Thursday, November 17, 2011

Penn State coaches not only ones ignoring sex abuse

    Everyone is sick and disgusted with the stories coming out of Penn State. People want to know how a college president, athletic director and head football coach could suspect or know about child sexual abuse and do nothing. But it’s really not limited to top officials at Penn State; apparently dozens of people knew what Jerry Sandusky was up to, but he was such a jolly good fellow that no one wanted to call his hand on it. (Sandusky, by the way, has not been convicted of anything, but by his own admission has engaged in conduct that is way beyond the pale).
    The fact is, though, that this type of things happens again and again. It happened with the Catholic Church. In defense of the Catholic Church, at one time it was believed that these priests might be “cured.” We now know that the only reliable “cure” for those who have taken advantage of children is to make sure they have no future contact with children.
    Whatever mistakes the Catholic Church has made in the past, it is to be lauded for its current efforts to prevent abuse. My children attended Catholic school for several years in Kentucky, and a few years ago every parent who was to volunteer in any fashion with the school had to complete the Catholic Church’s “Virtus” program (not sure if that’s supposed to be pronounced like it’s spelled or like “virtues.”
    I’m not going to go into great detail about the program. It’s designed to help people understand the signs of child sexual abuse. The most important thing is that adults don’t need to be spending a lot of time alone with children and that things which look suspicious are not to be ignored. There's no need to make false accusations, but if a behavior is causing concern that behavior needs to end. The Virtus program provides a set of guidelines for relations between adults and children. One of the most important rules is that an adult who refuses to obey the rules, by that very action, endangers children. Scouting has also had sexual abuse problems in the past and has in recent years adopted stringent safeguards designed to protect young people.
    Unfortunately, all the prevention programs in the world aren’t going to do any good if sexual predators are allowed to be around children while those in authority look the other way. That's what happened at Penn State and is happening all over the country.
    The Catholic Church isn’t the only church with a sexual abuse problem. It's as big or a bigger problem in Protestant churches. The Baptist Church, for example, has some of the same problems and has done exactly the same types of things that the Catholics did, namely looking the other way and covering for abusing clergy.
    Even worse, some Baptist leaders have attacked the victims of sexual abuse and their advocates. Former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson, now president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, attacked a victim’s support group as “evil-doers.” After Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines learned that an associate pastor -- whose job included counseling victims of sex abuse -- had in fact had sex with his own teen-age son for 12 to 18 months, he kept the man on staff. Apparently he concluded that since the sexual assaults had occurred more than 15 years before it was none of the church's business. The abused son didn't feel that way, nor did many of Bellevue's members, who Gaines labeled "troublemakers."
    Gaines, by the way, is an apostle of Rick Warren, who urges pastors, once hired, to seize absolute control of their churches, while marginalizing those who oppose them. Gaines' tolerance for sex abuse and his willingness to attack those who oppose them has certainly succeeded in running off lots of opposition, but I don't see how emptying Bellevue's church pews actually serves God.
    One Bellevue member who has been upset about what has gone on in that church -- and other churches, has a blog devoted to publicizing wrongdoing. For example, Bellevue finally fired the minister accused of having sex with his son; despite massive publicity another area church, The Warren Community Church in Somerville, Tenn., named his as a Trustee and proudly sang his praises in their newsletter. It's telling that the church proclaims itself a "Purpose Driven Church," and is quite possibly named after Rick Warren. Yuck all around!
    Child sexual abuse isn't just a Catholic problem, a Baptist problem or a Penn State problem. It's going to be a problem whenever children are placed in regular solitary contact with adults. It's going to be made far worse when these adults are authority figures whose authority is not subject to question. When it comes to protecting children, no one should have so much authority that they aren't subject to question -- and everyone should be required to follow rules established to protect children.
    The Catholic Church has been rightly condemned for some of its past actions concerning sex abuse. In my opinion they are leading the way in education and prevention today. This isn't to say there aren't still problems, but at least the Catholic Church is attempting to address these problems. Other churches and organizations would do well to examine and emulate what the Catholics are doing in the way of prevention and education.
    Today a few Penn State leaders are accused of wrongdoing, but there simply are lots of people who knew what was going on and did nothing. Nobody wanted to deal with a big, awful mess. But what's happened at Penn State is no different from what's happening all over the country. Doing nothing isn't the right choice when confronted with child sexual abuse, but it's a choice being made by lots of people, not just football coaches.

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