By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Penn State's ex-president assailed a report that accused him of covering up a pedophilia scandal as "absolutely wrong," saying on Wednesday he never heard even a hint of child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Graham Spanier, in an interview broadcast by ABC News, said he has a heightened sensitivity to child abuse because as a boy he suffered beatings by his father that were so severe he required four surgeries to correct the physical damage.
"I've never met anyone who had a higher level of awareness," Spanier, 64, told ABC News.
Asked why he never pursued a 2001 report from a graduate assistant coach who testified at trial that he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the campus football showers, Spanier said he was told only that they were involved in "horseplay," which he imagined went no further than wet towel snapping.
"Never in my time as president of Penn State did I ever, ever once receive a report from anyone that suggested that Jerry Sandusky was involved in any child abuse," Spanier said.
Spanier and legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno were fired after former assistant coach Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. A jury later convicted Sandusky of 45 of the 48 counts against him.
In a report issued in July, former FBI chief Louis Freeh said Penn State leaders covered up Sandusky's sexual abuse of children for years, showing a callous disregard for the victims to protect a multimillion-dollar football program.
Freeh, a former judge, was hired by the university to investigate the scandal that rocked U.S. college football and Pennsylvania's biggest university.
"That report is absolutely wrong. The conclusions in that report that, in effect, we conspired to conceal a known child predator are just incorrect," Spanier said.
Spanier's criticisms of the Freeh report echoed comments made earlier in the day by his lawyers at a press conference.
"There is nothing full or complete about the Freeh report," Timothy K. Lewis, a former federal judge and prosecutor who represents Spanier, told a news conference that Spanier did not attend.
"Nor am I aware of any court in the land that would accept such unsupported and outrageous conclusions as independent, or any judge who would put his or her name behind them," Lewis said.
"The Freeh report, as it pertains to Dr. Spanier, is a myth," Lewis said. "And that myth, along with the free pass its author has enjoyed thus far, ends today."
Another of Spanier's lawyers, John E. Riley, said he had no information that Spanier would be indicted in the Penn State case, as was the case with former university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The Freeh report quoted an email from Spanier to Schultz and Curley in February of 2001. Spanier was responding to an earlier note from Curley with suggestions about how to handle a report from graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary that he had seen Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a Penn State locker room shower.
In the email, Spanier agreed with Curley's decision not to report the incident to child welfare authorities and said, "The only downside for us is if the message isn't heard (by Sandusky) and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it."
Riley deflected a question about the email, saying, "Ultimately we're going to defer to Dr. Spanier to explain what he meant and intended by that."
Lawyers for Curley and Schultz late on Wednesday joined in the denouncement of the Freeh report, both saying that McQueary never told anyone in 2001 that he saw a child being sexually abused in the showers. Both said their clients, charged with perjury for grand jury testimony they gave about their knowledge of accusations against Sandusky, would be vindicated at trial.
"The Freeh Report is inaccurate, incomplete and unfair," said Schultz's lawyer Tom Farrell in a statement.
"At trial, the high standard that will determine the truth will be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, instead of the baseless opinion of a so-called independent investigation," said Curley's lawyer Caroline Roberto.
In his report, Freeh criticized Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno as having total disregard for the safety and welfare of the children Sandusky molested. Paterno died in January, two months after he was fired.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta, Stacey Joyce and Lisa Shumaker)