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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is the Penn State crisis important?

While I do not wish to minimize what has been happening with the Penn State sex abuse crisis, it should be seen not as an isolated issue, but as something that is representative of a larger issue. When does the interest of an institution precede the interests of a person? In essence, that is what the Penn State issue represents. Iy was more important to protect the image of the university by those who knew, then it was to protect the children involved - at least that is how it appears.

There were several people who knew. They didn't act to protect the children. Was it fear of what would happen to them? For the lowly janitor - perhaps. For others - that argument becomes less so. Yet, if we, as a society, truly seek to protect children, then should that not be the criteria as opposed to the reputation of an institution.

If Penn State were an isolated case, then one might be able to feel that they may not have known better (although that is a hard argument to make). But there have been decades of scandals that should have made it evident that protecting any individual who is offending, no matter how important that person is, should not be acceptable at the expense of a child.

Increasingly we see that institutions have not taken the steps needed to protect children. A combined CBC and Los Angeles Times story tells of Boy Scouts in Canada and the USA failing to protect children. The stories related to the Catholic Church are legion. Only last month Bishop Robert Finn was charged in the USA with covering up suspected child abuse. That is the point in the Penn State case - covering up child abuse and not taking responsibility for stopping it.

Yet attitudes around child abuse and sexual predation do not change easily. It is the leaders of institutions  who must take a stand and ensure that their organizations create a climate where the abuse can be reported with a faith that such a report will lead to action.

As I write this, I am reminded that as recently as a year ago, the Pope suggested that in the 1970s, pedophilia was in some way normal. The Pope indicated "In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children" 

Attitudes change slowly and Penn State gives us an opportunity to illustrate why these attitudes need to change.

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