Sexual Abuse, abuse of power, and institutional self-preservation

As we learn more about what happened at Penn State, and people reflect more on the events and what they might mean, there have been a number of essays that examine some of the underlying issues that may have led to the apparent cover-up by Penn State officials.

Matt Feeney blames big-time college sports in general:

What happened at Penn State was the scheme of big-money college sports working as it was designed to work. The act of looking away, repeated by so many in State College, is the perfect emblem for the cognitive politics of the NCAA. It should be on their flag.

Katha Pollitt also blames college athletics, not only for the Penn State crimes, but for its effects on academia in general. She goes further, attacking the masculine privilege inherent in athletics today:

There really is a message here about masculine privilege: the deification of a powerful old man who can do no wrong, an all-male hierarchy protecting itself (hello, pedophile priests), a culture of entitlement and a truly astonishing lack of concern about sexual violence. This last is old news, unfortunately: sexual assaults by athletes are regularly covered up or lightly punished by administrations, even in high school, and society really doesn’t care all that much. A federal appeals court declared that a Texas cheerleader could be kicked off the squad (and made to contribute to the school’s legal costs) for refusing to cheer her rapist when he took the field—and he’d pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault too, so why was he even still playing?

Jane Leavy, whose earlier essay may be found here, writes an open letter to Mike McQueary. Commenting on all those who have vilified him for not taking stronger action, she points out that

When you were called to testify by the grand jury, you didn’t just expose a predator, Kohn pointed out. You exposed the morally lax administrators, directly contradicting the testimony of the now-fired university president, the vice president, and the athletic director. “But for McQueary, the coach [Sandusky] may still be there,” Kohn said. “The athletic department would be unchanged. That he didn’t throw himself under the bus doesn’t surprise me in the least. Look at the janitors. They didn’t tell anybody.”

I can’t help reading the Presiding Bishop’s statement about Bede Parry without thinking of Penn State. Bede Parry was a Roman Catholic priest and monk, accused of sexual misconduct and eventually released from the monastery (He has confessed to committing sexual abuse during the late 1970s). He found his way to the Episcopal Church and was received as a priest by Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori when she was Bishop of Nevada. News about this broke several months ago when one of his victims filed a lawsuit. There’s background here.

What I find surprising is the absence of a psychiatric evaluation in Parry’s process. The PB states that he was required to undergo medical and psychological evaluations and a background check. The canons for reception of a priest (as for ordination) also provide for “psychiatric referral if desired or necessary.” When I was in the ordination process, a psychiatric evaluation was required. Mine was somewhat perfunctory, but all of the necessary questions were asked, and one would think that a bishop would want to have as much information as possible, especially if someone had undergone treatment.

If true and there’s no reason to doubt her, the PB has done no wrong here. But waiting since the allegations were first made public in July, till now to make an official statement sends the wrong message. The impulse for institutional self-preservation should not silence the truth.

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