People are rightly shocked over how somebody like then-grad student Mike McQueary found a man raping a child, then walked away and called his daddy to tell him what to do. That, to me, is the most shocking thing of all here. But another factor that we’ll need to think about in the days and weeks to come is the extent to which the leadership at Penn State — Paterno and others in senior authority — helped create a culture of cover-up. Remember that the janitors who claim to have caught Sandusky sodomizing a child on another occasion were afraid to report it for fear of losing their jobs.
It all goes back to leadership, and the tone leaders set. Take, for example, the case of Jon Conley, as told by Jason Berry. Excerpt:
But choosing [William Cardinal] Levada to bring justice to the Vatican was always problematic, given his record as archbishop of San Francisco and before that, Portland, Ore. Levada used the same tactics of other bishops in sheltering perpetrators, which spurred civil lawsuits and bad headlines. Moreover, Levada stands alone among American bishops in having been sued, successfully, by a whistle-blowing priest, Jon Conley, who reported another priest to the police for making sexual advances on a teenage boy. Father Conley received a six-figure settlement from the archdiocese. Conley’s struggle offers a cameo of what’s wrong in the Vatican today.
Conley, now 66, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Michigan who decided on a career change in the late 1980s, and entered seminary in San Francisco. In 1997, as he entered his rectory, he saw the pastor, Father Gregory Aylward, crawling toward the back door. A flustered 14-year-old boy had just resumed his post as phone receptionist. Suspecting the boy was too embarrassed to admit that the priest had been making sexual advances, Conley met with an auxiliary bishop (Levada was out of town) who told him, “We usually keep these things in-house.” As a former prosecutor, Conley knew that this was wrong, and that it was illegal. He personally notified the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office, which ordered an investigation.
Apparently frightened by the questioning of the police, the boy initially said he and Aylward were wrestling. No charges were filed. Conley nonetheless told the chancery he couldn’t live with a man he considered to be a pedophile, and moved into a hotel. A chancery priest told Conley not to say “pedophile” or mention the accusations to anyone. The boy quit his rectory job. Conley met the family. The mother wept, saying she just couldn’t force her son to testify about Aylward’s advances, which had been going on for months. When Conley met with Archbishop Levada and a chancery monsignor, he knew the archdiocese was closing the wagons around Aylward.
When I interviewed Conley in 2005 for San Francisco Magazine, he told me that Levada used the word “calumny” when discussing the accusations against Aylward. Since a monsignor was also present, taking notes, Conley pulled out a tape recorder to avoid being set up as a scapegoat. “You don’t trust me?” said Levada. Ordered to turn off the tape recorder, Conley refused, he said. “I’m placing you on administrative leave,” said Levada. “Think about obedience.”
Read the whole thing. A similar principle is at issue in the upcoming criminal trial of Msgr William Lynn here in Philadelphia. The prosecution alleges that it has evidence Msgr Lynn punished two parish priests who tried to blow the whistle on clerical sex abusers.
This mentality, of course, is by no means unique to the Church, as I suspect we will be finding out as the Penn State scandal unfolds. Whether it’s in government, church, academia, corporations, or within a family, if those in authority signal that wrongdoing is to be kept under wraps, and people who speak out against it will be punished, then cancer is going to eat away at that organization until it metastasizes without warning.