A Penn State-inspired exam . . . of conscience

Jesus may have weighed in on the Penn State scandal in last Sunday’s Gospel.

“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” said Jesus in his story of the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats on judgment day.

Most of us readily understand sins of commission. We did something wrong. We lied. We acted in a harmful way. We crossed a line.

Sins of omission are harder to define and weigh, both spiritually and legally. They can seem like blaming the witness for the car accident. That’s why some muster sympathy for legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. After all, on one side of the scale is all the good he’s done — both on and off the field — over a career spanning six decades. And yet, at age 84, he lost his job and a good deal of his reputation not for a wrongful act on his part, but for something he allegedly failed to do.

According to a grand jury report, Paterno and three other university officials failed to notify police after a graduate assistant coach witnessed another coach sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the school’s football facility in 2002.

Think of that boy and other potential future victims as Jesus, or your own son or daughter, and you get a better idea of the potential gravity of a sin of omission.

The Catholic Church is all too familiar with such failures among a few in its own ranks. Along with society — and in many cases, ahead of it — we’ve learned a lot. The policies and procedures of the Diocese of Peoria could not be clearer about the obligation to report any suspected sexual misconduct against a minor by any personnel of the diocese.

May we never be put in such a position. But life provides regular opportunities to be goat-like for failing Jesus in “the least of these.”

For example, we all know where abortion clinics are located in our region. Do we look the other way, or do we take action such as those who just completed the “40 Days for Life” campaign?

As a student, have we seen a classmate teased or bullied and done nothing?

Do we have a family member or neighbor who has become an inactive Catholic, yet we never engage them about it?

Food pantries are seeing record lines in these difficult economic times. Have we fed the hungry, thirsty, or lonely Jesus in our communities, or are we too distracted to notice them?

The Penn State scandal, as well as Jesus’ warning about failure to act, should prompt a much lengthier examination of our own consciences. — Thomas J. Dermody

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