For Pete’s Sake, What happened at Penn State and What can we do about it?


In the recent weeks after the allegations against former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky have come to light, the victims still remain in the dark.  It’s not an easy issue to discuss or admit to the world.  But with 10,667 individuals who had made allegations of child sexual abuse against the Catholic Church in the United States by June 2002 alone (according to the John Jay Report), we have an unfortunate amount of sexual abuse victims who have voices and can speak for these victims until they are ready.

I spoke to one who read the Grand Jury Report and he responded, “just like old times.”  He was so familiar with this Penn State case and yet for the rest of us, it was horrifying and shocking to read.  His interview is below and sheds light on predators, the victims and how this happens.  But, with 6,700 substantiated accusations in our country, I wonder why we didn’t know more? In the years following the 2002 Boston Globe story that brought national attention to this issue, I never had a conversation with anyone about this type of abuse and I never thought about it …until now.

In this case, I have had numerous people ask me about it; my mother and I had a conversation about it; my friend visiting from London had read about it; and another friend who is utterly unaware that sports even exist wanted to know, “what is going on with Penn State?”

We have been pointing fingers, judging and telling everyone what should have happened.  But what do we know?  At this point, what we need to do is look back and learn from this.  We need to learn about these predators, who all seem to be in complete denial, and how to recognize them, how to move forward and most importantly, how to protect our children. Thousands came before them, but it took just nine brave victims listed in the Grand Jury Report indicting Sandusky to get us to finally talk about this.  And those thousands of victims around the world can now look to this case to tell their story so they can actually be heard and hopefully witness justice.  For them this isn’t just something that happened at Penn State–they lived this. And in a way they can look at this and collectively say to themselves those same words that Nittany Lions fans hold so dear: “WE ARE PENN STATE.”

The Predator:

There’s a certain arrogance that comes with these predators.  A certain arrogance that they have that very few ever admit and defiantly so, they’ll never say what really happened.  They’ll just say “ I was just caring for him—I was just caring for this person.”  In their mind maybe they justify it.

There is that arrogance that may come along with it too—he believes he did nothing wrong because he would have to admit that to himself.  A sickness that he has to admit to himself that he actually went further than just a shower and horsing around.

Psychologists also say that these guys go blind.  I always said that about Pete—that he had a different look in his eye, and it’s like almost like there’s a switch turned and that’s the animal, the predator and they may not remember how dark they went and the actions they took because once they’ve come out of it and they’ve gotten whatever pleasure or whatever they’ve wanted, they become this caring, loving person again, which they present to everybody.

Those are the words of Joe Capozzi, who experienced abuse at the hands of a priest named Pete. When Capozzi came forward, it completely changed his life because he was finally able to speak about the unspeakable.  For years now, he has performed in and around New York City the play he wrote entitled “For Pete’s Sake,” which tells his personal journey of how the truth set him free.  And for a society that is now struggling to find the truth in these Penn State allegations, Capozzi explains to us where the truth was lost and how to find it again.

The CFB Girl:  In these abuse situations, are there people who really do not know what is going on?

Capozzi:  It’s like my mother said to me the other day, “I still can’t believe I was that dumb.  I think about how dumb we were, that we couldn’t see—that we didn’t know.  How dumb, how stupid.” That experience with that person makes them feel duped and betrayed obviously, but it makes everyone around feel dumb and stupid.

The CFB Girl:  Even with your own personal knowledge that Pete had molested you, when you had to deal with your own suspicions that he may be preying on another young boy, you struggled to speak about it.  Why?

Capozzi:  You’re seeing it and you’re saying well, maybe. You can justify it because you’re taking a big chance.  Maybe I’m wrong?  Maybe what he did to me was just to me?  But you have to trust yourself.  Trust your gut that there’s something wrong with him.  You’re watching it happen – his demeanor, how he talks about it. You’re lying to yourself—he’s lying to himself too.

The CFB Girl:  How would someone on the outside recognize this?

Capozzi: You can only recognize it now because it’s become more of a public issue, because more and more people want to talk about it. So you get to see when everyone says, I was so dumb, I should have known when he wanted to go away with you, when he wanted to do this.

My brother—he always had a thing where there was something with Pete—there was a definite tension. There was something up, something wrong, but you don’t know for sure.

The CFB Girl: How do people react in this situation?

Capozzi: There are guys you are reading about where Sandusky was a saint in their lives—he saved their lives…he didn’t make a move on every kid—only the “special ones”…it’s like, how did this happen?

The CFB Girl:  How did people react to you when you came forward about Pete?

Capozzi: When stuff with the church came out and Pete’s story came out, no one believed it—so disgusting—people have to be lying. I’ve been called a liar…what I said is a lie because it’s so dirty.  But I don’t think a lot of people wanted to pay attention to it and to see the words and have to think about it.

The CFB Girl:  How was it handled by the Church in your situation?

Capozzi: [Someone] came forward first, but he didn’t go public.  And he didn’t even come forward, his mother did.  It was whispered—kept so quiet.  All kept in house like they did here at Penn State.  I saw the letter that the church sent this guy “we find your accusations credible—WE BELIEVE YOU.” But no one went further.  Pete got shipped off and was put on probation for a year, but they kept it quiet.  No one else came forward.  After a year, he went back to doing what he was doing.  He got one strike. He wasn’t supposed to be around kids, but that wasn’t the case.  It wasn’t monitored.

I told the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ  that they should get Pete help.  He needed to be evaluated by a therapist. He has a sickness. He’s going to do it again.  They said they couldn’t do that.  That would mean “we admit to his guilt.”

This has been going on in the Catholic church for decades—the cover up and the moving around.  In Sandusky’s case, that first allegation is then met with a quiet, forced retirement.

The CFB Girl:  Why isn’t this reported?

Capozzi: There’s the cover-up.  Why do you cover up? Why does the church do it? Why Penn State? There’s the arrogance that we can handle it.  This is their lives—these people devote their lives to this institution.

The CFB Girl:  If the allegations in the Grand Jury Report about the 2002 shower incident are true, how do you think everyone felt in that moment when the graduate assistant saw Sandusky with the child?

Capozzi: It’s embarrassing.  Everyone is embarrassed in that moment.  The graduate assistant is embarrassed and also in total shock.  But there is no boy that young where that is his choice in that position.  They looked at Sandusky like a savior.  They wanted it to be true. That his intentions were pure.  They had over 100,000 kids go through the Second Mile program.  It’s  a shame because of all the good that program hopefully brought.  If it now goes the other route then you lose the sense of humanity.

You don’t know the look on that kids face—I picture an embarrassed little boy.  I picture him scared, but more embarrassed in that moment.  “I can’t believe it’s happening and now someone’s seeing this” and then in that moment if it just continued…the mind fuck it does to a kid—this world is really, really bad.

The CFB Girl:  If someone had caught Pete molesting you and asked you what they should do, what would you have told them at the time?

Capozzi: “Just let me handle it.”

The CFB Girl:  Why wouldn’t you have asked for help or gone to the police? Didn’t you want it to stop?

Capozzi: You would like it if someone else would be the first one to speak up, if there is someone else, because you don’t want to be first and you don’t want to be the only one.  It’s all about numbers. Maybe if he gets caught, he will stop doing it to you.  You need someone to start it and then you also need to get some sense that there will be some justice.

The CFB Girl:  Even once it has been exposed, why don’t all of the other victims come forward?

Capozzi: People have experienced the same thing and many didn’t feel that there was justice in terms of what happened and how the predator was handled.

But now,  maybe, let’s see there be justice, let’s see there be truth and let’s see it all out in the open.  With the church, no one’s been fired.  Bishops and Cardinals who were part of the cover up didn’t lose their jobs. That’s the problem and that’s the whole thing with the religious aspect of it, where they’re protected by being a powerful organization.

Now you have Penn State where there will hopefully be transparency because it’s a state school.  Let’s see the way it should be done.  Fairly and honestly.  No shenanigans.  No bullshit. Let’s see how it’s played out.  What should be the proper punishment? How should things be investigated?

The CFB Girl:  How does what is happening at Penn State impact the church and the way they handled the sex abuse cases?

Capozzi: What’s going on at Penn State is going to force the spotlight to go strong on the church again…the Church has to now look at how they handled it and maybe law makers have to call the church out, which really hasn’t been done. They fired people at Penn State—why didn’t they do that to the church? [With the church] people complained and nothing happened other than you get a settlement from a few thousand dollars to a million.  It’s only now in Philadelphia where the first bishop has been indicted.  But at Penn State  you have a president fired and you have a god-like coach GONE.

The CFB Girl:  What happens next?

Capozzi: One is that it needs to be clearly defined as a crime. A 10/11/12 year old boy or girl in a shower with a 40/50/60 year old person who is not of a parent relation—it’s wrong.  It’s a crime.

The CFB Girl: What does this situation do for victims who may come forward in the future, an act that in itself can protect others?

Capozzi: The governor of Pennsylvania already wants to make it a crime in terms of not speaking out about witnessing child sexual abuse.  You have to make it an instinctual thing within society that when someone sees something like that, it’s not a question of, is it wrong? That’s wrong—it’s just an automatic reaction.  It just is not right.

The governor said that if victims see us handling it correctly and taking this very seriously and they see that we’re trying for justice, then more will come forward.  That’s why even more didn’t come forward with the church. And if there are victims with hope that they’re going to be heard, that they’re story will be listened to and made public record, that’s when more will come forward.  If they can TRUST what’s going on.

The CFB Girl:  If the Catholic Church were to handle it the way Penn State seems to be handling it now that the allegations have surfaced, do you think you would still go to church?

Capozzi: I don’t know—it’s too early.  A lot of people need to lose their jobs.  They need to clean house.

As a society, we have begun our awareness of this problem and our collective thoughts and actions can help prevent and heal it.  Part of that for the victims and their loved ones is understanding the personal turmoil this situation can cause and that they are not alone.  I saw Joe Capozzi’s play and watched the profound honesty he brings to such a difficult conversation with such ease and humor.  For those victims who want to listen in on a personal conversation on how to begin the healing process, I highly recommend seeking out the next performance of “For Pete’s Sake.”

The next reading of “For Pete’s Sake” takes place in Boston, Massachusetts on January 7, 2012.