"What my report says is what the evidence and the facts show," he said.
What they showed, the report said, was that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz "failed to protect against a child sexual predator," burying the allegations against Sandusky out of a desire to "avoid the consequences of bad publicity."
Freeh said officials had opportunities in 1998 and 2001 to step in.
In 1998, campus police investigated after a woman complained that her son had showered with Sandusky. The investigation did not result in charges. But the emails show Paterno clearly followed the case, Freeh said, and university officials took no action at the time to limit Sandusky's access to campus — a decision that would pave the way for Sandusky to victimize more youths.
Three years later, a coaching assistant told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the locker room showers.
Freeh, citing emails and handwritten notes, concluded that Paterno intervened to stop a plan by Curley, Schultz and Spanier to report the 2001 allegation by graduate assistant Mike McQueary to child-welfare authorities.
According to the report, the administrators intended to inform the state Department of Public Welfare. But Curley later said in an email that he changed his mind about the plan "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe." Instead, Curley proposed to offer Sandusky "professional help."
In an email, Spanier agreed that course of action would be "humane" but noted "the only downside for us is if the message isn't (heard) and acted upon and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it."
Paterno "was an integral part of this active decision to conceal" and his firing was justified, Freeh said at a news conference in Philadelphia, calling the officials' disregard for child victims "callous and shocking."
In a statement, Paterno's family strongly denied he protected Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.
"The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events," the family said. "Sandusky was a great deceiver. He fooled everyone."
Attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz vehemently denied Freeh's conclusions and said there was no effort to hide Sandusky's behavior.
The report chronicled a culture of silence that extended from the president down to the janitors in the football building. Even before 1998, football staff members and coaches regularly saw Sandusky showering with boys but never told their superiors about it. In 2000, after a janitor saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the team shower, he told his co-workers. None of them went to police for fear of losing their jobs.
Reporting the assault "would have been like going against the president of the United States in my eyes," a janitor told Freeh's investigators. "I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone." He went on to assert that "football runs this university."
Freeh said Thursday the janitors "were afraid to take on the football program. If that's the culture at the bottom, God help the culture at the top."
Attorneys representing Sandusky's victims say the report showed that Penn State failed the youngsters it had a responsibility to protect.
"The Freeh report is absolutely devastating to Penn State," said Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, part of a legal team that represents several victims in the case, including three who testified against Sandusky. "It confirms that at the highest level, Penn State officials, including the university president and head football coach, knew that Sandusky was a child predator, but made the deliberate and reprehensible decision to conceal his abuse. They chose to protect themselves, Penn State's brand and image, and their football program instead of children."