Friday, November 11, 2011

MSM still misses point of Penn State scandal—UPDATED

After almost ten years of having our noses rubbed in the misdeeds of a relative handful of bishops and priests, you’d think we Catholics would be able to heave a sigh of relief. Another major institution is under the public microscope for the sexual misdeeds of its leaders, so we should be left alone, right? Under such conditions, I should be able to write the post full of hope suggested by one of my Twitter followers.

Except that we’re dealing with the real world, where the evil that men do lives on after them and the good is oft interred with their bones. The news about Jerry Sandusky and Penn State wasn’t two or three days in the news before Cathy Lynn Grossman at the McPaper succumbed to the temptation:

A trusted adult, respected by the community, offers special programs for vulnerable boys – then sexually abuses them. Word travels up to higher authorities, but no one calls the police. They handle it within ....
Sound familiar? It’s the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal rewritten on a university campus.

To be fair, we could exonerate Ms. Grossman by noting that her column was in response to SNAP using the scandal to remind us of their presence. Also in fairness, it appears that Bishop-Accountability.org is finally beginning to look outside the narrow confines of the Catholic hierarchy, linking for example stories from David Virtue about Episcopal Presiding Bishop Kathleen Jefferts Schori and from Dave Pierre about David Clohessy’s hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, as outlets such as NBC, the New York Times and WaPo have made clear, it will be some time before stories of child molestation by school officials don’t automatically call for references to the Catholic Church.


Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org puts the matter to us bluntly: “Catholics simply need to understand that the decades of scandals in their church about the sexual abuse of teen-agers and, in many fewer cases, young children are simply going to be cited in stories on this topic for years and years to come. That’s the facts.” And Josh Mercer at CatholicVote.org also spares us nothing: “… [The] Catholic Church frankly deserved a considerable amount of scorn for the horrific cover-up and the shuffling of predators. Just as people are outraged at Penn State officials today.”

But Mercer also asks, “In light of the horrific scandal coming from Penn State University, can we now come to an appropriate reaction to the sexual abuse of minors?” And the issue is doubtful just now. For some people, such as NBC’s Anne Thompson, are still reading dubious social psychology into the comparisons: “Critics say [WEASEL WORD ALERT!] these are institutions of power, secrecy, mythology, dominated by men who circled the wagons in a crisis.” Oh, if only women had been in charge!

Except that women can be pedophiles and ephebophiles, too. Oh, and did anyone note that Jerry Sandusky is married, with six adopted children?

For years now, Catholic apologists have been trying to point out that, by focusing almost exclusively on the Church, the media have completely ignored such incidents within other Christian communions, as well as within non-Catholic private and public school systems. And when actor Corey Feldman claimed on ABC News Nightline that “the number one problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia,” the Catholic League found only one newspaper that repeated the story: The International Business Times. As Enoch Root quipped in Piece of Work In Progress, “Only group I can find that doesn’t seem to commit atrocities such as these are the snail herders of Utopia.”

In response, we get this kind of hysterical, point-missing retort (from Creative Minority Report):

Oh, here we go ....
Everyone else was doing it too, therefore no biggie when it was the Church.
Fine.
No biggie when it’s this coach [Sandusky], either. Hey, if the Catholic Church can do it for years and get away with it, why all the media attention now when it’s a famous coach, right? Gosh, it’s so unfair to focus on this ONE situation when the Catholic Church was given a pass for years on end!
You don’t get it. Sorry, you just don’t. You may get how people play their part in evil, but you don't get how to stop the evil.

But if there’s anyone who doesn’t “get it”, it’s the mainstream media. Supervisors and employers don’t fail to report because of their power structures or their “maleness” or any pseudo-scientific evocation of quasi-religious ritualism you want to read into the problem. They fail to report because they don’t want the responsibility of putting friends, relatives and close associates through a public pillory such as Sandusky, Paterno et al. are suffering … especially if there’s a chance that the report may be false, leaving them open to lawsuits. Like Clohessy, who didn’t want to be the one who put his ordained older brother Kevin in jail.

Or, to put it another way: They’re human.

It’s easy to condemn and blame and scream, to say, “They should’ve called the cops right away, those lousy scum!” when the perpetrator is a complete stranger. When it’s your sibling, your spouse, your good friend, your supervisor or coworker, it’s just not easy to be the nark. As Clohessy said when Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called for Baptist churches to learn from the Penn State scandal, “It’s easy to say stuff, harder to do stuff.”

I do see some hope. As WaPo’s Sally Jenkins writes, “It’s sorely tempting to assign Paterno chief blame in the Penn State case, to say that he should have seen Sandusky for what he allegedly was. Unfortunately, the truth is, youth coaches from California to Rhode Island have molested children at every level, sandlot to USA Swimming, and we hardly ever recognize the pervert. We usually shake his hand.”

Perhaps, with Penn State, we’ll start to see more students come forward in other schools, and we’ll finally begin to learn the real depths of the problem. Because unearthing molesters isn’t as easy as looking for the Mark of the Beast on their foreheads.

Or for a Roman collar around their necks.

Update: November 14, 2011
There's a reason I like reading The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named, and he demonstrates it in his own post about the Penn State Massacre:

But though lots of combox warriors are quite adept at fantasizing about how bravely they would have behaved and how vile Mike McQueary is in comparison to their brave selves, how they would have taken a baseball bat to Sandusky had they caught him in flagrante, the reality is that, if the Milgram experiments are any indication, a huge percentage of people are pretty well programmed to avoid trouble with authority figures rather than open a can of whupass. Sorry, but that’s the stuff we fallen humans are made of, as our first Pope learned when he confidently declared, “Though everyone else deny you, I will never deny you.” Indeed, despite the flattering and heroic picture so many Laptop Ninjas have of themselves, righteously battling evil with flawless martial arts moves and utter rectitude like Buffy and Angel, the real picture of fallen humanity given to us by revelation is that of the apostles in Gethsemane on Holy Thursday: big talk, sleepiness while Jesus sweats blood, a brief show of bluster and bravado against the wrong person (resulting in a severed ear) and then bolting, ass-saving panic such that one of the disciples peeled out of his clothes and ran off naked rather than defend the innocent from evil authority figures. That story is painful to read because that story is a paradigm, not an isolated incident. It has been replayed again and again down the centuries and we chicken shits in comboxes boasting about our courage over Those People Over There know it damn well.  That’s why we talk so big.

It's easy to talk like Barney Badass when it's about a complete stranger. It's really, really tough just to drop a dime on someone you like/love/respect/work with. Nevertheless, like my buddy Frank says, calling the cops is the only real option.