Freeh indeed! Penn State sex scandal and implications for the church
The release of the Freeh report earlier today has focused attention once again to the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. According to the 267-page report authored by former FBI director Louis Freeh who was hired by Penn State trustees to investigate, university officials at the highest level, including revered coach Joe Paterno, used their influence to cover up Sandusky’s abuse of boys both at his home and on campus.
This report is certain to start a new wave of discussion about a topic we would all rather avoid. But, maybe that’s why Penn State officials chose the “head in the sand” management method. Even the church—or it may be more correct to say especially the church—would rather avoid such stomach-turning discussions as child sex abuse.
My purpose is not to provide yet another exposé on Penn State, Sandusky and the Freeh report. Rather, my aim is to remind churches of three important realities every church must consider:
First, as horrible as they are, we have learned from the troubles of the Catholic Church that these kinds of demeaning and destructive acts happen even in churches. And not in Catholic Churches only. My father was a deacon in a small town Baptist church in rural Missouri when they called a new pastor. These salt-of-the-earth folks are not only good hearted, they are also naïve to the ways of sexual perversion. They were shocked out of their innocence, however, when someone from Arkansas called to say that their pastor had been guilty of child molestation in that state prior to moving north.
A second reality is that churches need to develop and adhere to policies that protect both children from abuse and staff members from false accusation. As a former pastor myself, I know how diligently 99.9%* of pastors work to strengthen and protect their flocks from all harm. Still, the terror created in children and the long-term damage done to them (not to mention the damage done to churches) by the .1%* requires that churches be careful in selecting pastors and staff members.
Finally, if the unthinkable does happen, transparency is the only appropriate action. Churches naturally want to protect the reputation of the church and to keep the kingdom of Christ from being damaged by public exposure of such evil immorality within itself. Adding to the reluctance to be open is the desire to protect the victims. While the latter is desirable , choosing to cover up something like this is to invite the kind of retribution the Catholic Church has experienced and that Penn State is certain to undergo now.
There is a place where this kind of malevolence never occurs, where nothing happens that shouldn’t, where people are not victims of the perversions of others or of their own immoral longings. But that place is not in this world, but he next. Until we take up residence there, we must be vigilant.
*These figures are my own indicating, simply that a only a tiny minority of pastors and staff members are guilty of such abuse.