Kevin H: The Ghost of Joe Paterno and the Church
The Penn State child sex abuse scandal came back into the headlines in the past couple of weeks.
New information has gained public awareness and it was reported that one of the claims that Penn State settled with a victim dates abuse all the way back to 1971. This was forty years before longtime defensive coordinator and convicted child sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky was arrested. Another report claimed that one of the victims informed legendary head coach Joe Paterno of abuse in 1976. Other reports claimed that a couple different assistant coaches were aware of Sandusky’s abuse in the 1980’s.
With the new exposure of these allegations, Penn State has taken to denying and deflecting. It is pretty much the same tactic they took the first time around before the plethora of evidence became so great that they had practically no choice but to be humbled. Evidence that showed that the university and its leaders had not properly handled what they knew about Sandusky.
At least when Penn State finally took responsibility for their wrongdoing they undertook many actions apologizing for their past sins, made amends and reparations, and made changes to try to prevent any such scenario from ever re-occurring. We do not know the truth of these new reports and maybe there is no truth to them. Maybe the university is in the right to deny and deflect. But their track record does not speak kindly for them.
When this scandal first became public several years ago, it was a punch in the gut to myself and many other Penn Sate fans. I imagine it was only worse for those who were alumni and/or employees. While realizing that there is some manner of sin and darkness to every individual and every institution, this….. was unexpected.
The Penn State football program had always prided itself in doing things the right way. Coach Joe Paterno had little patience for those who wouldn’t comply with doing things his way. Yes, in some ways he was antiquated and unnecessarily conservative. But he also kept things on the straight and narrow. With all the cheating scandals and illegal benefits to athletes and recruiting violations that are so prominent in big-time college sports, there was never a hint of such around the Penn State football program.
Then the Jerry Sandusky scandal came to light. Something far more heinous than manipulating any classroom grades or “loaning” a car to a star athlete. This was abhorrent. What Sandusky did to all those innocent children over all those years was pure evil. That university leaders knew at least parts of what was going on and took minimal steps to do something about it was disgusting. That Joe Paterno, who was the most powerful person on the campus, could and should have done more and didn’t was very discouraging.
We would expect better in the church… and yet, are we really better?
The uncovering of the Catholic church clergy child sexual abuse scandal was horrific. Responsibility and justice and redress for the Sovereign Grace scandal has yet to be nearly fully taken, if it ever will. Just look at C.J. Mahaney’s most recent appearance at the Together For The Gospel Conference. Boz Tchividjian, founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), is quoted as saying that he thinks evangelicals are even worse on sex abuse than Catholics.
There are some who read and/or participate here who know far more of the details of these and other abusive situations than I could ever imagine or have the knowledge to write about, including many situations that may not involve children, but are abusive nonetheless. Many scandals that involved sexual abuse or improprieties or other types of abuse have been written about here over the years. How many more are happening and we just don’t know about them because they haven’t been exposed? How many with victims are suffering in silence?
It is saddening when the church is no better, if not sometimes even worse, than the world when it comes to such critical and harrowing situations. Especially at a time when the victims are so much in need of care and help and Jesus.
Now assuredly not nearly all the church is guilty of such things. There are many situations where church people and institutions have rightly reported and taken action. Where they have provided aid to those in need. Where they have gone to great lengths to try to bring about justice and accountability and care and healing. Many noble actions have been taken by the church.
It’s just that every time I am reminded of the Penn State scandal, there is a pain that comes with remembering what happened. I feel the same for within the church when circumstances bring about remembrances of terrible abuses and cover-ups that happened in the past, some of which are still unresolved. This is often accompanied by an uneasy feeling that there are many more going on out there that we just don’t yet know about, or maybe never will.
Lord, forgive us for the times we have failed to act righteously and compassionately when presented with such dreadful circumstances and give us the courage to act rightly if and when coming upon such circumstances in the future.