The New York Times continues to report confidently, though without named sources, that Joe Paterno’s days as Penn State football coach are soon to be over. With commentary such as this from the nation’s most influential paper, it is hard to believe action won’t be swift and complete and include the removal of the Penn State president, whose first response to news of sexual predation of children on his campus was to stand up for the men charged with lying about it.
The commentary draws parallels between Penn State’s situation and that of the Catholic Church and its coverup of sexual abuse by priests.
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.
UPDATE: Breaking News Twitter says Paterno will retire at the end of this season. Perhaps the Penn St. president could retire tomorrow.
Report on his statement here. In hindsight, he says, he wishes he had done more.
UPDATE II: Penn State president on his way out, too.
PS — What are the chances this episode will serve as a warning to other major universities to remember first responsibilities rather than reflexively protecting “The Program”?