As regular readers of this blog know by now, it has several recurring themes. One of these is the ways in which at least some of the time, the law rides to the rescue. It speaks for followers first by pursuing bad leaders and then by prosecuting them – in a court of law.
Had the last week or two not be so full of sound and fury – Hurricane Sandy, the presidential election, not to speak of Petreus unzipped – the story of Graham Spanier would have got more attention. Spanier is the former president of Pennsylvania State University, who last week was charged with conspiring to cover up child abuse allegations against his long-time football coach, Jerry Sandusky. In brief, now that Sandusky has been convicted on 45 counts of molestation and put away for life, the long arm of the law has reached out to try to nail those up top, whose interest was in protecting him as opposed to the general welfare.
The parallels between this case and that of the Catholic Church are striking. Both the Church and the University had a vested interest in stasis rather than in change, in business as usual rather than risking disruption and diminution. The Church hierarchy was hell bent on securing its religious authority. The University was hell bent on securing its equally sacred status in Division I college athletics – which, it is widely agreed, has become a “frantic, money-oriented” enterprise that “defies responsibility and dominates the structure of big-time football and basketball.”*
But, in cases of child molestation, the law is much more aggressive now than once it was. A decade ago it played a central role in finally building a case against the Boston Archdiocese, so that Pope John Paul II was ultimately obliged to remove to Rome the resident Cardinal, Bernard Law. And now, in 2012, it is charging Penn State’s erstwhile president with, in addition to conspiracy, failure to report a crime, obstruction of justice, perjury, and endangering the welfare of children. Each count is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
In the old days, Spanier would have got away with doing nothing when he should’ve been doing something. He never would have been prosecuted for being a Bystander. But the old days are no longer. On the matter of child abuse, the law has become more dependably the voice of the people.
* The quote is from the 2012 report of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. I am grateful to John Hargrove for his assist with this story.