"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," Freeh said in a statement.
The new report drew national attention to a story seemingly without end: The dismissal, and dismantling of the reputation of the man who was once Pennsylvania State University's best-known and most-popular employee.
The new study, called "Paterno - The Record," was commissioned by the coach's widow, Sue Paterno, and compiled by agents selected and retained by her Washington lawyer, Wick Sollers. It was posted Sunday on www.Paterno.com and simultaneously discussed on ESPN, part of a major effort by the Paterno family to restore the coach's reputation. On Monday, Sue Paterno will be interviewed by Katie Couric on ABC.
Penn State officials said in a statement it was "understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report." But the school, which accepted the findings, intends to move ahead with implementing "substantially all" the recommendations in the report by the end of 2013.
Family spokesman Dan McGinn, a public-relations professional in the Washington suburbs, was asked what the Paternos want of the report's release.
"They want people to read this report," he said in an interview. "Everybody should read the report and reexamine the situation. . . . We're really hopeful the NCAA and board of trustees will carefully and thoughtfully reexamine the situation."
People should accept the report as unbiased, he said, because the Paternos played no role in the selection of the experts and had no contact with them as they worked. The integrity of someone such as Thornburgh is evident, he said.
Officials at MaleSurvivor, a New York nonprofit that works to prevent sexual abuse, responded to the new report by saying they were unaware of any specific actions the Paterno family had taken to support Sandusky's victims or abuse victims in general.
"It's very telling to me that in a five-page summary of this report, all about trying to clear Joe Paterno's name, there's one sentence at the end that barely gives lip service, 'We're really concerned about the survivors,' " executive director Christopher Anderson said in an interview. "I'd very much like to see the Paternos engage with people in the advocacy world in the same way that Penn State has been engaging."
The university has pledged to become a world center for the study of sexual abuse and recently held a major symposium on the topic.
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which seeks to oust trustees who joined in Paterno's firing, credited the family "for filling the obvious void in Penn State leadership and seeking the real truth."
The trustees hired Freeh "to create a false narrative intended to back up their rush to judgment" but "the Paterno Report clearly does the opposite," the group said. It called on Freeh to publicly explain his methodology and evidence.
The Freeh report marshaled enormous evidence, including e-mails, interviews, and long-hidden notes, concluding that Paterno, former university president Graham B. Spanier, and two other top administrators conspired for more than a decade to keep quiet the sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky.
Fearing bad publicity, the coach and the president, along with athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a vice president in charge of campus police, "repeatedly concealed critical facts" and exhibited a "callous disregard for child victims," Freeh said. That enabled Sandusky, a former assistant coach, to prey on boys for years, Freeh said.
Sandusky is in prison serving what amounts to a life sentence.
Freeh's inquiry found Penn State had a culture of deference to figures such as Paterno and Spanier, even as they failed in their roles.
Freeh said on Sunday that Paterno "was on notice for at least 13 years that Sandusky, one of his longest-serving assistants, and whose office was steps away, was a probable serial pedophile."
The new report, totaling more than 200 pages, denied any Paterno role in a cover-up and affirmed his standing as scrupulously honest and forthright. Specifically, it said:
Paterno participated in no conspiracy to hide Sandusky's actions.
There's no evidence the football culture at Penn State contributed to Sandusky's crimes.
Freeh investigators had no subpoena power and no one testified under oath. Some witnesses were allowed to speak anonymously.
The string of e-mails that contributed to Freeh's finding of conspiracy "falls apart under scrutiny." The e-mails show "Paterno knew few details about Sandusky, that he acted in good faith, and that he did what he thought was right based on what he knew at the time."
The limits of the Freeh investigation "were numerous and fatal to fundamental fairness," the report said, creating a "rush to injustice" that solidified a false narrative about Paterno.
"Joe Paterno's last written words before his death focused on the victims of Jerry Sandusky," the report said, noting how in a handwritten note, he said the "good side" of the scandal was greater national attention on child abuse.
On ESPN, Thornburgh said that he respected Freeh, but that the report was "full of inaccuracies" and left "much overlooked, much misrepresented."
Former FBI profiler Jim Clemente said Sandusky alone was responsible for the crimes. "Sandusky got away with what he did because he's a skillful manipulator," he said.
Joe Paterno died from complications of lung cancer in January 2012. The three former university officials await trial, and maintain their innocence.
Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Jeff Gammage.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.