The Church of the Happy Valley

Print More

Writing about the Penn State sexual abuse coverup scandal over at, E.D. Kain raises the Catholic church analogy only to dismiss it.

In the Catholic Church, perhaps the worst of the sexual scandal
reported outside of the Irish fiasco took place within the secretive,
almost cult-like, Legion of Christ. At its epicenter was the Legion’s
founder, the now-disgraced Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado. The secrecy
and the cult-like power that Degollado held over his followers made
sexual abuse that much more likely to occur and made his victims and
witnesses to his crimes that much less likely to come forward.

But a sports team is not a cult, and Penn State is not some extreme
religious order tucked away in a far-off country, protected by a
powerful Pope. The head of the program, legendary coach Joe Paterno,
isn’t even a suspect.

But the analogy is worth taking seriously. For we’re not just talking about the normal self-protective crouch that institutions go into when one of their leaders does wrong. Nor just about the financial stakes.

As anyone who has ever visited State College, Pa. knows, Penn State football is a cult, a pilgrimage site complete with shrines and devotees and rituals. You can find similar ones in other university towns, be the institution of higher learning public or private. Among the hierarchs, to be sure, few have ever reached the power and status of the Nittany Lions’ Joe Paterno–the closest thing to a permanent icon in American sports history.

The scandals that regularly arise in such cults tend to be about money–usually having to do with the recruitment and care of the athletes–with sex thrown in when the athletes misbehave. That this one involves protection of an important assistant coach who reportedly liked to rape boys is incidental. The issue has to do with the imperatives governing institutions that are endowed with existential significance, whose success–even survival–depends on maintaining the allegiance of the devotees. Calls for reform–greater transparency and accountability–are all well and good. But at bottom, it is the religious character of these institutions that, again and again, impels them so determinedly to cover up their sins.

  • mike ference

    I recently sent this message to the entire legal department at the University of Pittsburgh as well as the public relations department at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The next scandal to break in PA concerning the cover-up of crimes against innocent children will include: University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Pittsburgh Diocese, and many, many more.
    For more information, contact:
    Mike Ference
    The Last Call: September Protests to “Out” Local Abusers and Sympathizers
    Pittsburgh, PA – September 4, 2011 – Well-known local activist Mike Ference will stage a series of protests beginning Sunday, 11:00 am, September 11, the 10th anniversary of 911 and targeting local institutions and individuals associated with the abuse of children and young adults.
    “For two decades I have called on certain institutions and individuals to come forward and take responsibility for their roles — active or passive — in child sex abuse,” Ference explains. “This is the last call — if they don’t do the right thing in the next couple weeks, then I will ‘out’ them at a series of protests where I will publicize incriminating details from my 22-year investigation of such cases. Abusers who have harmed children and individuals who knowingly covered up the crimes will be named — I want everyone in our community to know who the bad guys are.”
    Ference began his investigation in 1989 after his son was shot on a school bus by a boy who then committed suicide. Although grateful that his son survived, Ference was disturbed that an investigation into the shooting was quashed or botched at every turn. Agreeing that the case had been prematurely closed by the McKeesport police, William Scully, then Public Safety Director in Clairton, gave Ference notes on the case and encouraged him to continue investigating on his own. A central starting point was the possibility that the shooter had been sexually abused by a local Catholic priest.
    Ference’s initial investigation has inspired a lifetime of activism against child sexual abuse and cover-ups. He has written extensively on the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, and has consistently emphasized that such abuse can’t happen without a lot of other community stakeholders “looking the other way.”
    “This is the last call for the Pittsburgh Diocese and its syndicate of dysfunctional sex freaks who have exploited children and teenagers for decades,” Ference says. “It’s the last call for the hospitals and other institutions who helped cover up crimes against innocent children. It is time for elected officials and law enforcement to stand up and protect our children instead of the Catholic church hierarchy, Sicilian mobsters and corrupt political leaders.”
    The first protest is scheduled for 11:00 am, September 11, on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Ference believes that Oakland, Shadyside and the surrounding areas have been prominent spots for Pittsburgh Catholic clergy to abuse children and teenagers.
    Additional protests are in the planning stage. Ference says UPMC Hospital in Oakland is a likely site because of its handling of a clerical abuse case involving Greg Witkowski. He is also considering the police departments and municipal buildings of McKeesport, Clairton, and West Mifflin, which were all central in his initial investigation. District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were also mentioned as stakeholders who have been more interested in protecting the church hierarchy than punishing abusers and defending children.
    For more information on the September 11 protest or other upcoming events, call Mike Ference at 412-233-5491, or email