PA- New interview by Penn State's Spanier; SNAP responds

PA- New interview by Penn State's Spanier; SNAP responds

For immediate release: Thursday, July 17, 2014

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

Former Penn State University president Graham Spanier has given a long, self-serving interview to the New York Times Magazine in which he says he was stupid and naïve but denies any criminal intent in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. 

It's very shrewd posturing by an accused criminal.

“If Gary Schultz or Tim Curley had said to me anything about child abuse, sexual abuse, anything criminal, even had hinted about that possibility, of course we would have said something,” Spanier claims.

Yet the article also says that “according to emails and Schultz’s notes, Spanier and the two administrators agreed they would inform the board chairman at Second Mile, alert child-welfare authorities and tell Sandusky that he could no longer bring children into Penn State’s locker rooms.”

Why would they have agreed to call child welfare authorities about something that wasn't “child abuse,” “sexual abuse,” or “anything criminal”?

Why would they have agreed to tell Sandusky to not bring kids into locker rooms if they didn't suspect he had abused a kid?

Why would they have agreed to tell a Second Mile official if Sandusky hadn't done anything inappropriate?

Later, Curley wrote to Schultz and Spanier to say that he had changed his mind about going to the child-welfare authorities. Spanier concurred, calling it “a humane and a reasonable way to proceed.” As opposed to what? Common sense suggests the alternative – calling child welfare authorities – would have led to criminal prosecution, conviction and imprisonment, which evidently Spanier and his colleagues considered “inhumane.”

Sadly, the author bends over backwards to give Spanier every benefit of the doubt.

1) “The wreckage in State College extends out, concentrically, from the child victims to Spanier and two other former high-ranking Penn State administrators awaiting trial on the same charges and finally to the university itself,” writes Michael Sokolove.

Spanier is an accused criminal. The trouble he finds himself in is not “wreckage.” That word implies an accident in which someone is blameless. Spanier, however, is a very smart man who once wielded considerable power. He's not an “innocent bystander” here. 

A wreck is also something sudden and unforeseen. But for years, Spanier and other top Penn State officials knew of or suspected Sandusky's crimes. At best, these officials ignored these crimes. At worst, they concealed these crimes. Either way, this kind of irresponsible behavior should not be mischaracterized or minimized.

2) The author also writes of “the troubles that have found (Spanier) later in life,” as if Spanier is somehow the victim of circumstances that he never saw coming and couldn't impact. Both are wrong.

3) While the author acknowledges that “Spanier has been criticized for not informing the university’s board about the investigation more fully,” but then minimizes Spanier's secrecy by adding that the board “which had a reputation for passivity, did not aggressively seek information.”

It's the duty of a CEO to inform his or her board about important matters, regardless of the board's reputation or level of engagement.

4) The author cites Spanier's purported busy schedule: “At the time, Spanier was in the midst of a fund-raising campaign that would ultimately bring in $2.2 billion. He was busy with a broad range of matters external to Penn State too.”

This is insulting. It takes seconds for anyone – especially a powerful CEO – to tell an underling “Call the police right away” or issue a simple directive to warn others about a credibly accused child molester.

5) He cites an alleged “lack of sophistication on the part of Spanier” and “perhaps (his) wishful thinking that this would all somehow quickly blow over.” A more prudent author would have noted that these are the words of a man with a PhD who ran a $4 billion dollar operation who faces a criminal trial. He's unsophisticated?

6) The writer minimized Spanier's power: “It is not clear what Spanier’s active involvement in the 1998 case would have achieved. The allegations against Sandusky that year were investigated — by campus and the local police and a caseworker from the state’s Department of Public Welfare — and he was not charged. 

Spanier knows – and the writer should know – that plenty of crime and misdeeds are never prosecuted but are still serious. Spanier could have easily and quickly taken any number of helpful, responsible steps: “Let's play it safe and keep Sandusky off campus” or “Let's tell others on staff about the allegations” or “Let's hire outside investigators” or “Let's bring Sandusky in to talk with us.”

Instead, he did nothing.

All of us recoil from horror. All of us want to “turn the page” when faced with a scandal. But real leaders know that this is often an irresponsible course of action. Spanier should have asked more questions, done more follow up, and taken action to make sure that kids, not his university, were not “vulnerable.” 

Finally, we are very saddened about the horrific, repeated physical and emotional abuse Spanier suffered in childhood at the hands of abusive father. We are grateful to him for speaking in detail about his suffering. We believe many benefit when child abuse – whether physical, sexual or emotional – are publicly discussed, and discussed in clear ways, not sanitized or “air-brushed.” 

None of that, however, changes the simple fact that Spanier could and should have done more to stop Sandusky's terrible crimes, help police and prosecutors prosecute Sandusky, and to ensure that Penn State officials and students responded to those crimes in a more responsible way. 

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

 

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