“Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.” (Spoken by the mother of Vicitm 6 at the conclusion of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse trial)
The trial lasted only 10 days. The jury deliberated only 21 hours over two days. The sexual abuse (that was prosecuted) covered 15 years.
The jury convicted Sandusky on 45 of the 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Prosecutors identified 10 boys who were victimized by Sandusky (although many believe there were more).
Judge Freeh denounced the concealment by four top Penn State officials. The crowd outside the courtroom cheered at the announcement of the conviction. The streets and quads on Penn State campus were quiet. Victim 6 wept.
“Nobody wins” could not be truer. The cheering welcomed justice. A man who severely damaged the lives of at least ten boys and their families will receive just punishment for his perverse actions. Although that justice might console the victims, it will not erase the violation or the pain or the trauma of the perpetrator’s evil.
Jerry Sandusky also entered the loser’s column, along with his family and friends. He began losing the first time he failed to resist a deviant sexual desire, when he first defied his conscience and molested a child.
The four university officials lost on the day they decided not to report the witnessed sexual abuse of one of the trusted football coaches. They extended their losing streak each day they remained silent. They multiplied their loss last year when they lied about their actions after Sandusky’s sins became known.
One of those four officials who may have lost the most was Hall of Fame head football coach, Joe Paterno, aka JoePa among his ardent followers. Not only does he hold the record for NCAA Division I victories (409), but he also earned the highest respect from players, fans and coaches over his 46 years of coaching. This loss outweighs all those wins.
He lost that respect when Judge Freeh reported, “In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn Statute University … repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large.”
Paterno’s family, former players and supporters deny the allegations, but the evidence strongly supports Freeh’s conclusion. Not only did Paterno choose to ignore the witnesses and hide the facts, he lied about his involvement during an investigation that began in 2010. The Board of Trustees decided to fire Paterno last November, before he could complete the football season and retire. He died two months later of lung cancer. Many believe his statue outside the football stadium should be removed.
“Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.” Sexual abuse victims will testify to the lifelong suffering caused by that one wicked act against them. That same sin defeats the perpetrator, in a different way. Those complicit in the sinful act through their conscious choice to remain silent will suffer enormous loss as well, as indicated by the mangled reputation of a virtual hero.
All pain leaves scars. Scars are manageable. But if wounds go untreated, they can persist as a source of pain and trauma. The losses will only continue to compile as guilt, shame and bitterness ooze out of that wound like the puss from an infected sore.
Repentance and forgiveness. These twin ointments will clean out and disinfect any wound so that it can heal properly, usually with a scar. Repentance means a sincere change of heart, an acknowledgement and contrition of wrongdoing, usually accompanied by sorrow. Forgiveness means removing any personal demand for a penalty, granting a pardon, canceling a debt. These two virtues redeem the losses.
An angry mob of Pharisees threw a woman into the dirt at Jesus’ feet. Their law exacted the death penalty for her sin of adultery. With stones in their hands, they asked Jesus what he thought. They wanted to test Jesus. He tested them instead. He answered, “Let any of you who is without sin throw the first stone.” Completely befuddled, one by one they dropped their stones and left.
Jesus was not devaluing social law. People who commit crimes must be punished according to the severity of the crime. This is justice. But justice does not reverse the loss. It only penalizes the lawbreaker. It does not fix what is broken or heal the wound. It merely punishes.
Jesus knew that in a fallen world, we need more than justice. We need redemption. And redemption comes through repentance and forgiveness.
Cheers for the verdict against Sandusky echo Pharisaical dispassion. Only tears are appropriate. “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.” We are not without our own sins – perhaps not as severe, but destructive nevertheless. We need to look in the mirror more carefully before we cast the first stone or applaud a guilty verdict.
Justice may bring some degree of order to a broken society, but it will not bring healing or redemption. Repentance and forgiveness do that.