Why call yourself a Catholic school if you are not trying to adhere to Catholic values? At least two so-called Catholic colleges in New York should answer that question, given their involvement with Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.
St. John’s hired Pitino as its new men’s basketball coach this week; he left another Catholic college, Iona College, to take the position. Pitino has enjoyed more; he has two NCAA March Madness championships on his resume and made it to the Final Four seven times. However, even with that winning record, no school that identifies as Catholic should hire this man unless he can prove he’s a changed man. No human beings are perfect. Just about everyone commits sins, but not like Pitino.
In 2003, Pitino had an extramarital affair with the wife of Tim Sypher, the Louisville men's basketball equipment manager at the time. Pitino got her pregnant and gave her $3000 to get an abortion. The woman later tried to extort Pitino because of the incident, and it ended up in court. Pitino testified that a member of the coaching staff that may have been him drove the woman to and from an abortion clinic in Cincinnati, which is 90 minutes from Louisville. In common law, there was nothing illegal about Pitino’s actions at this time. Adultery was legal, and so was abortion. Even so, Pitino belongs nowhere near a Catholic school.
In Catholicism, the institution of marriage is far more binding than in American law. Only opposite-sex couples can marry, and marriage is the only place where the church allows sexual intercourse—and without contraception. The church sees marriage as an unbreakable union, meant to share love and commitment and raise families. Pitino cheating on his wife violated that.
The far worse aspect here is abortion. Abortion’s a tragedy because it kills a human in the earliest stages of their life. In the Catholic Church, abortion is a grave sin, which Pope John Paul II called “murder.” People shouldn’t hate women for having abortions and men for causing abortions; the Catholic church doesn’t, either. The women who have abortions aren’t victims, as the pro-life movement would have you believe. However, the demand for abortion deserves addressing, in addition to the supply issue. Rather than trying to prevent so-called unintended pregnancies, supporting women who face these pregnancies, and making childrearing more affordable, politicians decry socialism or argue that women need to abort their children so they can be successful. The latter devalues motherhood and women’s abilities to pursue other endeavors while raising children.
Pitino has never shown any remorse for causing, aiding, and abetting the abortion. He has a net worth near $50 million. He could’ve afforded to give that child a fine life. While basketball’s a great sport, and Division 1 men’s basketball is one of the only two revenue sports in the NCAA, some things are more important than college students playing a game invented for YMCA children in the late-1800s. That’s not to say that all Catholic schools should permanently blacklist Pitino from coaching, but they should require penance before they consider it.
Pitino has enough money to do good for society. He could help feed the poor, save lives in developing countries, or offer support to women facing unintended pregnancies so that they give birth rather than having an abortion. That never happened. Catholic schools hire Pitino because he’s a good college coach, even though he was a terrible NBA head coach.
Catholic colleges shouldn’t expect every student and employee to be a model Catholic citizen. Nobody always lives up to that standard, but people can try to do what’s right, admit their sins, and rectify their mistakes. And when someone took part in what the Catholic Church views as murder and shows no remorse, basketball coaching skills should be irrelevant.