NEW BOSTON, NH–Rick Santorum has said he’s “devastated” at the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed his alma mater, Penn State University. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell called it “tragic,” while the two sitting senators of Pennsylvania have withdrew their support for the nomination of just-ousted Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Santorum has called Paterno a “friend,” but in a statement to ABC News, the former Pennsylvania senator expressed sympathy for the victims and said he was “stunned and appalled” when he first heard the allegations.
“My heart hurts for the children and families affected by this horrific scandal. I am the father of 7 children and just can’t imagine the pain these families are feeling right now. These charges are extremely serious and for the sake of the children and their families – I pray for swift and decisive justice on those found guilty of these deplorable acts,” Santorum said in a statement.
The 1980 Penn State graduate said Wednesday that he agrees with the university’s decision to fire the longtime coach.
Two top school officials have been arraigned on charges of perjury and failure to report allegations that former Paterno assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has abused children. Paterno had been alerted to one incident and the coach informed a school official, but did not call the police.
It would have been impossible for Santorum to know about the alleged abuse at the time, because it had not yet been reported to authorities, but one sign of how loved and respected Sandusky was in Pennsylvania was that then-Senator Santorum sponsored the assistant coach for a “Congressional Angels in Adoption” award in 2002, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Its philosophy is simple: it is easier to develop a child that to rehabilitate an adult,” read the citation in the awards dinner program on Sept. 24, 2002.
Long known as a philanthropist in the state, Sandusky has both adopted children and foster children, as well as a charity he founded to provide care for foster children.
This awards program is sponsored each year by the non-profit Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, but award sponsorships like this one are standard procedure for political office holders. Letters written by a senators’ offices and signed by a senator or member of Congress on behalf of a local do-gooder are every day events. Santorum has said previously that he does not know Sandusky personally.
The two current Pennsylvania senators, Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, jointly announced Thursday they were rescinding support for Paterno’s nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“We hope the proper authorities will move forward with their investigation without delay. Penn State is an important institution in our commonwealth. We should turn our attention to the victims of these atrocious crimes and ensure they get the help they need. Our hearts and prayers go out to them and their families,” the senators said in a statement.
In an interview with WIP radio, Rendell called for further investigation of Paterno, “We’ve got to figure out what Joe Paterno did and didn’t do.”
“It’s just brutal for Joe Paterno, [who has] done so much for the state,” Rendell said. “Did he make a terrible error by not coming forward? Without prejudging the facts it looks like he should have. For him to end his career on this is tragic. But what happened to these kids is tragic.”