‘If Penn State Was the Catholic Church’: Paterno, Sandusky, and Raping Boys

Certainly more people watch Penn State football than listen to Vatican pronouncements. But insular, all-male institutions that operate on principles of domination foster a culture of cognitive dissonance where paradoxical things are held to be true, e.g. “I am an upright and moral defensive coordinator for a winning team and I sexually molest boys” or “I am a good Catholic, successful coach, who works with good people and whatever’s going on in the showers is none of my business.”

Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator for Penn State is charged with multiple counts of deviant sexual acts with at least eight male minors — most under age 12. But around a long-term child sexual abuser is always a complicit community. As Mark Esposito writes in this case it was made up of “university administrators who did nothing despite horrific credible eyewitness accounts of explicit sexual acts in locker rooms and showers.” And we end up with “Disadvantaged kids taken advantage of by an authority figure who founded an organization ostensibly to help them, but apparently designed to fulfill his own aberrational desires.”

Child molesters don’t see themselves as sexual predators. They most often see themselves as regular folks who love kids and want to help them and whose affinity for children just happens to have a sexual element. Then, under stress, their need to satisfy that sexual urge compels them to take an action which they convince themselves isn’t such a big deal. They hardly ever believe that they are harming children – and often believe they are helping them.

Fixated child molesters exist – in small numbers, but they exist. However, the rest of us often participate in cultures and emotional habits that protect them and those practices can be dismantled. Those narratives that we create of “protecting the greater good” or “he’s such a nice guy” or “to make a great Penn State omelet a few eggs gotta get broken” must be dismantled.

Jonathan Mahler’s New York Times article Joe Paterno’s Grand Experiment Meets an Inglorious End explores the willful blindness that we all must guard against.

… using the term “scandal” to describe what went on at Penn State, where a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of molesting several boys over 15 years, seems to diminish it.

In the world of big-time college sports, the term has been cheapened by overuse. If these allegations prove to be true — Sandusky has maintained his innocence — they’ll be a far cry from football players’ trading memorabilia for discounts on their tattoos.

A better comparison would be the sexual molestation scandals that rocked another insular, all-male institution, the Roman Catholic Church.

The parallels are too striking to ignore. A suspected predator who exploits his position to take advantage of his young charges. The trusting colleagues who don’t want to believe it — and so don’t.

Even confronted with convincing proof, they choose to protect their institution’s reputation. In the face of a moral imperative to act, there is silence.

This was the dynamic that pervaded the Catholic clerical culture during its sexual abuse scandals, and it seems to have been no less pervasive at Penn State.

Where does Paterno fit in?

If Penn State was the Catholic Church, Paterno was the Holy See of Happy Valley. Unlike two other top university officials implicated in the scandal, he has not been charged with a crime. But he is almost certainly guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy.

When a distraught graduate assistant told Paterno in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky with a boy in the locker-room showers, Paterno reported the incident to the athletic director but did nothing further, according to the grand jury statement. In other words, the great molder of young men discharged his legal obligation and moved on.

To be clear, this happened in 2002, when the Catholic Church sex scandals were front-page news just about every day. As a practicing Catholic himself, Paterno must have been following them; he was probably even pained by them.

Of course, Paterno did have other things on his mind. The Nittany Lions were coming off a dismal season and he was fighting off the first calls for his retirement.

With his effective silence, Paterno was protecting not only himself but also 50 years of mythology that had been building up around him since he arrived at Penn State as an assistant during the Truman administration.

Stephen Colbert: Was Jesus Just Selfish?

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” – Stephen Colbert, Catholic comedian and social satirist

Read more about Stephen Colbert’s Catholicism.

Sandra Schneiders: Religious Women and Expertise in Ministry

Theologian Sandra Schneiders has become one of the most cogent voices for articulating Catholic women religious’ life in the contemporary U.S.

Professor emerita at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich., Schneiders is speaking to a much larger audience than only nuns. For any Christian who is passionate about living the gospel and makes sacrifices to follow that call, Schneiders can help you understand your role in modern America.

For faithful women clustered around the cross and active in The Way, whatever your denomination, Schneiders has something to say to you about internal authority, mutual freedom, life in tension.

Schneiders recent speech titled The Future of Religious Life is addressing themes in the American Catholic church, but it conveys more broadly. Below is one section I found helpful in my own thinking, but I hope you’ll read and be encouraged by the whole article.

Increasingly, religious women have taken their expertise into ministries that, while still in continuity with those of the past and arising directly out of their communities’ charisms, are not ones most Catholics tend to associate with “the Sisters.”

Schneiders grouped them into four “clusters”:
*Social justice ministers focused on systemic or structural change, whose “theological glue” tends to be Catholic social teaching. These include social scientists, activists, lawyers, political and community organizers, economists and sociologists, urban farmers and legislators.

Continue reading “Sandra Schneiders: Religious Women and Expertise in Ministry”

Wangari Maathai Dies, Farewell to ‘Mother of Trees’

Catholic Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize – a first for an African woman and a first for environmentalism – for her work with the Green Belt Movement, the largest community-based environmental organization in Africa.

Maathai (1940-2011), who died this week of ovarian cancer, was particularly known for leading poor Kenyan women in a reforestation movement that has planted 30 million trees and for actively resisting the corruption of Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. At the announcement of the prize, the international press ran photos of Maathai standing tall, proud, beaming – and alone – in the spotlight.

“The Nobel Prize is absolutely a singular recognition,” explained Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, director of the Washington, D.C.-based “50 Years is Enough” debt-relief campaign to Sojourners. “But it is also a collective recognition…[of] African women in terms of a way of valuing women’s work that has not been valued.” (Taking Root, a film about Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement, has just been released.)

Wangari Maathai opened her memoir with an scripture from Ezekiel. “The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them” (34:27). Below is an excerpt from the opening chapters of her extraordinary autobiography.

I was born the third of six children, and the first girl after two sons, on April 1, 1940, in the small village of Ihithe in the central highlands of what was then British Kenya. My grandparents and parents were also born in this region near the provincial capital of Nyeri, in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountain Range. To the north, jutting into the sky, is Mount Kenya.

Continue reading “Wangari Maathai Dies, Farewell to ‘Mother of Trees’”

Cosmas and Damian: Patron Saints of Universal Health Care

Saints Cosmas and Damian

Martyr. Patron saints of doctors. According to legend, these two early Christian martyrs were twins. Born in Arabia, they are said to have studied medicine in Syria. They then set up a practice in Aegeae, in Cilicia.

They were considered brilliant at their work, but what set them apart from other doctors at the time, was their refusal to charge any fees for their services. They believed that as Christians this was the best form of charity they could practice.

During the Diocletian persecutions, Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, had them arrested and tried. They were hung on crosses and a mob stoned them. Archers then shot them with arrows. Finally they were cut down and beheaded. This took place around 303AD.

The bodies of the two doctors were taken to Syria and buried at Cyrrhus.

In later years many people, including the Emperor Justinian I, would dream of these two saints when ill. In the dreams the doctors would advise patients on treatments and many healings took place after the dreams.

Justinian built a church in their honour in the city of Constantinople. A basilica at Cyrrhus and another in Rome was also dedicated to them. Their names are mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass. —Independent Catholic News

What Would You Do If Your Neighbor Was Killed in a Hate Crime?

Not In Our Town

Thanks to Jonathan Langer for alerting me to this. Jonathan writes:

The PBS special documentary Not In Our Town-Light in the Darkness will be shown on many PBS stations this Wednesday night at 10 pm. It is the story of how our town Patchogue came together after the hate killing of Manuel Lucero by 7 young men.

I know you have highlighted this story on Latino USA, I thought you might like to be aware of this program. The church shown in the trailer is St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church which my wife and I attended for up until 3 years ago when we switched to a neighboring parish. The mayor and most of the Trustees are Catholic and attend St. Francis. Thanks again for your excellent work. Peace and Grace, Jonathan

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness premieres Wednesday, September 21, 2011. Check Local Listings to see when it’s airing on your local PBS station.

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York, culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.

Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they address the root causes of the violence, heal divisions, and take steps to ensure that everyone in their village will be safe and respected. In addition to the national broadcast, viewers can follow the case and learn more about the civil suits, find out more about how libraries got involved and learn about reporting hate crimes to local law enforcement.

Pax Intrantibus: ‘Peace On Those Who Enter Here’

Joan Chittister offers a reminder of the stance that we as Christians are called to take toward kin, strangers, and even enemies. This “stance” only comes after years of intentional inner work, as well as outward practice, failure, and practice.

Over the archway of every medieval monastery were carved the words, Pax Intrantibus, “Peace to those enter here.” The words were both a hope and a promise. In a culture struggling with social chaos, Benedict sketched out a blueprint for world peace. He laid a foundation for a new way of life, the ripples of which stretched far beyond the first monastery arch, to every culture and continent from one generation to another, from that era to this one, from his time and now to ours. To us.

That is our legacy, our mandate, our mission—as alive today as ever, more in need in today’s nuclear world than ever before. Benedictine peace, however, is not simply a commitment to the absence of war. It is, as well, the presence of a lifestyle that makes war unacceptable and violence unnecessary.

Even if we dismantled all the war machines of the world tomorrow, it would be no guarantee that we would have peace. The armies of the world simply demonstrate the war that is going on in our souls, the restlessness of the enemy within us, the agitation of the human condition gone awry.

To all these things we need to bring our own world—new spiritual imagination. Imagine a world where people choose their work according to the good it will do for the poorest of the poor—because they saw it in us. Imagine a world where holy leisure, spiritual reflection rather than political expedience began to determine everything we do as a nation—because they saw it in us. Imagine a world where the care of the earth became a living, breathing, determining goal in every family, every company, every life we touch—because they saw it in us.

Imagine a world devoted to becoming a community of strangers that crosses every age level, every race, every tradition, every difference on the globe—because they saw it in us. Imagine a world where humble listening to the other became more important than controlling them—because people saw it in us. Imagine a world where what makes for peace becomes the foundation of every personal, corporate, national decision—because they were called to it by us.

Let us resolve again to follow the fiery-eyed radical Benedict of Nursia whose one life illuminated the western world. Let us, in other words, live Benedictine spirituality and illuminate our own darkening but beautiful world.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Radical Christian Life: A Year with Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press)

Joan Chittister: Why Community?

Joan Chittister, OSB
“Years ago when I was working with new members in the community, there was always one session in which I asked each of them individually, and in turn, why they went to prayer. The answers were always full of the piety that comes with newness and the theology that comes from books.

“Because,” someone would say, “prayer is what leads us to perfection. That’s why I go to prayer.” I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “That’s not why we go to prayer.”

They’d think a while, then someone else would try. “We go to prayer to immerse ourselves in God.” I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “We are always immersed in God but that’s not why we go to prayer.”

The brows would tighten around the table. “I think we go to prayer to remember God,” someone would say a bit more tentatively. I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “Awareness is certainly a state we seek, but it is not why we go to prayer.”

By this time there were fewer quick answers. Finally, one of the brave ones would say, “then why do we go to prayer?” I’d smile. “We go to prayer around here,” I’d say, “because the bell rings.”

It took a moment or two of stunned silence and then they got it. We go to prayer because the community sweeps us along on the days we are too tired to pray, too distracted to pray, to overburdened to care. Then the community becomes the vehicle of our spiritual lives.

The function of community is to sustain us in our weaknesses, model for us the ultimate of our ideals, carry us to the next level of spiritual growth even when we are unaware that we need it, and give us a strength beyond ourselves with which to attain it.

For this reason I am inviting you to become a member of Monasteries of the Heart. Many of you have been faithful supporters of Benetvision for years and that is evidence enough that you are true seekers, that you care about the spiritual life. It’s for people like you that we initiated this new movement.

There are, of course, hermits in the Benedictine tradition. They are an ancient and honored way of life. But Benedict is clear about their place in life. “After they have been trained in community,” he says, they may be able to progress on their own. The message is as fresh today as it’s ever been. We join communities, we create groups, to get to know ourselves and to get the help we need to enable us to do what we most want to do but cannot possibly, continually, certainly do alone.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Learn more about Monasteries of the Heart.

Joan Chittister: What Is Dissent?

What is dissent?

I don’t remember exactly when I first began to notice the shift of circumstances, the change in attitudes, but I do know that every day the truth of the difference between past and present religious evolutions got more and more clear for me.

What has for long years been considered “dissent” in the churches by those who want more answers than questions, more clerical authority than spiritual investment may not be real dissent at all. People are not challenging Christianity and leaving the Church. They are not arguing against the need for a spiritual life. They are not denying God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. They are not ridiculing religion and going away. On the contrary. People currently considered “excommunicated” or “suspect” or “heretical” or “smorgasbord” believers are, in many ways, among the most intense Christians of our time. They do more than sing in the choir or raise money for the parish center or fix flowers for the church. They care about it and call it to be its truest self. They question it, not to undermine it, but to strengthen it. They call for new ways of being church together. They do not dismiss the need for the spiritual life. They crave it. What’s more, they look for it in their churches. But they crave more than ritual. They crave meaning. They look for more than salvation. They look for authenticity and the integrity of the faith.

Women, in particular, find themselves with theological questions that will not go away and immerse themselves in the struggle to bring the churches to be what the churches say they are. Men grapple to reconcile what the institution teaches with what the institution does. These men and women do not abandon the spiritual life, however distant their association with the churches that feel so distant from them. If anything, they try harder to provide for themselves the kind of fullness of the spiritual life their churches fail to provide or even deny, for whatever reason. They reach out everywhere to everything that will provide new insights, new awareness of the presence of God.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From In Search of Belief (Liguori) by Joan Chittister

No More Dirty Work! Clean, Green Jobs, not Tar Sands Oil

Dear Beloved Community,

President Barack Obama will decide as early as September whether to light a fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America. That bomb is the massive tar sands field in Canada’s Alberta province. And the fuse is the 1,700-mile long Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport this dirtiest of petroleum fuels all the way to Texas refineries.

I am writing you now because the Keystone XL Pipeline is a climate and pollution horror beyond description. From August 20th to September 3rd, thousands of Americans – including Bill McKibben, Danny Glover, and NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, and myself – will be at the White House, day after day, demanding Obama reject this tar sands pipeline.

While pro-oil lobbies will undoubtedly tell President Obama that America needs the jobs, there are thousands of Americans who are saying “No more dirty work! Give us clean, green jobs for a healthy planet and healthy families.”

Given the high stakes, many protestors will engage in peaceful civil disobedience, day after day to make their voices heard. Already the attention this event is getting will likely make it the biggest act of civil disobedience in the climate movement’s history.

I’m going to be there, and I hope you will join me – this action, and this issue needs your voice. This action will be going on for two weeks, but you only need to be there for one day – so pick a day between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3 that you can make it to DC, and let the world know just what you think of the tar sands. Click here to sign up.

If you would like to participate with the “Religious Contingent” affinity group on AUGUST 29, then sign up at the Tar Sands Action site AND ALSO send an email to Tim Kumfer ([email protected]).

If built, the Keystone XL Pipeline would lock America into a future of planet-warming energy dependency. Indeed, Dr. Hansen – America’s top climate scientist – has said that full exploitation of Canada’s tar sands would be “game over” for efforts to solve climate change.

In 2009, Catholic Bishop Luc Bouchard of Alberta, Canada, wrote in a prophetic pastoral letter warning of the moral danger of this pipeline.

“When there is uncertainty as to whether a development project seriously endangers the environment, a pre-cautionary principle utilizing prudence and caution should guide the decision making process which itself must be administratively transparent. Therefore, massive projects that clearly endanger the environment must be approached in a deliberate, open, and consultative manner.”

President Obama alone – without input from Congress – has the power to approve or reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.

He will decide as soon as September whether to honor his campaign pledge to create a clean-energy economy, or to lock us in as a nation that cooks and distills filthy tar sands for much of our energy. Building this pipeline will be an economic and moral setback for clean-energy sources of all types. This is a line in the sand. The tar sands!

Here’s the link to sign up again: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/sign-up. Let me know if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns – I hope you’ll join us. This is just too important to stay home.

Peace and All Good,