Plaintiff Kerry Lewis reacts in April 2010 after a jury in Portland, Ore., found the Boy Scouts negligent for failing to protect him and other boys from sexual abuse by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s. | AP
Updated: November 22, 2012 6:38AM
It’s a story we’ve seen too often. A venerable institution — the Catholic Church, Penn State University — turns a blind eye to child abuse to protect the institution’s image.
This week, the release of 1,200 old files focused attention on the Boy Scouts. The files from 1959 to 1985 showed that, on repeated occasions, police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and Scout leaders kept quiet about accusations of child molestation, often to protect the Scouts’ reputation. Other files released earlier showed the same pattern.
The files came from the Scouts’ behind-the-scenes records at the organization’s headquarters in Texas, which dates back almost to the Boy Scouts’ founding in 1910. It was a blacklist intended to keep out accused molesters.
But it didn’t work. Reporters unearthed dozens of cases in which predators who were kicked out managed to get back in, sometimes only to face new allegations of abuse. In other cases, abusers admitted their crimes but were never brought to justice.
Only the children paid the price.
In a statement, Wayne Perry, national president of the Boy Scouts, said: “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.”
But if the Boy Scouts truly have seen the light, why did it take a court fight in Oregon to bring the files into public view?
In the long run, concealing information to protect an institution backfires. The Catholic Church is still bailing itself out after keeping silent for years about pedophiles in its ranks.
Some outside experts now praise the Boy Scouts as a leader in combatting sexual abuse. The organization requires background checks. It runs training programs for its staff, volunteers, parents and youths. It requires that all suspected abuse be reported to authorities.
But had the Scouts forthrightly confronted the problem earlier, corrective measures would have been put in place sooner, and the number of victims would have been fewer.
It’s not like no one knew of the importance of reporting child abuse. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was passed back in 1974.
Worst yet, the organization still bans gays from being scouts or adult volunteers with Scout troops. That’s wrong. Pedophiles, not gays, are the problem.
The Boy Scouts of America faces the prospect of a new wave of lawsuits. Who knows where that will lead.
But the lesson is clear: Our children must never again be sacrificed on the altars of spineless institutions.