More than 100 years ago, English politician, historian and writer Lord Acton noted, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”Over the years, Acton's claim has often been wrongly attributed to famed leaders like John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill.
But he said it first, way back in the 19th Century. And the quote could not be more applicable, both at Penn State and beyond.
In Philadelphia on Tuesday, Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison after having been convicted of covering up child sex abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests. Lynn is the former secretary of the clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Evidence presented during Lynn's trial shows that he created a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct in 1994 after taking on the job of handling priest assignments and sexual abuse complaints.
Reportedly, Lynn's supervisor had the list destroyed, and Lynn decided to keep quiet in order to keep his job.
Unfortunately, the parallels between Lynn's case, related to the Catholic church, and the findings of the Freeh report, related to Penn State, are numerous. Most importantly, Lynn showed a complete disregard for the well being of innocent altar boys and other children associated with his parish.
Similarly, several Penn State administrators showed blatant disregard for the safety of the men Jerry Sandusky abused, according to the Freeh report.
Lynn followed the actions of his supervisor and chose not to question the inappropriate, immoral acts of the priests he managed.
The Freeh report suggests that Penn State administrators, following a decision made by Joe Paterno, also chose to ignore Sandusky's abusive behavior.
Both institutions failed to hold their highest leaders accountable for doing what was morally right.
Both promoted cultures of unchecked power, which overtook and covered up the horrors being committed.
Both allowed worries of overstepping misplaced authority to silence the plight of the innocent.
Given this, I cannot help but think that Lord Acton was right all those years ago: Power tends to corrupt.
While the abuse of authority does not always manifest itself in child abuse, corruption of power is certainly a recurring crime in our society.
I believe that the culture surrounding football at Penn State allowed Sandusky to silently prey on young boys. Yet I also believe that this culture is similar to that of other college campuses and is far too common in our world today.
We all find ourselves in moral dilemmas from time to time. These men — Monsignor Lynn, Joe Paterno, and other leaders of the church and Penn State —were confronted by high-stake situations.
None wanted to lose their jobs or tarnish the reputation of their institutions. At the same time, all surely knew what the right action would have been.
Unfortunately, it appears all chose to do the exact opposite.
We, as a public force, need to be more vigilant.
We need to check the power of our leaders and ensure that authority is not abused.
It would be naïve to say that the world is black and white and that simply being watchful of our leaders will solve these kinds of problems.
But if we can challenge ourselves to go out on a limb and do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and hold those with power accountable for their actions, we will be that much closer to preventing these sins from happening in the future.
This part of history needs to stop repeating itself.
Liz Bravacos is a sophomore majoring in marketing and psychology and she is the Collegian's Friday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.