Louis Freeh, I have another job for you
By Phil Lawler | July 13, 2012
Things look grim for Penn State University this week. After investigating allegations of sexual abuse against a former member of the football team’s coaching staff, former FBI director Louis Freeh issued a scathing report.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” the report said. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
It’s a sad story, and a distressingly familiar one. We’ve heard it before.
Still, one tidbit of good news can be salvaged from the mess. Nobody—and I mean nobody—thinks that Penn State is still covering up, still withholding the truth. Freeh and his investigating team interviewed scores of officials and examined hundreds of email messages. The truth is ugly, to be sure. But we all know now that the truth is out.
Graham Spanier is out, too, by the way. The former president of Penn State was forced out by the school’s board of trustees, which took action long before the Freeh report was complete. Penn State’s legendary football coach, the late Joe Paterno, was forced out by the board, too. You can’t say that the board covered up evidence; it was the board that commissioned the Freeh investigation. And you can’t say that the board protected the men who protected a convicted molester; they were relieved of their posts months ago.
If only we could say the same about the US bishops’ conference!
For a decade now, we have had incontrovertible evidence that many bishops covered up evidence of abuse and shielded abusers from prosecution. But no American bishops have been forced to step down. (Cardinal Bernard Law resigned of his own volition.) Perhaps as a result, many Americans are still reluctant to believe that the bishops are being entirely forthright about the issue.
How many more times will we be surprised by new revelations about abuse and cover-ups—as we have been surprised this year by the news from Philadelphia? How much more unexploded ordinance is lying around, waiting to be detonated by a curious reporter? We don’t know. At least the people in Happy Valley, shaken by the Sandusky scandal, can be sure that all the bombs have now gone off.
Imagine how different the world would be for Catholic Americans if the US bishops’ had commissioned a thorough, no-holds-barred investigation of their scandal: something like the Freeh report, as opposed to the tame, carefully controlled John Jay studies. Some bishops would have been disgraced, no doubt; it would have been a disgrace they had richly deserved. If all of the ugly facts had been dredged out a decade ago, the Catholic hierarchy would not still be viewed with suspicion in 2012.