Scandal at Penn State Evokes Familiar Patterns

The parallels between the cover-up of an authority figure sexually abusing children at Penn State University and the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church are clear and disturbing.

This weekend, Jerry Sandusky, former defensive Sandusky captioned.pngcoordinator of Penn State’s storied and successful football team, was arrested following a grand jury investigation into Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys. The grand jury indictment includes over 40 criminal counts involving the sexual abuse of eight boys between 1994 and 2009. According to the grand jury report, the University’s athletic director, Tim Curley, and business administrator, Gary Schultz, knew Sandusky engaged in sexually explicit behavior but did nothing to protect kids. This is the “bigger problem,” says our co-counsel, Marci Hamilton, noting that a “number of people knew about it and covered it up.” Both Curley and Schultz resigned after the grand jury report was made public.

Indeed, Curley and Schultz’s behavior is as appalling as bishops who receive reports of sexual abuse by priests, but in an effort to avoid “scandal,” protect priests instead of children. Clearly, Curley and Schultz were more concerned about upholding Penn State’s and its football program’s reputation than about protecting the well-being of children. They chose to ignore those children who were already being abused by Sandusky and other children who were under his influence and at incredible risk of being victimized.

We applaud the brave prosecutor and courageous citizen grand jury that showed no fear or favor in holding up the law against a revered institution such as Penn State. This case – unlike incidents involving bishops in the Catholic Church—will have its chance for justice and accountability in the criminal courts. It is critically important that those who conceal and cover up child sex abuse be held accountable both criminally and in the Court of public opinion.

This action, in addition to the recent grand jury indictments of Catholic bishops and top officials (specifically in Philadelphia and Kansas City), is definitely an encouraging sign. For in the end, whether it’s clergy in the Catholic Church, elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodist, Lutheran, or Episcopal pastors, or Boy Scout or University leaders, all of us must always put the rights of children ahead of any concern for an institution.