Thursday, November 10, 2011

So It's Not A Catholic Problem

Michelangelo's Crucifixion in Santo
Spirito, Florence--the epitome of Divine
Compassion and a call to forgiveness of
I feel bad about Joe Paterno.  I am not saying that Penn State is wrong; I don’t think they are.  But I still feel bad.  The guy is 84 years old—almost 85—and has given sixty-two years of his life to Penn State.  That is a commitment!  At eighty-one he had to have hip replacement surgery because he injured himself trying to demonstrate a kick technique. This is a guy who always gave his all to what he believed in. But he made a mistake, a huge mistake.  He was told—he didn’t see, but was told—that an assistant coach was seen sexually abusing a minor in the Penn State field house.  Paterno notified the University Athletic director.  The State Police said that Paterno had performed his legal obligation of reporting this to his superior.  The Grand Jury investigating the charges commended him for reporting it.   But Paterno had not personally called the police to report it and that was his mistake.  It is not enough to follow institutional protocols in these matters.  It is not enough even to follow the law.  More is expected of us.  I feel bad for him—terrible for him—because I am sure he acted in good faith and did all that was required but sometimes what is required is not enough. 
     This episode demonstrates  that the vigor with which the issue of sex abuse is being pursued against Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors is not an attack on the Church.  Sometimes you would think that sex abuse is a disease of the Catholic clergy and sometimes you would think that the venom with which bishops are often pursued for not having dealt effectively with reports of clerical abuse is masking an anti-Catholic or anti-Church campaign.  And sometimes it might be.  But the rancor that brought down Joe Paterno shows that there is an issue here that is not limited to the Church, will strike even heroes, and won’t go away until our society learns to deal effectively with protecting children.  However, at the end of the day, I still feel terrible for Joe Paterno.  Compassion doesn’t have to be limited to victims. Indeed, compassion never knows limits and reaches out to understand the suffering not only of the primary victims, nor even the bystanders like JoePa, but even the offenders.  But then compassion is the most rare of virtues, and the most precious. 

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