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Penn State scandal sheds light on ethical gray areas

There has been plenty of outrage over the moral failings of Joe Paterno and others who were made aware of Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of children. But ethical dilemmas are often more gray than black and white. Better ethics education can help us do the right thing in spite of the fog.

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Greek and pure human tragedy that it is, there may be a teaching moment in the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal. It can be used to help us understand that walking the moral line involves negotiating the car crashes of conflicting values.

Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is a man of integrity who may have had a serious moral flaw by appearing to put loyalty to the institution above the welfare of children.

However, extrapolating from the Jo Pa saga – including those up and down the chain of responsibility – it isn’t just devotion to institutions or communities that can morally undo us. When the test comes, our sense of duty to our family can also blind us to the demands of justice.

The Bible contains harrowing stories of spiritual trials, but modern life has a way doing the same. For example, during the era of Jim Crow law, there were some 5,000 lynchings, occasionally in the north but on a regular basis in the deep south.

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