Where were you the morning after Joe Paterno, Penn State icon, football legend, lifetime Roman Catholic, and a good (albeit imperfect) man, was fired? I happened to be driving right through Happy Valley, Pennsylvania.
I was en route to Harrisburg for a meeting. As I nudged through Centre County, my gas gauge informed me I was near empty, so I stopped at a convenience store to fill up. The atmosphere inside was bleak, like someone had died. There was no mirth and merriment in Happy Valley. A man named Jerry Sandusky had leveled the place, a one-man weapon of mass destruction, annihilating careers, reputations, legacies, and, of course, young boys. Only now, the full casualty report was coming in.
I looked at the newspaper rack. All newspapers, local and national, were fixed upon this idyllic part of the world—and on Joe-Pa. “Fired. By phone,” summed up an angry Harrisburg Patriot-News, aside a giant photo of Paterno.
And yet, as a Catholic, among the most disturbing headlines I caught during my expedition through Happy Valley were comparisons between the Sandusky sex scandal and a 2002 Church scandal in which two dozen priests in the surrounding diocese were accused of sexually abusing minors.
“The parallels to State College are grim,” stated an analysis in USA Today. The Sandusky situation is “much like the bishops’ scandal.”
No one, USA Today argued, called police. No one protected the child. No one prevented the perpetrator from exacting his wickedness on the innocent.
As I scanned my radio, I heard this parallel a number of times, and it isn’t unwarranted. (As I write this commentary, I continue to hear the comparison made more often throughout the media, including print media.) How utterly sick that is—and tragic.
What’s behind scandals like this? All sorts of things, of course: a willingness of good men to do nothing, to pass the buck, to merely move around the predators, a failure to go directly to proper authorities.
But one reason we’re not hearing, especially from secular media, is both very deep and very ancient, long predating college football. It’s a simple reason truly underlying them all: evil. The Devil has descended upon Happy Valley.
For Catholic Exchange.com and Ave Maria Radio, I’m Paul Kengor.