Ross Douthat’s column is a knockout.  He says that Joe Paterno reminds him of Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, in that they were both proven good men who at some point started to believe in their own goodness, and the rightness of their mission — and ended up thinking that the institution was the most important thing of all. (Castrillon Hoyos, in case you’re unfamiliar with him, achieved infamy for a letter he wrote to a French bishop praising him for going to jail for concealing a priest’s child molestation from the authorities). Excerpt:

The best piece about Darío Castrillón Hoyos was written by the Catholic essayist John Zmirak, and his words apply to Joe Paterno as well. Sins committed in the name of a higher good, Zmirak wrote, can “smell and look like lilies. But they flank a coffin. Lying dead and stiff inside that box is natural Justice … what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt.”

No higher cause can trump that obligation — not a church, and certainly not a football program. And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark.

Incredibly powerful words, especially coming from a believing Catholic like Ross. Awesome.

And please do read the forceful and convicting essay by my friend John Zmirak, also a faithful, believing Catholic. This part is especially good, and it applies to Paterno as well:

What are we to make of the behavior of men we might broadly admire, such as the cardinal, when it seems so… inexplicable, inexcusable? In the case of most bishops who shuffled sex offenders around, Philip Lawler’s solemn verdict seems inescapable: These were worldly men who loved bricks, mortar, and infrastructure too much, and who cared for souls too little. As he wrote in the decade’s one indispensable Catholic book, The Faithful Departed, we really have been “running out of millstones.” But we can’t hang one on Cardinal Castrillón – nor certainly on the magnanimous and ascetical John Paul.

There’s something else going on. As Dorothy Sayers once observed of Goethe’s Faust, “He is much better served by exploiting our virtues than by appealing to our lower passions.”