Protecting a program before a child

Just hours after stepping down, two high-ranking Penn State administrators face arraignment Monday on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating former defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky and failed to properly report suspected child abuse. Columnist Mike Wise at The Washington Post writes that if these Sandusky allegations are true, Penn State and Joe Paterno deserve part of the blame.

You want to grab hold of and shake those who reported the crime only to their superiors, washed their hands of responsibility and then let it go, treating a kid’s life as if it were a football that slipped through their hands.

No one from Penn State — not Paterno, not the human neckties, no one — ever reported the alleged incident to law enforcement, which the grand jury report says is required under Pennsylvania law.

In Warped Sports World, the don’t-ask, don’t-tell, sweep-it-clean behavior is rationalized as loyalty, having your coach’s or teammate’s back, moving on from the problem. It’s seen as a noble quality, putting the team’s needs — the university’s needs — before your own.

Certainly it can be argued that Paterno and Penn State would have been irrevocably hurt if these allegations had surfaced in a police report almost 10 years ago; a program whose legendary defensive coordinator was accused of being a pedophile would lose recruits and, by association, money and prestige. Who wouldn’t want that to go away?

But more unconscionable, if true: putting loyalty to the many, the program, in front of the victimization of even the one, a child.

And because they possibly chose to protect Penn State’s brand instead of a child — a 10 year old kid whom they never even bothered to find out the name of, according to the grand jury report — more children might have suffered because of their silence.

Tragically, this "don't-ask, don't-tell, sweep-it-clean behavior" sounds all too familiar as the stories are prevalent of trusted leaders in churches and other institutions who also have placed the loyalty of staff members and the reputation of the names of those institutions above the very lives and safety of children, the most vulnerable among us.

 Dr. Jack Graham and the executive leadership at Prestonwood Baptist Church, a megachurch in Dallas, Texas, also remained shockingly silent and enabled a child sexual predator. In June of 1989, they directly knew about the sexual abuse of several boys by then youth music minister John Langworthy, recently indicted in Mississippi and awaiting trial on 8 felony counts of sexual abuse of 5 boys there. Prestonwood staff heard directly from victims but failed to report the abuse to the police as required by TX state law mandated in 1971. Texas law is clear. If you suspect child abuse, report it. Langworthy was fired from Prestonwood and allowed to leave the state returning to his home state of Mississippi where he soon thereafter began teaching in Clinton public schools and working as a music minister with kids of all ages at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, MS. He did so until his school contract was not renewed for this school year and his resignation from the church in May 2011 in which he cited mental and emotional reasons. On August 7, 2011, Langworthy confessed from the pulpit to sexually abusing boys while he served at churches in Mississippi and in Texas.

Read here about my efforts to warn about Langworthy and also the disturbing pattern that is endangering children. That Jack Graham and other executive staff who knew about the abuse didn't call the police (and still haven't to this day to my knowledge) is unconscionable. Like Joe Pa and others at Penn State, as Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast writes, it is "totally and eternally unconscionable." No admission has been made by Prestonwood leadership for how they broke the law by failing to report child sexual abuse, endangered children and enabled a predator to move on to unsuspecting churches, schools and communities for 22 years. This says it all:
What is disgusting to me and many of my Penn State buddies is that the very people who preached responsibility and honor did all they could to protect the reputation of the football program ahead of the children who Sandusky allegedly abused.

How dare they? Why didn’t any of these people — Paterno, Curley, Schultz or Spanier — contact the police with what was obviously a criminal matter?

Why do some people, whether it’s at Penn State, in the Catholic Church hierarchy or any at institution with power and influence, think of these children as expendable? What is wrong with these people, this nation, when we stop caring about the most vulnerable among us?

Jack Graham and other pastors and leaders in institutions charged with protecting children should heed the advice in an article by Cathy Lynn Grossman in USA Today, Catholic bishops' lesson for Penn State: Call the cops!
A trusted adult, respected by the community, offers special programs for vulnerable boys -- then sexually abuses them. Word travels up to higher authorities but no one calls the police. They handle it within...
Sound familiar? It's the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal rewritten on a university campus.
 Grossman cites a statement by Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the website Bishop Accountability which archives documents related to the Catholic abuse scandal, in which she calls the Penn State story
...a disgrace and a tragedy. What's rare and encouraging in this case is that the grand jury chose to hold the enablers as well as the perpetrator accountable. Let's hope this trend continues. When managers in ALL institutions know they will be arrested for hiding sexual predators, children in our society will be much safer.

In Houston last week, a 32-year-old youth pastor at a Houston-area church was arrested, accused of raping a 16-year-old girl. Chad Foster is charged with sexual assault of a child.

The victim told investigators that she and Foster immediately became friends, and at some point, they exchanged phone numbers. She said they would communicate regularly via text messages.

 Then, in late July, the victim told investigators that their relationship became sexual at Foster’s home. The victim said she and Foster continued to have a sexual relationship through mid-October. 

The victim told investigators that Foster told her multiple times how important it was that they keep their relationship a secret, because of their age difference. She said Foster told her if anyone found out, he would be in legal trouble.

But in late October, the girl said she started feeling bad about her relationship with Foster, so she made an outcry to her Spanish teacher and another pastor at the church. They notified the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

It took great courage for this young girl to come forward and reach out for help. Thankfully, the adults in positions of trust that she told did not remain silent and look the other way which would have enabled the predator, harmed the victim and endangered more children. The teacher and pastor should be commended for notifying the police as required by law. This should be the rule, not the exception, so kids can be protected every time. 

Predators need secrecy and protection to do harm. The light of truth and knowledge is our most important tool in protecting kids.

Amy Smith
Houston SNAP 

UPDATE: Joe Paterno announced today, 11/9/2011, that he is leaving at the end of the season. Physician, author, and Washington Times columnist Milton Wolf writes:
How will he look his players in the eyes while they're huddled in the child rape rooms that they once considered to be their locker room? I'd bulldoze the place if I could, or at least gut it and rebuild. Exorcise the demons and start a new legacy in what was once a great program. The players and, even more so, the victims deserve that evil place to be destroyed.

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the Penn State scandal holds a lesson for Southern Baptists...story in the The Associated Baptist Press with my response.


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