PORTLAND, Ore. (BP) — More than 15,000 pages of ineligible volunteer files released by the Boy Scouts of America Oct. 18 reflect “the grim reality of child abuse in our country, not only in youth organizations but also in our churches,” a Scouting official said.
A judge in Portland, Ore., ordered the release of the documents, which span from 1965 to 1985, after media outlets including The Oregonian newspaper sued to gain access.
The filing system, which includes memos, lists and newspaper clippings, was established more than 80 years ago to keep Boy Scouts safe by flagging volunteers who are known or suspected of being child abusers.
“While clearly an imperfect system, this action was taken at a time well before officials had ready access to computers and electronic databases,” R. Chip Turner, national chairman of Boy Scouts of America Religious Relationships, told Baptist Press.
The Boy Scouts have since become a leader in youth protection programs, said Turner, a past national president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting.
“It should be noted that many of our Baptist churches today use prevention procedures based on concepts found in the BSA model of no one-on-one interactions with youth; criminal background checks; and extensive training prior to placement in a leadership role,” Turner said.
Child welfare experts, according to The New York Times, say the Boy Scouts had a corrosive culture of secrecy that compounded the damage of sex abuse for decades.
Some entries, The Times said, “suggest a guarded, institutional caution from scout leaders who seem to be protecting the organization or were suffused with the belief — others might call it naiveté — that a man who had admitted wrongdoing with young boys should be given a second chance.”
A memo from a scout executive in 1972, quoted in The Times, said of an offender, “He recognizes that he has a problem, and he is personally taking steps to resolve this situation…. I would like to let this case drop.”
The Times said the files, which involve more than 1,200 men, do not suggest that Scouting was ever or is now riddled with sexual stalkers. The files undoubtedly contain the names of innocent men who were wrongly accused, the newspaper said.
Also revealed in the files, according to The Times’ analysis, is the idea that parents of scouts often were left uninformed of the potential danger surrounding their children.
The Oregonian, in its analysis, said the files could help thousands of former Scouts who were molested as children but did not report the abuse and have been haunted by questions about their attackers.
“Often, executives covered up abuse allegations, figuring they had addressed the problems by pressuring the suspected pedophiles to quit,” The Oregonian said.
Sometimes, Scouting officials did not inform police, and though volunteers were no longer allowed to participate in Scouting, they went on to abuse children elsewhere, the newspaper said.
The Boy Scouts tried to prevent the release of the ineligible volunteer files, dubbed “perversion files,” because they believed a breach of confidentiality could inhibit victims from reporting other instances of abuse, The Times said.
Wayne Perry, national president of Boy Scouts of America, apologized for the abuse that is documented in the files.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong,” Perry said in a statement.
“Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families,” Perry added.
The organization’s president said they have continuously enhanced their multilayered policies and procedures to ensure that they are in line with or ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention.
Under current policies, any good-faith suspicion of abuse must be immediately reported to law enforcement by members and volunteers, and suspected abusers are removed from Scouting as soon as a report is received, the organization said.
“Scouting’s two-deep leadership policy requires at least two adults to be present for all Scouting activities,” the statement said. “No youth should ever be alone with a Scout leader for any reason. In fact, all Scouting activities are open to parents, and we encourage families to enjoy Scouting together.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the Boy Scouts’ membership policy which prohibits homosexuals from official roles. Homosexual parents may accompany their children to scout meetings or show support, but the leadership limitation recognizes that many parents do not want their children led by homosexuals in an organization that promotes character qualities often associated with Judeo-Christian principles.
Turner, a longtime Southern Baptist, said the future can look different as vast improvements in the system have been made.
“Now more than ever, godly men and women should be vitally involved in a Scouting ministry which assures a safe haven for participants and contributes to the spiritual development of its members and their families,” Turner said.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).