For nearly a decade and a half, one of the most respected (all but canonized) men in America, the late Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, did all he could to protect himself, his program, and his employer from the potential scandal that would erupt if the world ever learned that Jerry Sandusky, his former assistant, had been sexually assaulting and raping one child after another on University property.
Coach Paterno and senior Penn State officials, up to and including University President Graham Spanier, conspired to cover-up the horrific crimes of Mr. Sandusky, effectively shielding this sexual predator from the authorities and allowing him continued access to their campus, university facilities, and, of course, a host of new victims, for many years to come (Paterno and his cohorts first learned of his assistant’s criminal conduct in 1998, per former FBI director Louis Freeh’s recently released, unremittingly damning, report).
In short, for a period of some 14 years, Joe Paterno and Penn State (from the highest echelons to the custodial staff, many of whom were reportedly well aware of this behavior) did next to nothing to prevent a known serial child predator from continuing to sexually assault and rape young boys, including repeatedly doing so on Penn State grounds. Per the reports I’ve seen, several of Sandusky’s victims were between the ages of 10 and 12 years old when he assaulted — or first assaulted — them. One victim was as young as eight, and the oldest was 17.
And now Penn State reportedly wants to take down Paterno’s statue. Well, of course they do, but, weighing the matter, I’m not so sure about that impulse. I mean, I understand where the suggestion is coming from: they’re embarrassed. All Pennsylvania wants this statue to go away; it’s become an ugly reminder of sullied “heroes” and a culture of official corruption at a beloved institution. I get that. In the wake of Freeh’s investigation and report, Paterno’s bronze, heroic image now recalls only Freeh’s assessment of “a striking lack of empathy” on the part of the coach and his fellow implicated university officials — a striking lack of empathy…
Well, no duh. But Mr. Freeh’s stricken observation begs the question: Just WHO does he think we are, today’s Americans? What, in his mind, are our values? How exactly does Joe Paterno’s conduct in any way stand out from the prevailing ethos of our leaders, institutions, and society? Does it?
Leaving Paterno’s statue where it stands could convey an important truth about America’s practiced (Realpolitik, dictator- and terrorist-supporting; elite-criminal pampering) values and the morality of the world today, a statement that I imagine would read something like this: “OURS IS A GOLDEN AGE FOR ELITE PREDATORS, GOOD OL’ BOYS, AND PLUNDERERS. IF THERE’S ANYTHING LEFT OF THE FUTURE WHEN WE’RE DONE, CARPE DIEM, KIDDOS. EMPATHY IS FOR THE WEAK.”
Now, there’s a credo for 21st-century America: “To hell with empathy, might makes right, and winners never lose!” Isn’t that what “American Exceptionalism” is all about: the frank, unembarrassed assertion that the United States is (and must remain) above the laws of God and man? Why do you think Liberia’s Charles Taylor gets dragged before the International Criminal Court while Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, and Condoleezza Rice walk free? Why is it that Wall St. financial giants can wantonly commit fraud on a huge scale (as standard practice, no less) and never once look back — never even face hard questions about their conduct, despite the fact that their reckless, rampant criminality depressed the global economy to the tune of $40 TRILLION — per Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges — creating unquantifiable misery in the world?
Moral relativism (ignoring our double standards) is essential to the American Exceptionalist position… It’s why some of our country’s most heinous criminals (Cheney, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein, etc.) walk around so smugly and boast that they’ve been doing “God’s work,” even as everything they’ve done is spectacularly exploding and their innumerable victims’ bodies (metaphorical and literal) are piling up all around them.
But this mentality goes well beyond America. The obvious recent corollary to the Penn State cover-up is the Vatican’s considerably (cosmologically?) larger scandal, the general outlines of which most everyone knows — nonetheless, I’ll reiterate the basics: for decades the Catholic Church hid, protected, and simply moved around thousands of child predators within their order, endangering innumerable children around the world and creating multitudes of victims, several thousand of whom have come forward with their grim stories (and lawsuits) in recent years.
Somewhat less common knowledge: the preponderance of evidence indicates that the current pope, Benedict XVI — as the scandal-squelching/predator priest-relocating Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, in 1979 and 1980 — took his first steps on the path toward becoming a) the top supervisor directing the Church’s handling of this burgeoning global scandal (a position he would hold over the next two decades, at least) and also, eventually, b) the actual, mother-lovin’, they-said-it-couldn’t-be-done, POPE (the divisive, hard-line, inflammatory/bigoted ex-member of the “Hitler Youth” actually became the friggin’ Pope! Apparently, Guardian of the Skeleton Closet is a very powerful position within that order, with surprising potential for advancement…).
Documents reported in The New York Times and elsewhere (see the previous linked article) reveal that Joseph Ratzinger was basically the “Joe Paterno” of the Catholic Church, only more so, covering up for thousands of Jerry Sandusky’s over a period of decades. And, like Paterno, Ratzinger had plenty of help, no shortage of other sets of “blind eyes” (for turning away) as he went about his filthy, self-serving/ass-covering task.
Next: Part II — LIBOR, Iraq-Syria, and Us: “A Striking Lack of Empathy” continued…