Unless you have been on another planet you have heard about this week's story from College Station, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. Volumes have been written and spoken about this tragic situation. I will try not to simply repeat what others have said but to offer a perspective that I have not heard.
Football fans are very familiar with the Penn State Nittany Lions that were ranked number 12 in the NCAA when this story broke. Last Saturday the team took the field for their game against Nebraska without Joe Paterno, their head coach for the past 46 years.
Folks who don't follow college football may not know that Paterno is a class of his own when it comes to winning football games, but they probably know that he lost his job last week and they know why.
The whole world knows that Jerry Sandusky, once the heir apparent to the head coach's job at this storied university, has been accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a fifteen year period. Some of the alleged incidents took place in the school's athletic facilities and questions have been raised about the way the situation was handled, or mishandled, by several school officials including Paterno.
The scandal that caused the Penn State trustees to fire the much beloved Paterno has been the lead story in just about every news broadcast and publication this past week. The fallout has resulted in the firing not only of JoePa, as the head coach is affectionately called, but the president Graham Spanier and two other top officials of the university have also lost their jobs. It is still possible that charges may be brought against some of them.
Assistant coach Mike McQueary, who said he witnessed and reported one incident of abuse, did not take part in Saturday's game against the University of Nebraska because of "multiple threats" against him. The lives of all the members of the football team, 96,000 PennState students, more than 500,000 alumni, and the families of all the persons named above have been dramatically affected.
Of course, the damage done to the alleged victims and their families cannot be measured.
Sandusky is accused of "finding his victims" through a program he established in 1977. The Second Mile started as a small home for six troubled boys outside State College and has grown to a statewide organization whose mission is to help "young people to achieve their potential as individuals and community members by providing opportunities for them to develop positive life skills and self-esteem." The website of that organization says that it "has helped thousands of Pennsylvania's children to lead better lives, and we remain committed to that mission."
The Second Mile may not survive this scandal and the needs of many children whom they serve will go unmet. Unfortunately, other worthwhile programs for vulnerable children will also suffer and lose support because of this betrayal of trust.
It is impossible to fully comprehend the scope of this tragedy and how many lives it impacts. The damage is enormous. Some of it may be irreparable. In addition to the terrible devastation suffered by individuals, institutional integrity has suffered a serious blow. A shadow has been cast upon the character of all persons engaged in helping ministries-secular or religious.
All of this is the result of charges against one person. It is a reminder that no person is an island. We do not live or die alone. Our actions and inactions affect countless lives for good or ill.
God help us to live as if God is right beside us at all times. Because God is!
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," November 14, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]