Sex abuse coverup in religion vs in sports: Any difference?

Paul Vathis AP In this Aug. 6, 1999 file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with … Continued

Paul Vathis


In this Aug. 6, 1999 file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during Penn State Media Day at State College, Pa. Pennsylvania state prosecutors said Sandusky, 67, was arrested Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, on charges that he sexually abused eight young men.

A major child sex abuse cover-up case – that does not involve the Catholic Church. 

When the case unfolding at Penn State blew up last week, I have to admit the first people I thought I would hear from those in the Catholic Church who believe their faith gets unfairly tarred on this subject. As so many high-level cases around the world have unfolded in the past decade, these Catholics often ask, rightly: What is the rate of sex abuse in other institutions?  


I have former colleagues from my days at The Associated Press who looked into this for their series about sex abuse in the public schools, and I’ve pursued comparative data myself and my sense is that there simply is not comparative data, regardless of what each side says. This is because of the complex and not uniform way public institutions keep crime data and also because so much information about the Catholic Church is not public. I’ve never seen any apples-to-apples comparison that makes the case either way, whether the subject is the rate of abuse or the rate of cover-up. 

But I still hear from Catholics occasionally when I write about this subject asking why don’t we write more about other institutions, be they religious or secular.  

Right now I’m interested in how, or if, the subject is being discussed differently in the two contexts: two powerful institutions in our culture, the church and athletics, our religious identity and one of our national pastimes. 

But the first people I have seen write about this today, in the context of Penn State, are at the largest law firm for survivors of clergy sex abuse, where the authors suggest there is more accountability for Penn State officials than for bishops.

  • ccnl1

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy “I did not have sex with that girl” Clinton, John “Marilyn Monroe” Kennedy”

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger “I am so sorry for getting caught” Woods

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of “neithers” they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (e.g. priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder (“Kings David and Henry VIII).

  • fvthinker

    A child abused by a coach is the same as a child abused by a priest. The great distinction is that the Catholic Church claims to be a higher moral authority and has, quite obviously, actively hidden the abuse on a grand scale and enjoys the perception that they are above mortal/secular law. As an organization, the Catholic Church is worse than any other ORGANIZATION that I know…at least in this regard.

  • Carstonio

    While I agree that there has been less accountability for the bishops, that’s not really a problem with Catholicism or with religion in general. Both scandals involve powerful organizations putting their own well-being ahead of children. Any such organization is capable of that repulsive behavior. The only difference here is one of scale – the Church is a far larger and far more powerful organization, and both the abuse and the attempted coverup were more widespread.

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