In seach of moral courage
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If misery loves company, beleaguered officials at Penn State may have taken some solace from the ugly news coming out of Syracuse University last weekend. Assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was fired after a third person accused him of sexual molestation and an audiotape surfaced which bolstered the credibility of his first two accusers.
Zach Tomaselli, 23, said Mr. Fine, 65, a coach at Syracuse for 36 years, molested him in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002. ESPN broadcast last Sunday a tape of a telephone conversation in 2002 with Mr. Fine's wife, Laurie, in which she expressed fear her husband had molested ball boy Bobby Davis in their home.
So now people are asking of another iconic college head coach, Jim Boeheim: What did he know? When did he know it?
Those are good questions which deserve answers. But more pertinent for most of us are the questions we should be asking ourselves.
Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with molesting eight boys over a 15-year period. Several of the 21 felony counts in the indictment pertain to incidents after then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary allegedly witnessed Mr. Sandusky having sex with a boy in the Penn State locker room shower in 2002.
Mr. McQueary told head football coach Joe Paterno what he witnessed. Mr. Paterno told the athletic director. The athletic director told the senior vice president for finance and business. No one told the police.
If I'd been in their shoes, what would I have done?
I'm confident I would have behaved differently than Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the vice president. They've been charged with lying to investigators. And I think I would have done more than Mr. Paterno, who (minimally) fulfilled his legal duty, but not his moral responsibility.
But would I have done more than Mike McQueary? I wonder. It's hard to be a whistleblower, especially in a small town like State College. People resent you for coming forward, for rocking the boat. And Mr. McQueary was a lowly grad student, Mr. Sandusky a local icon. He'd told Joe Paterno, the biggest icon of all. Wasn't that enough?
It wasn't. But moral courage is often more rare than physical courage and is the virtue in shortest supply these days, noted Dan Hendley, the pastor at North Park Church, in a magnificent sermon last Sunday.
The foremost responsibility of the powerful is to protect the weak, But at Penn State and Syracuse, the powerful protected each other -- not the vulnerable, at-risk children.
Jerry Sandusky's friends at Penn State were merciful to him. Their mercy was convenient. There was no airing of dirty laundry in public, no ugly publicity for the university. The result of that "mercy" was that innocent young boys were left at the mercy of an alleged sexual predator. "Mercy to the cruel is cruelty to the innocent," Pastor Hendley said.
Perhaps officials at Penn State justified their convenient mercy for Mr. Sandusky on the grounds that pedophilia, like alcohol or drug abuse, is a form of mental illness. The poor guy just couldn't help himself.
We should have sympathy for those of our fellows caught up in compulsions they can only with grave difficulty resist. But that sympathy should never degenerate into making excuses for antisocial behavior. "Sin is sin even when there is a sickness component," Pastor Hendley said.
Few of us know the inner demons with whom Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine apparently had to wrestle, or how we might have fared if we had had to wrestle with them. But if they did what they have been accused of doing, they are victimizers, not victims.
God forbid we should be unable to distinguish between pedophilia and, say, leukemia, Pastor Hendley said. "The fact that you are tempted to do wrong provides no freedom to or excuse for doing wrong."
It's likely the disgraceful silence of the powerful at Penn State was motivated most by fear of the consequences a public scandal might have for the reputation of the university. Parents expect colleges to take better care of the children in their charge than apparently was the case in Happy Valley.
The powerful at Penn State chose the appearance of rectitude over the reality of it. It hasn't worked out so well for them. We shouldn't be surprised, Pastor Hendley said, because this was the same choice the Pharisees made when Jesus confronted them about their sins.
First Published December 4, 2011 12:00 am