If you retain even a shred of regard for Joe Paterno and what he accomplished at Penn State, you should be glad he didn’t live to see this.

Paterno was fired in disgrace in November, apparently caught up in revelations of a longtime aide’s serial sexual crimes against children. In January, Paterno died at 85 from lung cancer. In June, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse against young boys, most targeted through his charity, which was supposedly devoted to helping troubled youths.

For what’s left of Paterno’s legacy, that’s far from the worst of it. His story all along had been that he dutifully – and legally – forwarded to supervisors a graduate assistant’s allegation that he saw Sandusky having sex with a boy in the Penn State football showers in February 2001. After that, he let others handle it. This is what Paterno told a grand jury and what he insisted in subsequent interviews.

If only he had known. If only he had done more.

Now, the truth paints a far uglier, if more plausible, picture.

Not long after the scandal broke, Penn State hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh to conduct an internal investigation. Email discovered and leaked to CNN offers the most conclusive evidence yet that Paterno’s tale was tall indeed.

Top university officials – since-fired president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley – apparently had agreed to report Sandusky to state child welfare authorities until Paterno interceded, emails show.

Curley, after speaking to the legendary coach – once his coach – wrote to Spanier that a more “humane” solution would be to handle this quietly and in-house.

Child welfare officials were never alerted. When Sandusky stood trial, testimony revealed four boys were victimized after February 2001. Paterno and the others could have stopped a serial pedophile; instead, they protected a university’s reputation and its treasured football program.

Unsurprisingly, Paterno’s family is irate that leaked email is casting their patriarch in such awful light. Perhaps there’s more to the story, as they no doubt would insist.

Perhaps buried amid the new evidence is a message from someone, anyone, that might read: “But if this is true, it’s a felony crime. We have to take this to the authorities.”

Given the events to date, that seems as implausible as Joe Paterno’s dishonored expressions of regret for Jerry Sandusky’s true victims.