As Penn State University struggles to do major damage control in the wake of charges of sexual abuse of eight boys by a former defensive football coach, Jerry Sandusky, and of the resulting firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, state lawmakers are seeking to introduce legislation to tighten Pennsylvania’s laws about reporting child abuse. State Rep. Kevin Boyle, Democrat-Philadelphia, has announced a plan to that would require school officials to report allegations of sexual abuse of children to the police.
In a statement, Boyle noted that his legislation would close a current “loophole” as it would require “those who are aware of the abuse to report it to law enforcement authorities, rather than simply following an in-house chain of command.” In 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary said that he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the showers of the Penn State football facilities. McQueary reported what he had seen to Paterno, who then notified athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz. The two administrators in turn notified university president Graham Spanier, but none reported what had happened to the police.
Curley and Schultz have been charged with lying to the grand jury about what they knew from what McQueary reported to them. McQuery, who has received threats, has been placed on administrative leave by the university. A Penn State janitor also testified that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a child but, according to the grand jury report, did not report the abuse because he was afraid of losing his job.
Paterno has not been charged with any crimes but it is an understatement to say that his legacy as the “winningest coach” in college football history has been darkened. On Monday, the Big Ten Conference said that it would remove Paterno’s name from its football championship trophy:
“We believe that it would be inappropriate to keep Joe Paterno’s name on the trophy,” conference Commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. “The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and aspirational, not controversial.”
State Sen. Wayne Fontana, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, is also planning to ask Senate leaders to move a bill that he first introduced in 2005. This bill would amend state law so that any professional who works with children must report child abuse to police.
Pennsylvania Must Change Laws About Reporting Child Sexual Abuse
According to an an Associated Press review, 40 states already have such laws about reporting child abuse. Speaking on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican — and the attorney general when the investigation of the sex scandal involving Sandusky began — said “Should the law be changed? Absolutely.”
In July, the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia replaced Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has been engulfed by the priest sex abuse scandal, with the Rev. Charles J. Chaput of Denver. In February, the district attorney of Philadelphia had issued a 124-page report which said that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had failed to stop the sexual abuse of children, more than five years after a previous report that documented abuse by more than 50 priests. Msgr. William Lynn, the secretary of clergy under Rigali’s predecessor, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, had allowed as many as 37 priests to remain in their posts—where they still had access to children—even after charges of abuse had been made public. From 1992 to 2004, Msgr. Lynn had been responsible for investigating abuse allegations, but he has now himself been charged with endangering the welfare of minors.
Given this history, why has it taken so long for Pennsylvania to change its laws about the reporting of child abuse?
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