to return to class to brush up on moral ethics.

  • Br. Gabriel, OP

    Sorry for the typos in my previous post.

  • Bootach

    I really liked this piece. I must say that I could easily take a bat to any of my male friends. But I’m often told that I am too willing to destroy relationships over the wrong sorts of things. So the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle book II is very relevant here – I think it would be very rare to find someone who could respond to McQueary’s situation with courage, AND who isn’t in the habit of destroying relationships on a routine basis for the wrong sorts of reasons.

  • Becky

    Br. Gabriel, I don’t think the problem in the Penn State case can be construed as a “level of authority” issue. It isn’t that they tried to handle it in-house, it is that they didn’t handle it at all. Again, it wasn’t one incident, it was widespread knowledge, and it was ignored. There was no attempt to protect children at risk.

    • Br. Gabriel, OP


      We should always begin a critique of anything (speculative or practical) from the disposition of charity, i.e., assume the good. My assumption is that those who have direct knowledge of some wrong doing want to help the victim. The error is in how a 3rd party will go about trying to help. The proper reaction to any wrong is that the lowest level of authority is consulted. What is lacking in this case is the proper application of the virtue of prudence.

      An analogy that could be helpful here is Christ’s counsel in the Gospels on how Christians ought to solve disputes. First, you address the wrong doer. If no satisfaction, then bring a second. If still no satisfaction, then bring the matter to the Church. We are taught to start with the lowest authority level (here, the individual) and then, by steps, to involve higher levels of authority (here, the Church).

      What I’m suggesting is that this process is often poorly applied. Sometimes, people go to the highest authority without first consulting the proper lower authority. An example could be someone reporting to a US Marshell that they witnessed ‘John Smith’ run a stop sign. Alternately, people will consult a lower authority that does not have the competence to address the situation. Here an example could be, reporting treason to a parent of the offending party.

      In the matter at hand, the people who had knowledge of the wrong went to a legitimate authority. Unfortunately it was the wrong authority. Because, the wrong was a grave criminal action it would have been better to inform the local police and then notify the University officials. Instead they only informed the University officials who the witness might have reasonably assumed would themselves contact the local police (I don’t know).

      An important point for us to take away from this situation is that we can find ourselves in a similar situation. If we are not careful to discern properly, we may report some wrong to the improper authority. There are many other factors involved, as Mark and others have expressed in their reporting. However, this is one other factor that I think is important.

      It is critical to find the missing virtue. If we know what virtues are lacking in poor decision making then we can actually work to solve the root problem. Policies and legislation only serve as external guides that help us act rightly. The more important and permanent solution is found in the human condition. The human person must have internal guides to help perfect his life. The virtues effect such an internal transformation. There are other virtues that were lacking in this particular case but the lack of prudence was the one I chose to address.

      • NMH

        How do you improperly “discern” an adult male anally raping a 10 year old boy…?

        On what day is it even sane to think an adult male who is capable of pushing a naked 10 year old boy up against a wall, pinning him down, and sodomizing him is someone who deserves ANYTHING but being put away forever? What’s wrong with you?

        • Marthe Lépine

          I understand your anger at the crime. But I think Brother Gabriel may have meant that the lack of prudence or discernment in this case was in deciding what level of authority needed to be contacted and whether any follow-up might have been required.

        • Br. Gabriel, OP

          Something in my sentence construction may have confused you. I’m not referring to discernment of the wrong. Rather, I’m referring to discernment of the proper authority to notify, or even in what order to notify multiple authorities.

          For instance, let’s say you know to inform both the superior of the offender and the local police. But, you go to notify the superior first. He assures you that he will notify the local police as is the stated policy. However, he does not. You, as the eye-witness do not notify the local police because you have been assured that they will be notified. This is not uncommon.

          In this situation what is probably more proper to do when reporting some wrong is to either, notify the local police first and then the superior of the offender. Alternately, one can notify the superior of the offender and if assured that he will notify the police you can decline the offer (or accept it) and also notify the local police.

          Please note that my purpose is nothing more than identifying what virtue is lacking in the decision making process of the witness of a wrong. I’m not interested in expressing my moral outrage about the incident, other people can do that. I find it to be unproductive to simply complain or vent about those people who did that thing. I’m more interested in analyzing the situation and seeing how we, as flawed human persons, can build the proper virtuous actions so that we don’t err in our own judgments if confronted with similar situations.

          Only pride would lead one to believe that when confronted with a similar situation ones actions would be perfectly moral or perfectly legal. When we hear about these sorts of events we are rightly angered and amazed at the seeming stupidity and timidity of those involved. However, there is a significant difference between observing a remote situation and actually being a part to some horrid action. We react differently. If we do not build the proper virtues then we will not have the proper tools in place to act rightly in such a situation. This is the deeper meaning of the adage, “hindsight is 20/20.”

  • thomas tucker

    Wow, Mark- one of the best posts I’ve ever read on a blog!

  • Robert

    The problem is we do not automatically have an equally visceral sense of the full humanity of the weak unless we actively cultivate it. In other words, what McQueary failed to do, and all of us who do not react swiftly in these kinds of cases, is to emotionally register the full dignity of the 10 year old boy. This is the same thing that causes people, even religious people, to give a kind of a pass to the “tragedy” of abortion. And commentators to think that because those photos of children found on the priest’s computer weren’t pornographic (explicit, naked), they were not a big deal that a bishop should have taken swift action on. Are you kidding me?

    We have to daily, systematically remind ourselves of the full humanity of those whose “littleness” seems to make their humanity less important.

    We dehumanize almost spontaneously.

  • Robert

    Also, we are more fully and viscerally aware of the humanity of our friends than of strangers, especially if those strangers are children.

  • Roz

    Good reflections and comments on a complex subject.

    Eventually, many people who had some responsibility to blow the whistle had some knowledge of the assault. While the men at the top must have known the buck stopped with them and are therefore fully answerable, a reasonable argument can be made that McQueary and his father both felt they had taken appropriate action. I imagine they considered it unthinkable that Paterno and the higher-ups wouldn’t report the abuse. McQueary was in a very junior position, afraid of the impact of taking what might be viewed as insubordinate action which could possibly torpedo his future. He didn’t keep it a secret; he consulted his father and took the advice to tell the person in responsibility. For now, I would tend to exempt McQueary from culpability.

    I think Mark’s discussion of the relationship aspect has much merit. However, no matter how reluctant I’d be to believe a friend who told me of a mutual friend’s heinous act, I am sure that I would see it as something that would have to be investigated and the facts unearthed. If I didn’t have the courage or wherewithal to take care of it myself, I would ask for assistance. I think most of us would react that way.

    No, I can’t see that as enough to explain Penn State. I’m sadly convinced that it was plain old self interest — the fear of the collapse of their wonderful world — that influenced the turn of events here. Even the one action that was taken (banning Sandusky from bringing youngsters to campus) was designed only to sweep the scandal out of their backyard. This would be shockingly wrong even if it were just a financial scandal. That it involves the predatory, plotted, strategic and fully-intentional rape of children makes it beyond horrifying.

  • Tim

    NBC had a story this morning in which they interviewed a Penn State football historian. At the end, the interviewer asks what the historian (who knew Sandusky) thinks about the accused now. The historian was broken up and said he couldn’t imagine what he would do to Sandusky now. On the verge of tears, the historian explains, “he ruined Penn State.”

    The historian may have been the victim of editing, but imagine his sentiment is unfortunately what many in the Penn State community are feeling. They are angry at what Sandusky did to Penn State’s reputation, and not the injustice done to the victims.

    Here’s a link to the video:

  • Dave G.

    I have read and listened to endless takes on the entire scandal. To me, this is the best take I’ve read. There’s so much to comment on, I won’t waste space here doing so, but will just reread it and recommend it to others.

  • Mark R

    Penn State and various Catholic dioceses authority figures? It is not as if they are the Gestapo or the NKVD.

  • Linda

    Do you think that McQueary’s reaction would have been the same if he had walked into that room and seen Sandusky beating that child with a baseball bat? Do you think that Paterno’s reaction would have been the same, if McQueary had told him that he saw Sandusky beating an 8 year old with a baseball bat? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    • Mark Shea

      I think you are right. The question is: why would the reaction have been different? And what would the different reaction havve been? I think it’s smarter to stick with what happened than to invent hypothetical situations.

      • Becky

        I think that part of it is that we view something like child rape as so horrendous that it is hard to know how to react, it is almost unbelievable. How could someone I know be doing THAT?!? It has a shame and a stigma attached to it that losing one’s temper and acting violently, even horribly violently, doesn’t.

        I think the hypotheticals are worth thinking about, to understand why things happened the way they did.

  • TomC

    Great stuff, Mark.

  • kevin

    Becky is on to something. That act is inherently so repulsive and shameful that the normal human reels in response to it. It’s enough to cause a repressed memory probably for some people. Having said that, some people probably would have taken action to stop it. It’s just impossible to generalize, kind of like how people react in combat.

    • Pudentain

      You are right on about repressed memories – I now work with adult survivors of childhood abuse. I imagine they would have the same response I have had – deep sadness and compassion toward the children, and no sympathy for those who did not report to the proper authorities.

  • Heather Price

    Very thoughtful, Mark. Reminds me of S. E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This is Now in how to deal with the greivous misdeeds of a trusted friend. I hope you aren’t insulted by the comparison.

    • Mark Shea

      Since I don’t know Hinton, but do know you, it’s not possible for me to be insulted, since I think the world of you. I’m sure it’s an apt comparison, whoever he is.

      • Heather Price

        She wrote some overall-decent Young Adult fiction before the genre was taken over by Gossip Girls and Twilight.
        The Outsiders (the movie was quite loyal to the book), Tex, Rumble Fish.
        Mostly-absent parents, kids trying to make their way into the adult world, figure out right and wrong somewhere in Oklahoma-ish in the 60′s or so. Your boys may have read some of her stuff. The Outsiders was her first book and I had to read it in 8th grade.

  • caroline

    My advice to anyone going to the police is to get signed evidence from the police that one has actually made the report to them.

    If one can’t even trust one’s superiors to go to the cops, can one trust the particular cops one goes to?

  • Michelle

    What a great article, Mark. My husband and I were just talking about the exact points you bring up while I was making dinner this evening. We both reflected on instances, shameful instances, in our own lives where we did nothing to confront or stop injustices (yes, we could name multiple) we knew about or had suspicions about because we didn’t want to make waves and didn’t even want to think of the possibility that the offender(s) had done such things. My mother was abused by her grandfather at a young age and her parents did nothing to stop it when they found out. The grandfather lived next door and continued for years. This type of reaction is definitely nothing new in human history but, if anything, it’s a good reminder to all of us to seriously analyze our own reactions to injustice when we happen to stumble upon it…listen to the little voice inside of you, it’s there for a reason.

  • Erin Manning

    You know, Mark, I’ve been pondering this throughout the day today, and I’ve reached a conclusion.

    You and Rod are both right about aspects of this.

    Yes, people shouldn’t use incidents like this to be smug about their own morality and virtue; we do know that human beings are quite likely to act like gibbering self-interested cowards when confronted with evil, instead of regional distributors for Canned Kickbutt Incorporated.

    But…on the other hand…if the result of reacting in combox horror and revulsion at the very idea that someone could see a child being raped by an adult man and NOT rush in to save the child from this terrible harm, or at the very least call the cops when the emotional storm of witnessing so horrific a crime had passed, is to create a society where the screams or sobs of a child (or a woman) being raped or sexually assaulted or beaten will no longer be surprisingly hard for able-bodied adult men (and women) to hear IF ONLY because the Laptop Ninjas have created an image of themselves that they wish to live up to: is that such a bad thing?

    Maybe we should be better than we are. And maybe, by reflecting on that notion, we can become so.

  • Maureen

    I agree with your point – up to a point. If I faced this I would hope that I would act immediately and save the child victim. And there are circumstances that would influence my action – for example if I came across a child rape in a dark alley in a bad part of town and was a 5 foot nothing woman, I probably would leave, but I WOULD call 911. But if I was a 6’4″ football player in the safety of a locker room – I would hope that my action would be different – at least I would yell STOP!!!!

  • Mack Hall

    Well and truly said. Mark is often merely annoying, but sometimes he is brilliant, stunningly so, and in this he is at his very best as a writer and truth-teller.

  • Larry

    Gimme a break. It is one thing to hear of a situation, ” I heard coach horny just molested a 10 year old boy” it is entirely different on all levels to see a situation, I watched coach horny molesting a 10 year old boy”. The difference is the response would have to be we’ll why didn’t you stop it? How long did you watch?
    Who was the kid? What the hell’s wrong with you. Did you call the police? I do not believe the story yet. This is nothing more than ratings driven media getting in on the moment. “They” the media attack, not the public. If the public defends and attacks, it’s not the whistle blowers per sey, it’s the attacker “the media” with no credible evidense other than decades old claims. They attack our sensabilities, “all the chain of command was affraid of this coach, or their reputation or some other lame excuse”. No way, should anyone believe this. Yes they should investigate, have their trial, I personally will not attack the offender simple he has not been proven to be guilty yet. I do not believe any of the claims simply because anyone can say anything. The Point here is, it’s ok to pick sides. That’s only natural. This doesn’t make sense or those terrible self interest college image protecting coaches. It’s a set up by the media. If I disagree with the charges then I am automatically attacking the accusers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    • Mark Shea

      Yes. I’m sure McQueary made up the whole story in order to make his life easier. It’s the media’s fault.

      Sheesh! Thanks for illustrating my point.

      • Larry

        The ninja illustrates his own point. You have chose sides. I have not.

  • Larry

    Your quote “That’s the point: People don’t wait till investigations have shown the facts about the merits of the case. They pick a side and start attacking the Enemy.

  • Larry
  • Phil Williams

    If you witness a crime and simply pass that information to someone higher up your own management ladder, how is that not simply passing the buck? Do you need someone else to decide for you whether it was a crime or not? Comparatively speaking, would the police regard as being more valid your direct statement as a witness or your superior’s statement as hearsay?

  • Survivor

    Another aspect of the story is the fact that Sandusky appears to have been a world class “groomer”. Abusers that engage in this behavior use charisma & charm to lure their victims into a physical & psychological place where they can be victimized.

    The cruel reality is that groomers do not merely groom their victims – but everyone around them as well. They do this out of a need to maintain an environment in which they can continue to victimize children.

    I witnessed this first-hand during my years in religious life, where I lived with several abusers whose crimes have since come to light. They were cautious, careful men who took great pains to construct a cult of personality around themselves.

    I saw their conduct with students & young seminarians, I reported my suspicions to my superiors – but they refused to believe that “Fr. Charming” could possibly do the things I suspected. Because I had no direct evidence of misconduct, there was nothing I could report to the police.

    In two cases, these men were also my superiors. They did everything in their power to persecute and ostracize me for refusing to buy into their lies. It was a living hell. This is why I have some sympathy for McQueary. I can scarcely imagine what it would have been like to get anyone to believe his story given Sandusky’s reputation in the community.

  • SLTR

    Very well stated. Do you mind if I link this to my blog?

  • Tony in Central PA

    I knew Jerry Sandusky, a little. Maybe I should say , like most people, that I thought I knew him. I’ve gone to fundraisers for the Second Mile, talked to the man and donated money over the years. I grew up in State College, graduated from PSU in 1983. My parents continue to reside there. I could probably write a small book already about his awful scandal with the accumulated knowledge in my head about its key players and places.
    For the sake of this message forum, I won’t, but I will say that Mr. Shea seems to be one of the few people providing opinion who gets it as far as the Graduate Assistant, Mike McQueary, is concerned. Additional information is likely to surface than will mitigate McQueary’s apparently timid response to witnessing such an awful crime against a young person. For those of us closer to the case, it appears McQueary has been granted ” whistleblower ” status. He has not been fired from the University and he appears to be the star witness against Mr. Sandusky.
    Many chest – thumping media personalities proclaimed how they would have confronted Sandusky if they had been McQueary. They have openly called him a coward. In 2008, McQueary personally broke up a knife fight between two players in a cafeteria. Not what one would expect from a coward.
    But he has not been exonerated at this point. McQueary continued to work at PSU long after the 2002 shower incident, despite the fact that Sandusky remained around the program and campus network, sometimes involved in youth sports camps. He rapidly rose up the ladder from Grad Assistant to receiver coach, recruiting coordinator and to defacto offensive coordinator on gamedays. Now he and his wife and family are in hiding because of death threats thanks in no small part to the media personalities who whipped up public outrage against him.
    It is no small irony that if McQueary had gone to authorities about Sandusky in 2002 and, being dissatisfied with their inaction, had made a public accusation against him, he and his family would also have had to go into hiding because of death threats.
    There remain many unknowns in this scandal ; “Who knew what and when did they know it ? ” questions. It already appears that a large number of adults could have stopped Jerry Sandusky’s behavior at many points during the last fifteen years : from employees of the University police, the Centre County District Attorney, the PSU President, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach to people involved in the Second Mile. Undoubtedly, there are answers to these questions that many of us in the Penn State community aren’t going to like.

    • Larry

      You may be right, tonight I heard he did go to the police, maybe that’s why he has not been fired yet.

  • Anthony Schefter

    Thank you, Mark. You’ve helped put some things in their proper places for me.

    My favorite joke is, “Before you tell your friend what to do, you should walk a mile in his shoes. That way, then you tell him, you’re a mile away and you have his shoes.”

  • Deacon Nathan Allen

    Your main point still holds, Mark, but McQueary says the grand jury report didn’t tell the full story (no doubt because it was not his actions that were at issue, but the inaction on the part of the two higher-ups indicted), and that he in fact made sure the rape in the shower was stopped and did go to the police.

  • Stephen J.

    A final point that has to be borne in mind about the difficulty of this issue (spectacularly explicated by Mr. Shea) is the same issue often brought up discussing capital punishment or adult rape laws: What if you are *wrong*? Only three people directly witnessed the central crime of this case — the victim, Sandusky, and McQueary — and only one of them said anything to anybody at any point. Forensic evidence can validate or invalidate that testimony, but when simply making the charge and launching the investigation can destroy lives, futures and relationships even for people who are eventually exonerated, the resistance to taking that step based on one man’s word — especially if the speaker himself doesn’t want to believe what he’s saying — can be immense.

    Mark writes, “Very few people have… the courage to lose a friend or loved one for the sake of righteousness.” How much worse, then, to lose a friend or loved one not for the sake of righteousness over a known and proveable evil they’ve done, but for aspiring to righteousness in error or ignorance, on what amounts to the suspicion of evil before it’s proven beyond doubt? Making false accusations against the innocent is even more destructive than making true accusations against the guilty; there’s a reason “false witness” is one of the Commandments.

    None of this exonerates McQueary, Paterno or anyone else at Penn State for their failures, but it may help when it comes time for those failures to be forgiven.

  • Kirt Higdon

    Well said. As my brother put it by way of explaining why he dropped out of middle school teaching, “All it takes is one accusation and your life is over. You’ll be unemployed and unemployable.” To which he might have added, your marriage is likely to end and you’ll lose your own kids. We live in a society where all men are considered potential or actual abusers, where kids are encouraged to report any broadly defined “inappropriate” behavior, and all adults are instructed to believe them. Any man who has anything beyond the absolute minimum necessary contact with children is making himself a hostage to fortune.

  • Kirt Higdon

    Erin and NMH, you make some good points. To clarify – the disk was a CD with photo files, not a DVD. My friend stated that the man who gave it to her had downloaded the photos from the internet. I had no reason to doubt that as such material is widely and freely available on the net. LE has a lot of people who do nothing but monitor the net for this type of material. But in most cases, they can do nothing about it because the servers are located and the p_rn produced in countries where it is legal or where the local LE has been corrupted or is uninterested. So had I taken the material to LE, I would most likely have succeeded in sending two possessors of p_rn to prison without protecting a single child. By urging destruction of the CD, I was attempting to remove an occasion of sin from the world. I agree with Brother Gabriel about the principle of subsidiarity and I think such things are best handled “in house”. The only thing I’d do differently in a similar situation now would be to inquire about the contents of a disk before viewing it.

    The two of you seem to be of the opinion that anyone who intentionally views child p_rn is too dangerous to have around children. According to stats cited in a recent article posted by Dreher on his blog, there are 40 million regular users of internet p_rn in the US. Given that child porn is widely and freely available along with the rest and given that regular p_rn users go for harder and harder fixes (another point made in the article), it seems likely that there are millions, maybe tens of millions of regular viewers of child p_rn, not counting occasional viewers. Would you be willing to put an additional two million or many more people in prison just to keep them away from kids? Were it politically possible, would you advocate imprisoning any woman who gets an abortion, as she has already proven herself to be a lethal danger to kids?

    We have some definite disagreements here, but I appreciate your input.

  • Mary S.

    Wow! Great article (as a Catholic apologist could you leave out the cuss words?).
    I’ve been a victim of child sex abuse (by a neighbor). I’ve had first hand knowledge of priests doing wrong things, but more often teaching wrong things. I’ve investigated, myself, any allegations that people have told me.
    Given my experience, and education in Catholicism, here’s what I think: 1) I understand a young man trying to climb the ladder of an institution that is VERY difficult to break into. Very few people can ever get their dream job and he was on his way to his. Good chance he realized that doing the wrong thing could result in throwing away everything he had worked for, plus his job (Did he also have dependents?) So he called his own father for advise. 2) We do not know exactly what he saw! We were not there! Most witnesses to a crime aren’t even SURE they saw what they THINK they saw. Now what to do? 3) Yes, if he had a clear view of a child being Sodomized he SHOULD have reacted, but WE don’t know how clear a view he had. 4) (This is MY question, and one nobody has addressed): WHY didn’t he find that child later, get his name, and report it to the child’s mother, or legal guardian?? That along with reporting it to those he was REQUIRED by law to report it to, would certainly have been the minimum of what charity (love) would have asked of him. Should he have told the parents, there’s every reason to believe they would have followed up on it! (My guess is that he did not, because of the fear of ruining his own career.) 5) (This is a big one in my book); WE do not have ANY facts on this story! All of us, or most of us, only know what the press is saying. My son is a copy editor at a large paper (not in control of what is printed), and I can tell you that the press will twist, sensationalize, and run with half a story in order to beat their competitors. It’s a very cut-throat business. God made it a commandment to, “not falsely accuse thy neighbor.”, yet we are willing to run around spreading rumors about people we have never even met. Shame on us! We are committing sins as we sit here pointing the finger at others. Yes, WE CAN, AND SHOULD discuss what the Christian thing to do in this situation was. That said, we have NO God given authority to JUDGE those people that we do not even know, let alone have witnessed first hand doing anything wrong. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” None of us would like people we haven’t met, to judge our actions based only on hearsay.
    We need to educate others on WHAT TO DO, if given the same situation. We need to discuss the VICTIM, and how to protect them at all costs to ourselves, preparing ourselves for the possibility, should we ever encounter the unthinkable.
    Lastly, Mark Shea, you mentioned that someone has kept coming to you with information on priests, etc. that have done uncharitable things. You said the person claimed to have evidence. I understand why they came to you, because I’ve thought of doing that myself with others that are well known and have a voice in the media. Laity often cannot meet with their bishops, because of the bishops schedule. The laity often do not know how to get the information to the correct people. This person may have thought you’d have a better chance to get them a meeting w/ the Bishop, or expose the truth.
    I think you would do a great service to the laity if you would publish for them the correct steps to take when witnessing, or having evidence, showing a “grave harm” being done by a member of the clergy. I ask that you first explain what a “grave harm” is, and then explain what the obligations of the laity are in the given situation. (Many think they should NEVER go over their pastor’s head. They think it’s a sin.) Lastly, please explain to the people what they should do if their report is ignored, or they are told, by the person they’ve reported it to, that it isn’t important, etc. They need to know how to carry their report “up the ladder”. A group of parishioners that I know, had to hire a canon lawyer who then contacted Rome, in order to expose a lie being perpetrated by a priest who was a “vicar” acting on behalf of the Bishop. In this situation the priest was signing letters in the Bishop’s name and sending half truths and lies to the people. He was in this lie w/ the pastor of the church; all in order to shut down an adoration chapel that the pastor didn’t want. The canon lawyer w/ Rome where able to expose this. The Bishop was properly informed, and the chapel was sparred. People need to know how to detect and report religious that are doing things against the church.
    Thanks Mark for all of your work, I love and respect all that you’ve done, and I realize that, like us, you’re only human too, and trying your best to serve the Lord.

  • Maura

    Wow, great handling of this, generating lots of good discussion, too.

    My put is that it’s really a power issue, so it’s good to look at power going to people’s heads, in all directions of the issue. There are people who will even take advantage of children, for pity sake, just because they have that take-advantage-of-someone bent, and, just because the child can’t defend themselves and make an easy target. The real crime is this, and the fact that it comes out of the blue on the child, leaving that person with trust issues about the world and about people that just can’t be swept under a rug by them. The whole sex part of it makes a nice 3-ring-circus for the bully. Bullies rely on the shock factor to keep doing this. Both the victim and the witness will have to spend a little time even taking it in, because the sex aspect of it is so out there and so just plain weird that we’re not prepared in our normal every day lives to go okay, well if I see that happening, I know to do X. So the sex part derails everybody, and that, for the bully, is the whole idea. The main point is that person is such a low life that they would even take advantage of a child. Who cares whether that’s a disease or what shocking form it takes. That person is a bad apple who needs to be removed from the situation for multiple reasons, no doubt. When you’re dealing with bullies, the normal rules don’t apply. They’re already not following the normal rules. So the Brother’s comments in here are nice, but theoretical when it comes to a real bully, and work best for people in normal ranges of power behavior. The blog nails it. It’s a trust issue and that’s the damage, and in the case of the Cath Church, of which I am a member, it’s unthinkable because that trust issue could translate over into a mistrust of God for kids who are manipulated and then simply sucker-punched by the bully. It’s the sucker-punch over and over that causes the longterm problem. The sucker-punch happens to be very, very unignorable when someone actually rapes you and uses you physically. We make way too much of the sex and the porn and not enough of the bullying power issue that’s behind it. Sandusky was not doing a tit-for-tat power struggle with an adult, which is something people do and it sort of fair game because we humans are too dumb to be able to help it sometimes! That’s the human condition, there. This other stuff is an exception to the human condition, and you do not want an exceptional sucker-puncher on your team. It took down the entire church, for pity sake. That’s how powerful these power players really were. They destroyed what was built on the backs of thousands of immigrants, in real financial terms, in addition to power-playing children who just could not defend themselves. It became all about them, oh the poor pedophile, in both directions – with people who couldn’t defend themselves and people who could have, and should have, at least defended the church, since that was their actual job as a bishop, with no morals even involved yet. On top of the moral issues, these guys didn’t even do their job! Isn’t the church the bride of christ who shouldn’t be raped by someone on some personal power rampage that’s super out-of-the-box! It’s all a power issue. The perps are relying on the shock factor to be so shocking that it leaves the witnesses and coworkers and the management so shocked they don’t react correctly. What a perp could be told, and should be told, is, grow up and realize you and your power needs are not the center of the universe. If you can’t grow up, then you can’t have this job, because you’re just not grown up enough. We would do well to take the sensationalism out of it, and say, hey, do you realize that you just power-tripped a CHILD. We’d do well to do that because the sensationalism is exactly where the bullies get all their leverage in the situation. We should shame them, staying away from any and all disease-ridden psychology if we aren’t pros (because bullies know how to play this stuff way better than we do), based on hey grow UP, we need grown ups here, we hired you or let you minister because we thought you were, baseline, a grown up, just, baseline – that’s the starting requirement here! Then they can’t argue like well I’m sick or weak or have come lame excuse. It sounds like pedophilia cannot be cured, but we can demand that someone be a grown up, and bounce them on that basis alone. It’s not as complicated as the bullies like to make it out to be. If you can’t at least be a grown up, then you can’t be in a grown up position, because those are for grown ups. Go bully people your own size, and if you are the kind of weak person who needs to take advantage of the weak, if that’s how you have to shore yourself up, then you don’t belong, basically, anywhere, in an adult role, and most certainly not at a school or a church. You have to go be weird old uncle bill SOMEWHERE ELSE. Paterno is a great example and would make a great pivot point. The guy takes down the kid, takes down Paterno, and takes down Penn State. Who has the power in this situation. Sandusky does – he played everybody and took everybody down – the weak, the strong, a mighty sports insitution. I think when we see that we literally cannot afford to have these people in positions, because they are power wackos so into themselves that they will take down everyone and anyone, more sanity will reign, and then we can get more specific about other policies. People are talking much about kids bullying in the schools. The way to stop it is through example. You HAVE to be able to be at least a grown up, which means, putting your own needs aside, a lot, for the sake of things like children, teammates, the institution you represent, and God and country and all that good stuff, to hold a position – any position. The bullies are relying on the fact that the shock factor will be so shocking that no one will know how to handle it! And they’re dead right. We don’t! Well … we shouldn’t really, necessarily. We have wayyyyy too much of this going on in our society. We have to be like, look if you have to take advantage of an actual child for pity sake, I don’t want you on the team or even anywhere near the team. Like, don’t want to hear it, get the heck out, now. This has to be done for the child, for God, for country, for whoever is handing you your paycheck, for all of it. That part is so darn obvious it’s not even funny. The damage is going way beyond the child. The power-play is absolutely amazing when it comes to bullies would would stoop so low that they take advantage of children simply because the children cannot defend themselves. Let the pros get all Freudian about what is up with that. Let normal people who aren’t trained in all that just say … see ya. It gets really gluey if you’re trying to accuse a head coach or a bishop of not shepherding, because they’re shepherds, so now you are into another intricate ball of wax for the bully to skulk around in for years while you sort all that out. We need to move faster. The bishops can be cribbed for not doing their JOBS to protect not just the parishioners but the church itself, uh duh. I’m sorry, but that’s really how it is. These people did not do their jobs. Paterno didn’t do his job – who hired Sandusky and whose job was it to fire Sandusky if the guy wasn’t even grown up enough to be in that position. A lot of people would have loved to have Sandusky’s job, who are actual grown ups. A lot of women wouldn’t mind having a priest’s job, and these people are actual grown ups. Wow. You could replace someone who isn’t even a grown up with someone who is. These are all paid, grown up positions in every single case, including ordained priests. A manager or a bishop should have the right to say, look, help us out here, you have to be more than one-of-the-boys, okay, you have to be an actual grown up, that’s the starting requirement for these positions, so you have to meet that one, and then we can work with ya. We take that for granted, the grown up piece, so no we didn’t stress it in coach school or the seminary, but it’s the most important requirement we have! It’s got to be!!! It’s got to be like that even more so because some amount of tit-for-tat and power struggle and even bullying and unfair advantage and all of that really IS part of the human condition, so, because that’s really IS true, you have to pony up the grown up thing, at LEAST that much, every day, and it is a REQUIREMENT for ANY job that involves people, and you getting PAID, and having a roof over your head, and all that stuff. We don’t want to call the police for pity sake. This is a private institution! Don’t be someone who makes us have to involve the police – I mean, could we ask for that much, at least, and then start talking about job performance and raises adjustments to your role! Geeeeez!!! Try to be enough of a grown up where no one calls the police and where we don’t have little kids running around scared of you – can we sort of just get a baseline here. No really. Oh and I mean really. Leave the sensationalism to the press and the shrinks and people who are interested in that stuff. What regular folks can and should manage is this bottom line stuff. People like this should not be slipping through all the time. It should happen seldomly. What both the Cath Church and Penn State make so obvious is that no one can even afford these people who can’t grow up and put their own personal need for power advantage aside enough to rate a paycheck. If they’re doing it on the job, we’re actually paying them, and how about them apples. That right there should be enough to say, dude, you’re out. I know your wife and your kids and your grandmother, I know, but, you’re out, because we need responsible grown ups here. It’s a no-win, totally, to get into any kind of moral argument with a bully. The ONLY way to manage these people is to bottom-line it like that. So it’s the fault of the institutions for not have rules, like, okay these are show-stoppers. Bullies are very adept at whining and crying and manipulating, both children and adults. That’s part of what to look at, once you can put the sensationalism aside long enough to really look at it. They’re too adept. They are more adept than the rest of us and it’s time we just admit it and manage what we really can manage, and can be expected to manage in a reasonable day to day, and those are rules and policies, and rule and policy number one, in any institution that you actually care about (whether for reasons of bottom line profits or any other dang reason), needs to be that we only employ grown ups here and it’s just as SIMPLE as that. Thanks so much for the wonderful piece that inspired to me to add my own 2 cents!!! And to all of the wonderful discussions on the blog – good points all of them!!! I hope we really get somewhere with this stuff as a society. I really do!