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Consequences

Trigger warning: sexual abuse.

Today is a day for… I don’t even know. Justice is not quite the word, because when it comes to sexual abuse against children, there is very little justice that can actually be achieved. I have in mind the image of Lady Justice, blindfolded, holding the balanced scales. In cases of sexual abuse against young people, there is simply no balance possible. So, this is a day for a moderate kind of recognition of the real-life consequences of the actions of those who perpetrate abuse as well as those who work to shield the perpetrators from the consequences of their actions.

Yesterday, the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State University for the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. A $60 million fine. Vacating a decade’s worth of victories for the Penn State football team and their coach Joe Paterno. A ban on post-season play for four years. And though it was not part of the sanctions, Penn State removed the statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside of Beaver Stadium.

There is a saying in 12-step circles that it is right to allow an addict to have the benefit of his or her own consequences. In the case of addicts, this means that the family members and friends are doing the addict a disservice by shielding him or her from the consequences of her or his destructive behavior. And the truth is, the consequences remain, even when the addict is shielded from them. Instead of the addict suffering the consequences, often times, the consequences fall to the children or other family members. This is neither just nor healthy, and the fallout almost always does more damage than if the addict had been allowed to experience the consequences herself.

What we are seeing at Penn State is the fallout after entirely too much time, energy, and money was spent shielding Jerry Sandusky from the consequences of his destructive behavior. NPR ran a piece this morning in which some students were upset that they are being penalized for Sandusky’s actions. And, of course, they have the right to be angry. They are experiencing the fallout of an extended delay of consequences. But let us be clear. The NCAA is not the bad guy here. There is plenty of blame and anger to be spread around, but it ought not be directed at those who are finally enforcing consequences for a decade of cover-up. The fallout always happens, and the fallout is not necessarily just.

It is for this reason that I have to wonder when the fallout will come down in the Catholic Church, and who will suffer the consequences.

Today Monsignor William Lynn sentenced. Last week, Monsignor Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment for participating in a cover-up of sexual abuse. Let’s make this clear. Monsignor Lynn allowed priests he knew to be predators to continue to minister to children.

His sentence is 3-6 years. Now, apparently, the defense lawyers are appealing the court’s decision, and the appeal has a significant chance of being successful. The reasoning behind the appeal is that Monsignor Lynn never directly supervised children.

Monsignor Lynn is really a middle-man in this scandal. He did not abuse anyone directly. Apparently he even had moments when he wanted to document and report the abuse. “But when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua instead had the list destroyed, Lynn chose to remain in the job and obey his bishop – by keeping quiet.”

I fear that we have not yet begun to see the real fallout from the abuse dolled out by predatory priests and the cover-up that extends all the way up the ladder to the Vatican. At Penn State, after a decade of sexual abuse perpetrated by one man, the university cleaned house, and the fallout is to the tune of $60 million, and other sanctions, most of which will be felt rather acutely by the students who had nothing to do with the abuse. In the Catholic Church, we are looking at decades of abuse by who-knows-how-many priests, and what we see most often is a single diocese making token settlements to a group of abuse victims.

All actions have consequences, and when the offender is shielded from the consequences of his or her actions, there is always someone else who ends up bearing the brunt of it. I don’t yet know how to predict who will bear the brunt of the fallout from the Catholic Church’s efforts to keep the misconduct of its priests quiet and secret.

“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

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