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Paterno’s Millstone: A Wake-Up Call for Churches, Communities, Schools

By November 10, 2011 One Comment

I began my day yesterday talking about pastoral care in the midst of grief and loss with twenty-nine seminary students. I ended my day reading articles about Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and the toppling of the iconic establishment known as Penn State football. 

From late afternoon to late last night, the news reports went from “Paterno to step down at the end of the year” to “Paterno is finished now;” from “Sandusky accused of raping boy in locker room shower” to “Sandusky arrested on forty criminal accounts of sexual abuse of minors.”

 For many, their world has been rocked: students, staff, faculty at Penn State; the entire community of State College; football fans across the country; to mention a few.  The aftereffects of shock, dismay, disbelief, disgust, along with denial, minimization, justification, and fierce loyalty will be felt for a long time to come.

Far more horrific, however, are the aftereffects that are being borne daily in the bodies and souls of the victims—young boys, now probably grown men, marked with the indelible imprint of things not chosen of their own accord. Things like post-traumatic stress, generalized anxiety, depression, crippling shame, flashbacks, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, and the inability to trust or develop long-lasting intimacy. These are the consequences of Paterno’s decision to turn a blind eye (if it’s true that he did so); these are the fruits of an institution that valued its image over the well-being and nurture of those who are most vulnerable. (And just to be clear, witnessing abuse or knowing about abuse and doing nothing to stop it, is abuse.)

We would all do well to heed Jesus’ warning at the beginning of Matthew 18:

“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (v. 6).

Jesus spoke these words after saying that a child, who may very well have been sitting on his lap, epitomizes God’s kingdom. Jesus identified himself with the child—“if you care for a little one, a vulnerable child, it is the same thing as caring for me.  If you want to see something of God, if you want to see true humanity, look at this child.”

Privacy laws will rightly keep us from seeing the faces of those who were abused (yes, allegedly) by Sandusky, Paterno, and the Penn State machine.  But there are similar faces all around us: in the pew next to us; in the office down the hall; in the youth group; in the pastoral care class; in the house next door.  Will we see them? Will we wake up from our bleary-eyed slumber and really see them and see God in them?

Today, I pray that the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes.” For true seeing can only lead to action, the kind of action committed to making-justice and working for healing, the kind of action that participates in God’s work in the world.  


Recommended resources:

Bass, Ellen and Laura Davis. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 4th ed. (Harper Collins, 2008)

Faith Trust Institute,

Fortune, Marie. “Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting: a Clergy Dilemma? ng.pdf

Hunter, Mic. Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse (Ballantine, 1990)

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