I read the descriptions of child molestation that have dominated the news last week until I couldn't read the words anymore.
They nearly made me vomit.
Unspeakable child abuse at Penn State reverberates in Sacramento and around the world because the perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, was a noted college football coach who was enabled by a coaching "legend," the late Joe Paterno.
Even typing those words is controversial because Paterno had been a coaching "hero" who won honorably over 40 years the winningest coach in all of college football.
When I mentioned Paterno on Twitter last week and how a new report by a former FBI chief concluded that he had helped cover up Sandusky's sexual abuse of children to shield his precious football program I was met with hostility and no end of apologists jumping to his defense.
To such people, child rape is a lot less important than clinging to the aura of Paterno as if Paterno's reputation and Penn State football are the most important issues here. They are not.
No, this is about belief in humans as if they were saints and the lengths to which people will go to deny a horrible truth because it proves the saint was human all along.
There is only one God in this world, and his name is not Joe Paterno.
The point isn't that I'm better or you're better than Paterno and the football worshippers of Penn State.
The point is that we're not.
The point is that the human frailty that compels us to worship false idols is alive in all of us and is so readily accessible.
I bet you could think of moments in your life where you or someone close to you believed in something or someone over a larger truth too painful to confront.
I have. I've put too much faith in trusted friends and family members, and I enabled unhealthy relationships that were propped up by emotions that proved to be false.
That's what happened at Penn State. If you read the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, the stage was set for Sandusky's abuse by unhealthy relationships built on false worship for Penn State football.
The lead paragraph in Freeh's report goes straight to the heart of it all: "The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Council is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior members at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims."
One of the reasons Penn State officials failed to stop Sandusky, Freeh's report concluded, was this: "A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."
What an interesting word: Reverence.
I've seen reverence for a once-prominent Sacramento man who was convicted of killing four young people while driving drunk. To this day, his friends and family blame the victims in a raging sense of denial and anger over their lost status.
As a Catholic, I've seen that reverence in fellow Catholics angry with the media amid a child sex abuse scandal that rocked the Sacramento Diocese a decade ago.
I'm still Catholic. Law-breaking priests and bishops do not define my faith, and I see my church is a symbol for good in the world. But we still can't deny what happened because if we deny, we become co-conspirators.
Paterno was revered for winning without taking academic shortcuts "the right way." Millions of dollars rained on the Penn State campus, and Paterno was viewed as a "god" in his community and in a sports world hungry for a good story to counteract the usual corruption of NCAA sports.
Winning football grew to mean so much more in the minds of thousands. You tear that down and you tear them down, or so they think.
So they'll fight you on Twitter, they'll bully Penn State officials seeking reforms, they'll riot in response to Paterno's dismissal from Penn State.
I dare you to read the Freeh report that describes Sandusky's crimes: www.the freehreportonpsu.com/ REPORT_FINAL_071212.pdf.
I could feel my lunch in my throat when I did. I could picture Sandusky running his hands over innocent boys hungry for attention and affection.
Paterno could have stopped it. He didn't. And to this day, people defend him because they defend something they had built up in their minds as being more important than anything.