We have seen this before: a trusted institution, caught in and embarrassed by a child abuse scandal in which it is plain that top officials knew about and covered up child abuse in its midst. Then, said trusted institution tries to regain its credibility by promising to clean it all up and to do right by the victims.
Then, it hires a credible outside source to do an investigation and make recommendations. And so now that Penn State has hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate how Jerry Sandusky was apparently able to abuse kids right under Penn State’s nose for a decade, we have one more thing in common between Penn State and the American Catholic Church. Many will remember at the height of the Catholic scandals the Church hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do studies on the extent of the problem within the Church, and the extent to which the various diocese and Archdiocese around the country were in compliance with the new “protocols” for child abuse cases created in Dallas amidst the media frenzy of the exploding scandals in 2002. Fewer will remember that that project has foundered over and over again either because the Catholic hierarchy has not fully cooperated with John Jay—many dioceses failing to provide data—and because the questions that John Jay was asked were artificially narrow, something I have written about before.
So now Penn State has hired a certified tough guy with impressive law enforcement credentials—FBI Agent, Federal Judge, FBI Director—to come in and do an investigation. But the devil will be in the details, again. Buried deep in the stories about Freeh’s selection has been comments to the effect that “the scope and budget for the investigation has not yet been determined.” Aha, I see. We don’t know what Freeh will be allowed to investigate, or whether PSU will give him enough of a budget to do a credible job. Well, until we know those things, no one should assume that Penn State is really serious about getting to the bottom of all this.
After all, we’ve seen half-hearted measures like this before. Just ask the folks at John Jay.