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COURSEY: Scouting's secrets fail 'morally straight' oath


The Boy Scout Oath:

<i>On my honor I will do my best

To do my duty to God and my country

and to obey the Scout Law;

To help other people at all times;

To keep myself physically strong,

mentally awake, and morally straight.</i>

Boy Scouts have followed that oath through more than a century of Scouting. As it turns out, though, many of their leaders have not.

The group that so stubbornly bans "open or avowed homosexuals" to supposedly protect its participants for decades has protected child molesters who harmed scouts while working or volunteering for the organization. Boy Scouts of America kept secret files on the molesters in an attempt to bar them from scouting, but in many cases did nothing to alert law enforcement or the general public about the threat those molesters posed to the greater community.

They protected their "good" name instead of protecting children. Hardly a "morally straight" policy.

On Thursday, thousands of pages of those files — known inside BSA as the "perversion files" — were made public. They outline the cases against some 1,200 adult Scout leaders who abused or were suspected of abusing kids in their care. Some were from the North Bay.

The files paint a picture of an organization that was more concerned about its reputation, and often the reputation of the molesters, than it was about the well-being of the children who were victimized. They paint a picture of an organization that, like the Catholic Church in its own molestation scandals, was held in high esteem by our society and was entrusted with the care and education of millions of children, yet chose to turn its back on those children when they needed it most.

In one Santa Rosa case from 1969, an assistant scoutmaster admitted that he had suggested to a young scout that "he might indulge in an indecent act with me," but the boy refused. The scoutmaster's name was "red flagged" by BSA, but there is no indication he was reported to authorities.

In another case, from 1968, a former employee of the Sonoma-Mendocino Council of the BSA was revealed to have been convicted of child molestation after he left the scouting job. In a letter asking his name to be placed in the national organization's "confidential files" to keep him from re-connecting with scouting, the local scout executive wrote, "Fortunately for the Scouting Movement, the general public are not aware of what (the man) had done."

The files raise a lot of questions about the Boy Scouts, but they also raise two disturbing questions about our society: How were we so blind to what was going on in trusted organizations such as the Scouts and the Church in the 1970s and 1980s, and how well are the protections put in place since then working today?

Of course, the exploitation of children didn't start in the &‘70s. In fact the Boy Scouts started compiling their files on unwanted adult leaders as early as 1919. The 20-year portion of them released Thursday is the result of a court order after they were used as key pieces of evidence in a 2010 Portland, Ore., abuse trial. That trial resulted in a $20 million judgment against BSA.

It also revealed a long pattern of covering up crimes against children within the organization, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times about files released in a previous case that dates to 1992.

That reporting reveals that while Scouting officials have said their secrecy was a way to spare young victims embarrassment, it also allowed some alleged molesters to go on to abuse other children. In at least a third of the files released on Thursday, the alleged molester was never reported to law enforcement authorities.

Meaning that while they may have been barred from participating in Scouting, there was nothing to keep them from moving on to another organization where they could work with kids.

It was a pattern repeated over and over, a pattern that we've become familiar with in cases of Catholic priests who were separated from their victims, but often just shuffled off to somewhere else rather than prosecuted for their crimes.

BSA in 1991 changed its policies to prohibit adult leaders from being alone with young Scouts, requires mandatory reporting to authorities of any allegations of abuse, and other protections for children. In a statement, the organization said, "The Boy Scouts of America believes even a single instance of abuse is unacceptable, and we regret there have been times when the BSA's best efforts to protect children were insufficient. For that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims. We are committed to helping members of our Scouting family who have suffered abuse and assist them through a variety of means, including counseling."

For thousands of kids — now adults — the new rules and the caring statement are much too little, much too late. And for many parents, it leaves uncomfortable suspicions about an activity that once seemed innocent and wholesome.

To be sure, Boy Scouts has been a positive factor in the lives of many young men. It still provides a positive experience for the majority of its participants, an introduction to the outdoors, important lessons in self-reliance, valuable opportunities for leadership at an early age.

But it failed its members and failed its communities for decades, and the damage caused by those failures is only beginning to be revealed.

BSA says it will review more than a half-century of its confidential files on alleged sexual predators and will inform law enforcement of any cases it had not previously disclosed, the Times reported. That unprecedented review will examine about 5,000 cases dating from the 1950s to the present in which Scouting employees or volunteers were suspected of molesting children and were expelled from the organization, officials said.

Five thousand cases. It's sickening to imagine how many kids were victimized in the 60 years that BSA has been sitting on this information.

(Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.)