Blame for Alleged Sex Abuse Extends Beyond Happy Valley

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Nov. 16, 2011

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On Saturday, as the clock struck noon at Beaver Stadium, both the good and the bad sides of Penn State were on display. Inside the towering football cathedral—where more than 100,000 Nittany Lions worshippers gathered for the first game of the post-Paterno era—a row of shirtless guys with letters painted on their chests spelled out the words “For the Kids.” At midfield prior to kickoff, Penn State and Nebraska players converged for a moment of silence and prayer for the young boys former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping and molesting over the course of a decade, perhaps much longer. Tears flowed from the crowd and the TV cameras transmitted what seemed like genuine sadness and compassion, even remorse, to the rest of the country.

Outside the stadium, it was an uglier scene. Thirty-four-year-old John Matko, a 2000 Penn State graduate, stood in the middle of the closed-off street as thousands of PSU fans—many clad in some version of a “We Love Joe” T-shirt—milled around, many gawking at him. Matko held two hand-scrawled signs. One bore the Albert Einstein quote, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing.” The other demanded PSU “honor the abused kids by canceling this game and the season NOW.”

Students, alumni and others—and not just a handful of “rotten eggs” but literally several hundred people over the course of half an hour—spit on Matko, dumped beer on him, shoved middle fingers in his face, called him a “fucking pussy,” “faggot,” and a “piece of shit,” and yelled at him to “get the fuck out of here.” They slapped and punched his signs, occasionally knocking them to the ground. Each time, Matko slowly bent down and picked them up. One guy got inches from Matko’s face and barked “We Are!” as his buddies laughed. It was like a public flogging, and through it all Matko remained silent and just took it. “I knew I was gonna be outnumbered today, but I didn’t know quite how much,” Matko said. “I was part of this community and I know how narrow-minded everybody is around here, and they still don’t get it.”

The reality is that the good and bad have always co-existed here. But for too long many of us in Pennsylvania have fetishized the good and turned Penn State into a fantasyland of virtue.

It’s what a lot of us do. We elevate certain select institutions to an unimpeachable plane. Maybe it’s a reaction to all the day-to-day shittiness we experience—the cheating, the lying, the indecency, the brutality, the letdowns. We’re desperate for something we can believe in.

For a long time, Joe Paterno made it easy for us to believe in Penn State. Under his watch, PSU football wasn’t just about winning—and they won a lot—it was about winning the right way. Squeaky clean. Honor and integrity above all. We lauded Paterno’s “Grand Experiment.” And then many PSU devotees deified him, beatified his program and extended that mythology across Happy Valley—making the whole joint into some sort of ridiculous, abstract ideal where good was magnified and bad essentially banished (nevermind the rampant drunken idiocy and culture of sexual aggression, hallmarks of any large state university). A place where evil couldn’t possibly lurk.

Precisely the kind of environment where a child predator seeks to hang his hat.

The grand jury report makes it clear that Sandusky affixed himself to the Paterno/PSU shine that we helped create and exploited it for his own heinous purposes. Since the scandal came to light, scores of people who’ve crossed paths with Sandusky over the years have said they once believed him to be a profoundly decent man. Saintly, even. Despite Sandusky’s deep involvement with Second Mile—the foundation for troubled boys he founded in 1977 and is alleged to have mined for victims—how many authorities, agencies, colleagues and parents never even thought to take a close, hard look at this man entrusted with thousands of young boys because of that godlike PSU aura? How many background checks skipped, encounters unsupervised, warning signs disregarded, allegations dismissed because “that kind of thing could never happen here” or “Penn State would never associate with that type of person”?

Those who have put PSU on a hallowed pedestal helped create the conditions that enabled the sexual abuse.

Many of us have given our blind reverence and trust to other institutions, too.

The grand jury report released last February that implicated numerous priests and high-ranking Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials in a massive pedophilia scandal is as sickening and heartbreaking as the Sandusky report.

Yet many still view the church and its clergy as beyond reproach. So much so that, according to the grand jury report, the parents of one 14-year-old boy who detailed his rape by the Rev. James J. Brennan rejected their son’s account because Brennan was “a pillar of the community” (even though an Archdiocesan investigator found Brennan’s denials not credible).

It’s happened before. With the Boy Scouts. With USA Swimming. With military academies like the Citadel. The list shouldn’t be longer, but it is.

Everyone should be appalled, but no one should be shocked, when these types of child molestation debacles erupt. Once and for all, though, we need to heed the obvious lessons: That the places we say we least expect these things to occur should be the places we most expect them to occur. That nothing is sacred. That no one is above having a bright light shined on their activities. That we have to demand and engage in intense scrutiny and supervision with every adult we entrust with our young boys and girls. No one’s advocating paranoia, but surely we’re best off—as Lenin and Reagan put it—when we “trust, but verify.”

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:01AM

“Wkhat happened to the moral compass of Penn State -- The trustees who ignored the report, the coaches who heard the gossip, and the students who rioted? Especially the rioting students -- unbelievable. Penn State receives $70 million from their athletic program. And Is this what's its all about ?? Is anyone examining what's is going on with the female athletic and sports programs?? This is shocking that it took years for these incidents to be examined.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:40AM

“Time to shine the total review process on the totality of PSU Athletics as well as all fundraising activities. Nothing should be sacred.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:32PM

“Thank you for your witness John Matko! What an absolutely disgusting display by those who chose to physically atttack you. Where are their morals and concerns for what is really important: - that these children who were already victims were apparently victimized once again. God help us if this unruly mob is typical of what to expect from PSU devotees.”

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4. Lynn Pilmaier said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 09:36AM

“Thank Mr. Matko for your bravery in standing outside the stadium. My son was abused by our parish priest at the age of 7, no one who knew about this man's abuse was strong enough or brave enough or had the moral virtue to protect this child. Years after the truth has been exposed, few stand with us now. It is extremely painful to witness the crowds of supporters for Penn State and Sandusky knowing the life long suffering this man, and those who allowed the rape of vulnerable, innocent children, have caused. Thank you dear man for standing up, for giving a voice to those who can't speak, for giving us a glimmer of true bravery and strength, you have no idea how your actions affect those of us who have been hurt by the criminal acts of sexual abuse. Thank you.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 11:46AM

“Don't forget the public schools. There are stories in the news every day about teachers, coaches, and others getting arrested for abusing students, but for some reason they don't evoke the same outrage. The practice of shuffling problem teachers from school to school or district to district is so common it has its own name, passing the trash. Abuse in public schools is much more common than abuse by clergy, Boy Scouts, coaches, etc.”

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6. mike ference said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 02:51PM

“Is Pennsylvania a Pro-Pedophile State?
You be the judge
By Mike Ference

How many grand jury investigations need to be held in PA before the lives of innocent children are deemed more precious and important than dysfunctional sex freaks from the ranks of PA catholic clergy and hierarchy? This article was written almost three years ago. How many survivors of clergy abuse in PA could have been changed for the better; if only some one in PA government actually did their job. Kudos to Seth Williams, the District Attorney of Philadelphia; just for the record, I’m a security guard making $8.50 an hour.

Here’s the link:

Former PA State Rep. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny County, held a press conference on May 12, 2008 in Harrisburg, PA to discuss legislation known as the Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania, which addressed statute of limitations and identifying sex abusers.

If the bill had passed, it would have changed the age at which a civil suit could have been filed from until the accuser is 30 to 50, bringing the civil statute of limitations in line with the criminal statute. The bill would also have suspended the civil statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases in which the statute had expired so that people over the age limit could file a suit. And it would have allowed the filing of such actions against child sex abusers and their enablers in both public and private institutions.

According to Bennington, it was the private institutions (like in Ireland) where offenders were allowed to move on and continue with their lives. “Their victims left behind to pick up the pieces, never getting their day in court and or a chance to see justice carried out. They live with this horrific crime for the rest of their lives,” she pointed out.

A 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report uncovered 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who had abused hundreds of children over several decades. In some cases, archdiocese leaders intentionally concealed the abuse to protect the church.

And Bennington stressed, her bill did not target the Catholic Church. Rather, “it pertains to all religious institutions, public schools, youth groups and any organization where child sex abuse has occurred. It would have given all Pennsylvania victims their fundamental right to hold those accountable that afflicted or allowed the abuse to occur.

Sounds reasonable and seems like a good thing. Similar legislation has passed in California and Delaware in recent years. In California, about 1,000 victims came forward and 300 predators were identified. Yet, there’s one PA lawmaker who strongly opposed the legislation and never even intended to give the bill a hearing.

State Rep. Thomas R.Caltagirone D., (Berks County), the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said the proposed bill was driven by victims’ desire to win large legal payouts. Caltagirone goes on to say the bill is all about money, not about justice.

Ironically, Caltagirone was quick to vote with fellow legislators for a 50 percent increase in their pensions in 2001 and the infamous middle of the night pay raise in 2005. The state rep along with other lawmakers chose to take the self-induced pay grab immediately in unvouchered expenses. Many PA residents felt this made the elected officials look like money-hungry crooks, as it was eventually declared unconstitutional.

As expected, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference deplored the bill. Choosing to continue to protect perverted priests, rather than seek justice. Likewise, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania was also against the bill. And, while Caltagirone officially declared the legislation dead, his puppy-protection HB 39 bill – which would forbid dog owners from performing surgery on their pups – is still very much alive.

As someone who has been investigating clergy abuse in Pennsylvania for almost 20 years, this writer can’t help but think that something is amiss in the commonwealth – just like things were amiss in Ireland.

On the eastern side of Pennsylvania the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office issued a scathing report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the high level of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and the cover ups and the reassigning of credibly accused Catholic priests by Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol and their aides. It should be noted that Bevilacqua first served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese before his transfer to Philadelphia. Insiders claim Bevilacqua left his successor, Donald Wuerl, quite a mess.

For example, while Bevilacqua was still assigned to the Pittsburgh Diocese he agreed to place Fr. John P. Connor, an admitted child molester first within the Pittsburgh Diocese and later, after Bevilacqua took over in Philadelphia Fr. Connor was assigned there. According to testimony in the Philadelphia Grand Jury the arrangement was based on a “tradition of bishops helping bishops.” Sadly, Fr. Connor went on to abuse others and Bevilacqua was found to be a liar according to the grand jury report.

One has to wonder why the Pittsburgh Diocese voluntarily settled with 32 alleged survivors of clergy abuse. $1.25 million for crimes the Pittsburgh Diocese will never have to admit ever occurred. The settlement would not tarnish the stellar reputation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl who never had to pay a dime of diocese money to any clergy abuse victims during his tenure as bishop in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Oddly enough, an underling – so to speak – Auxiliary Bishop Bradley reconciled the situation, only weeks before Bishop David Zubik was to be installed as the new leader of the diocese. So it seems everything fell into place.

32 survivors received a few bucks, the diocese is off the hook for any future civil or maybe even criminal suits based on the settlement. Wuerl continues to do in Washington D.C. whatever it is that Archbishops do and Zubik was allowed to get a fresh start in the Pittsburgh Diocese without the interference of those civil suits that were resting in limbo for several years.

The settling of the civil suits certainly allowed for an impressive and dignified installation of Bishop Zubik, no hecklers or demonstrators from any groups with compassion for children sexually abused by Catholic priests.

And, although I have no proof, nor anyway to calculate, I would be willing to bet the farm that more money was spent on Zubik’s festivities than was awarded to 32 survivors of alleged abuse by Catholic priests from the Pittsburgh Diocese. No big deal, the worst is over.

Unless of course, somewhere down the road – maybe a year, a few months, a couple of weeks, or perhaps in the next few days – information turns up that the cases of sexual abuse actually occurred and that cover ups were the norm in the Pittsburgh Diocese just like cover ups and shifting priests from parish to parish was the norm in the archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Anyone with a little common sense would be concerned that a man of the cloth might be tempted to hide crimes of clergy sexual abuse of young children only on the eastern side of the commonwealth of PA and not the western side as well.

That’s a lot of ifs ands or buts – only time will tell if Pennsylvania is indeed a pro-pedophile state. For now, we can only laud former Rep Bennington for trying to make a difference in the lives of those sexually, physically and emotionally abused as children; as for Rep. Caltagirone – one politician who obviously cares more about puppies than children – maybe it’s time for the law maker to rollover and play dead.

Mike Ference has been an advocate for clergy sex abuse survivors for over 21 years. He has written about the problem and works with clergy abuse families in Pennsylvania and across the United States helping victims work through the corrupt bureaucratic maize of injustice. He attributes much of the problem to corrupt leaders in government, organized crime and Catholic Church hierarchy more concerned about power and money than the salvation of souls. He has labeled the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a Pro-pedophile state where Catholic clergy sex abuse cover-ups are still the norm. Mike can be reached at 412-233-5491 or email him at

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 03:58PM

“guys with no shirts on "for the children" painted on there chests (not sure that was a good idea). But John Matko you got heart, the people giving you a hard time nothing but garbage.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Nov 20, 2011 at 01:56PM

“What is the difference between Bishop Sandusky and Coach Zubik?
Nothing, they are both pedophiles that use the laws of this state to protect themselves, and the cloak of their leadership to prey on little boys, they use our money to get away with it. I think they both went to "Bring em young" University!”

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9. Anonymous said... on Dec 8, 2011 at 12:08PM

“The District Attorney can't match the accusation to the evidence. The single accuser's story changed repeatedly. The accuser tried to duck police investigators unsuccessfully initially. The accuser has agreed to keep away from the bishop in the future. The police found nothing. The accuser has a host of problems. The DA called the charges false and outrageous. Bishop Zubik self-reported the charges to police.

...and you can't see any difference between Bishop Zubik and Coach Sandusky. hmmmm... I think I understand....”


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