Sad Parallels Link Abuse at Church, Penn State

By Margery Eagan
Boston Herald
June 24, 2012

EVIL: Monsignor William Lynn was convicted Friday in Philadelphia of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy in a groundbreaking clergy-abuse trial.

Just hours before a jury on Friday found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty of raping and sexually abusing boys as young as 9, a Philadelphia jury convicted a Catholic monsignor of allowing a known pedophile priest to continue his ministry with children — resulting in the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy.

The parallels between the two cases and the church sex abuse crisis here just take your breath away.

One parallel: The predators were not strangers in trench coats but respected, supposedly upstanding members of powerful, all-male, insular and elite communities. “A saint,” is the word a local wrestling coach used to describe Sandusky, legendary for his charisma, charm and generosity to the disadvantaged children he helped and even adopted. Now one adopted son has accused Sandusky of abusing him, too.

How ironic that so many parents today, fearing strangers, won’t let our children play outside or walk anywhere alone. Yet we now know that attackers almost always turn out to be those both we and our children know and trust, those we may not suspect even after the abuse occurs.

A second parallel: How people who do suspect, or even witness the crime, either do nothing or fail to tell police. At Penn State both a janitor and an assistant football coach saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old in the shower. Mike McQueary, a mountain of a man, could easily have intervened. Instead, he told his father what he saw, then his boss, the late Joe Paterno. Paterno told his own bosses. And that was the end of that.

Another parallel: It was the perseverance of mothers at Penn State and in the church crisis that eventually brought these rapists into the justice system. In the Sandusky case, a mother alerted high school officials, who then went to police. But by then it was 2009 — at least a decade after the Sandusky assaults we know about began and stories of deviant priests had been reported all across the country.

Yet other mothers, here and in Pennsylvania, have said they noticed nothing awry years into their own children’s abuse.

A particularly poignant moment came last week when a heartbroken mother, who suspected Sandusky but never intervened, testified through tears how “I’d just make him go anyways” to Sandusky’s over her son’s protests. Like mothers of many children targeted by priests, she was an overwhelmed single parent working two jobs. She said she valued Sandusky’s attention because he was “a very important person ...”

This mother said she felt responsible, though she is not. Neither is her son, now 18. But responsibility for these nightmares continuing does spread beyond the rapists themselves, and even beyond their Penn State or Catholic hierarchy of co-conspirators. It spreads to those whose first instinct always is to blame victims, to those who won’t admit that these evils happen, to those whose downright hostility toward victims makes it too hard for them to admit the truth. So they don’t. And the cycle goes on.








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