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Penn State abuse victims deserve more than just Paterno’s prayers

Updated: December 13, 2011 8:41AM

What did you know and when did you know it?

Most important of all: What. Did. You. Do. About. It.

Those were always the questions when we heard about church officials who learned of priests engaging in unspeakable acts of abuse. Transferring that priest to another school — and even worse, not even telling the parish about the monster arriving in their midst — is unconscionable.

Now we have the scandal at Penn State University, with beloved football coach Joe Paterno releasing a statement Wednesday saying he will retire at the end of the current season. Late Wednesday, he was fired immediately by the Penn State board.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said of the child abuse allegations involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

With the benefit of hindsight?

What the victims are owed

Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999, is charged with 40 criminal counts, including serial sex abuse of minors. Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and university senior vice president Gary Schultz were arrested and charged with failing to report the abuse.

In 2002, a graduate assistant went to Paterno and said he had witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the showers at the campus football complex.

Paterno reported the allegations to his superior. The Pennsylvania attorney general says it appears as if the coach had met his obligations under the law — but why didn’t Paterno go beyond the minimum obligation and talk to the police?

For that matter, did Paterno confront Sandusky? We’re talking about an eyewitness telling the face of Penn State University he had witnessed a horrific act of abuse on the grounds of the football complex. We’re talking about child rape. How does Paterno not do everything in his power to find out what happened?

Paterno said when he was told of the incident in 2002, “the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report. . . . As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at the time, I referred the matter to university administrators.”

Administrators responded by taking Sandusky’s locker room keys and banned him from having children visit the football building. That’s about as effective as taking away a gun from a guy who also has a bomb.

“My wife and I, we have 17 grandkids . . . and we pray for them every night,” Paterno told a crowd last Tuesday night. “And we’re going to start praying for some of those kids that got involved with some of the problems we’ve talked about. They don’t deserve it.”

NOBODY deserves that. And if the allegations are proven, those kids didn’t get “involved with some . . . problems.” They were innocent victims who were attacked.

“We owe it to [the victims] to say a prayer for them,” said Paterno.

No doubt Paterno is anguished by this tragedy and the aftermath. He’s a good man. But when a distraught grad assistant even hints at something untoward between one of your former assistants and a child, how do you NOT get more involved in uncovering the truth?

I’ll never trivialize anyone saying a prayer for someone. But those kids were owed a lot more practical consideration than prayers after the fact. They were owed protection from a predator. And if Curley, Schultz, Paterno or anyone else at Penn State had reason to believe crimes were being committed by an authority figure who had longtime ties to the university, they owed those kids more than prayers or someone following the chain of command and leaving it at that.

“Thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers,” said Joe Paterno’s son, Scott Paterno, in response to the outpouring of support for his father.

He added: “But please, pray for the victims.”

Amen. And pray that the next time a person in authority hears of an adult harming a child, he remembers his obligation are to the child first, and that every other consideration is a distant, distant second.

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