Cain, Sandusky, Catholic Priests.  Sex has been in the headlines a lot lately.  But some important distinctions are getting lost in the rush to categorize offenses, blurring the difference between crimes against marriage with those against women or minors, or the crimes of institutions with those of individuals.

So much commentary about the cover up of sexual abuse at Penn State has wrongly made comparisons of the University to the Catholic Church. While both are large, patriarchal institutions, both have kept the long-term abuse of children under wraps for the sake of those in leadership positions, and both have all the ritualistic trappings that inspire devoted followers and protect strict hierarchical structures, Penn State is not the Roman Catholic Church.

While the university struggles to address how one man was protected from justice for his crime for 15 years, the Roman Catholic Church has been engaged in hiding systemic sexual abuse by dozens of priests for decades, maybe longer.  The two organizations have very different purposes; the first is a sports program in a public university, the second is a global empire outside any one nation’s jurisdiction.  The university is clearly subject to U.S. laws for it’s wrongdoings; for the most part and so far, not so the Church.

While this comparison of the two organizations may be useful for media outlets that want to help readers understand the charges, it is terribly misleading.  The scope and scale of the two scandals are immensely different.

At the same time the Sandusky case came to light, accusations of sexual harassment by GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain were exposed.  In the wake, publications like Gawker have gone so far as to ask why men in power abuse, confusing morality with illegality.  Anthony Weiner texted naked pictures to someone other than his wife.  Mark Sanford fell in love with a woman he wasn’t married to.  There are “crimes” against the institution of marriage and there is assault, abuse of minors, harassment.

The distinction is incredibly important, particularly to those who are invested in divorcing the institution of marriage from a state system that works to limit and normalize “traditional” ways defining it.

An affair might offend a particular definition of marriage but it is not a crime.  It may alter a divorce settlement but it won’t get you jail time.  Nor should it.  To make room for a broader definition of marriage (same-sex, for example) and to acknowledge the complications of sexual relations, these distinctions can’t be lost even, if we think charges of hypocrisy will benefit our politics.  Blurring the lines doesn’t protect victims.