There is an inclination to avert our eyes when we see evil. It may be a natural inclination. It always is wrong.
It is unclear how much detail legendary Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno knew from the eyewitness account related to him in 2002 by a graduate assistant who said he saw assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with a young boy in the locker room showers. But Mr. Paterno knew enough to bring it to the attention of athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz. Both men are charged with perjury before a grand jury investigating Mr. Sandusky.
Mr. Paterno, 84, known affectionately on campus as JoePa, has not been criminally charged, although he also did not report the incident to police.
"With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," Mr. Paterno says now.
In the wake of the arrests, Penn State trustees this week fired Mr. Paterno, Mr. Sandusky's former boss, and the school's president, Graham Spanier. It ends a storied, previously unblemished and, indeed, exemplary 46-year coaching career for the man known for preaching to his teams "success with honor."
Mr. Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of eight young boys during a span of 15 years. He and the two charged high-ranking school administrators maintain their innocence.
Thousands of students at Penn State rioted after Mr. Paterno's firing. It was a curious reaction. Where was the outrage for what had happened to the innocent children?
How many molestations, some of which allegedly occurred at the Penn State football complex, could have been prevented had authorities been notified earlier by Mr. Paterno, Mr. Spanier, Mr. Curley or Mr. Schultz?
"I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief," Mr. Paterno told reporters.
It seems Mr. Paterno now may better understand that, when confronted with evidence of evil, he should have gone straight to police, rather than pass the buck up the bureaucratic chain of command. The U.S. Department of Education has launched its own investigation to determine whether Penn State failed to report sexual abuse on campus, as required by federal law.
"[T]he outrage that we feel is nothing compared to the physical and psychological suffering that allegedly took place," school trustee John Surma said.
When confronted with evil, the first obligation should be to do what is right, not to avert our eyes.