Catholic College Hiring Basketball Coach Rick Pitino – Who Admitted Enabling An Abortion

Printed from:

Iona College, a Catholic school in New Rochelle, New York, has just hired scandal-ridden Rick Pitino as its new basketball coach.

Pitino, fired by Louisville in 2017 amid allegations of multiple recruiting violations, testified in open court in 2010 that he paid $3,000 to a woman he’d committed adultery with so that she could get health insurance that would enable her to get an abortion. He also testified that he or an assistant coach found an abortion clinic in Cincinnati for her, and that the assistant coach drove her to the abortion clinic and then back to Louisville. (The two cities are about an hour and a half apart.)

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is one of the most serious types of sin.

Roman Catholic canon law forbids committing an abortion or assisting with an abortion. Canon 1398 states:  “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

“Excommunication” means that a Catholic is unable to receive communion or absolution in confession unless the excommunication is lifted by a bishop or by a priest empowered by a bishop to do so.

The Latin term “latae sententiae” means “already passed,” and refers to an automatic self-excommunication for a person who knowingly violates Church law on a grave matter.

Canon 1329 Section 2 states that Catholic “accomplices” of excommunicable acts also incur automatic excommunication “if without their assistance” the violation of canon law “would not have been committed.”

Such an automatic self-excommunication is relatively rare because it only applies to someone who knows that a forbidden act incurs the penalty of excommunication.

Yet Pitino must have known. He served as head coach of the basketball team of Providence College (also a Catholic school) from 1985 to 1987 – during which time a high-profile excommunication was frequently in the news in Rhode Island (and nationally). In 1986, the bishop of Providence at the time, Bishop Louis Gelineau, declared that the executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of Planned Parenthood (a Catholic) was excommunicated for assisting in abortions.

Now, perhaps you’re not impressed with legalisms that amount to what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it. What really matters, you might say, is right and wrong.

And perhaps your forgiving heart is thinking, “2003 … That was a long time ago. Can’t we just say we all have a past and just move on?”

Well, has Pitino moved on? Did he ever actually apologize for it, to anybody?

Do a Google search for “Pitino apologized” and what comes up are news reports of a press conference he gave after the news broke in 2009. During his comments, he uses the word “indiscretion” three times, such as this public apology to his family:

“I let them down with my indiscretion six years ago, and I’m sorry for that.”

“Indiscretion” refers most effectively to zigs where you should have zagged, not to profoundly immoral acts.

But more to the point, what exactly does it refer to in this instance?

Pitino seemed to have been referring to the sexual encounter he had with a woman not his wife.

That’s a serious moral failing, but it’s not hard to understand. In the heat of the moment, late at night, under the influence of alcohol …

But what about enabling an abortion in a cold, sober moment a few weeks later? What about paying money, finding an abortion clinic, having an assistant drive the woman there?

This is not an “indiscretion.” And Pitino didn’t mean to refer to it when he used the word “indiscretion.”

In other words:  Rick Pitino didn’t apologize in 2009 for helping kill a baby. If he ever has apologized for it publicly, I can’t find it.

And which act is more serious? Illicit sex? Or enabling abortion?

Let’s think about it in biblical terms. Which action was worse:  King David committing adultery with the wife of Uriah the Hittite? Or King David having Uriah the Hittite killed to cover up King David’s adultery?

Now, David is not a source of scandal for Christians, because he got the message and acted on it. Some of our most beautiful psalms are acts of contrition by David.

What about a prominent college basketball coach? Might some people get the idea that Catholic institutions aren’t all that serious about abortion?

So armed with this knowledge, what would a Catholic college that cares about Catholicism need to do to justify hiring such a man?

Let’s imagine hypothetical public statements released by such a Catholic college on the announcement of Pitino’s hiring:

Rick Pitino:

I acknowledge some atrocious behavior I engaged in privately some years ago that subsequently became public, and I express my regret and contrition for it. I hold marriage to be sacred and all human life to be precious, and I have sought forgiveness from God and others I have hurt.  I am sorry.  In taking on this new responsibility, I pledge to do my best to uphold the high moral standards that Iona College embodies.

Iona College:

As a Catholic college in the Irish Christian Brothers tradition, Iona follows and promotes Roman Catholic teachings. We are also mindful that as sinners we are all in need of forgiveness, and we are encouraged that Rick Pitino has acknowledged past failings and sought to atone for them.

As Christians we have high standards for moral and ethical behavior, and we challenge our employees to try to live up to them.

We also implicitly believe Coach Pitino’s assurances that he had no idea that an assistant coach working under him at Louisville between 2010 and 2014 procured prostitutes and strippers for recruits and then-current players on the Louisville basketball team. We note that the assistant coach was named director of basketball operations at Louisville only in 2012, and did not serve in that capacity during his entire time on Pitino’s staff.

We also implicitly believe Coach Pitino’s assurances that it came as “a total shock” to him when federal prosecutors in 2017 reported finding that a shoe company executive paid $100,000 to a Louisville basketball recruit to try to make sure he would endorse the shoe company’s products once he turned pro, in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules.

It is not merely Coach Pitino’s track record of winning at the college level and attracting ad dollars to television networks that translate into massive revenue for his school’s athletic department that led us to hire him to coach our basketball team. We stand for more than just making money.

Hmmmm …

On second thought, maybe Iona has the right idea. Accentuate the positive, ignore the negative.

Maybe no one will notice.