Boy Scouts: Lessons from their Secret Files

Stories of how the Boy Scouts organization dealt with sexual abuse through the past decades are now surfacing as their secret files have been made public.  While there are many stories being published, this blog is going to quote from a story that appeared in my local paper, The DAYTON DAILY NEWS.

My interest in the story is not so much about the Boy Scouts and that institution but more the implications, if any, for how the Church deals with sexual misconduct.  What we see in the news about the BSA,   as in the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky case, sexual abuse can occur wherever there are kids present.  it is not religious institutions which have a penchant for child sex abuse but rather predators find their way to organizations where they can have access to children.  The temptation and tendency by institutional leaders to protect the institution and downplay the problems is prevalent in church and non-church institutions.

I am quoting from the Dayton Daily News story, Boy Scout Files Reveal Local Abuse.    (I have added the red highlight in the text to emphasize the part of the quote that I thought has implications for the Church’s handling of sexual misconduct).

The files reveal that some alleged pedophiles across the country and locally continued in scouting even after allegations were leveled against them. In several cases, community leaders such as judges and pastors helped keep the name of scouting out of the courts or the media, according to an Associated Press review of the files.

At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, a pillar of 20th century America.”

The fact that scouting leaders were allowed to continue in positions even after allegations emerged against them is shocking and yet sadly is a common story told about the church and other institutions as well.  NOTE:  it is considered shocking that ALLEGED pedophiles were kept in positions after allegations were leveled against them.  Never mind convicted pedophiles.  The mere fact that men were allowed to keep working in the BSA after allegations were made is shocking to the author of the article as it is to current public sentiment.  Once allegations are made, organizations are expected to take action – not wait to see if the allegations are substantiated.  The protection of children trumps the protection of the reputation of the leaders.    Standards now call for such people to be removed from contact with the kids immediately following an allegation and during the duration of a full investigation.   Organizations are expected to have policies and mechanisms in place for dealing with allegations which include removing the accused from contact with children.

According to the news article, “good” people felt it necessary to protect the name of the BSA and so they worked to prevent the stories from being made public rather than warning the public about the stories.   This has become completely unacceptable to the police and the public.  Civil lawsuits in many church cases have gone against church organizations precisely because they failed to warn their members about suspected pedophiles.

To protect the good name of the church or the organization has too often been why the church and other institutions failed to be transparent about such allegations.  That is also listed as a reason why action was not taken in the Penn State case according to the Freeh commission.  It may be that at one time people saw as “good intention” efforts to prevent stories of sexual abuse from becoming public knowledge.  Such efforts to conceal these crimes today is seen as criminal itself.

“At a news conference Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the files secret.

You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,’ said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.”

The protection of the public from evil and harm is expected to be part of the mission of the church and every public institution.  No matter what PR problems it may cause, the Church must be transparent about sexual misconduct in the church, especially related to children.  We cannot withhold from the public information that might help protect children.  Rather, the Church must find ways to go public with what it knows about sexual abuse and to actively seek witnesses and information about sexual abuse it suspects within the church.  Current standards would say it is not enough for a church to acknowledge one of its clergy engaged in sexual misconduct.  Now the church is expected to publicly ask anyone with information regarding sexual misconduct to come forward.  The institution may fear such an invite exposes the church to further bad publicity and to further liability if more allegations come forward.  The Church especially should live by the notion that God is not mocked – we cannot hide our misdeeds from Him, and neither should we attempt to conceal criminal behavior in the church for in doing this we expose more people to harm.

In many instances — more than a third, according to the Scouts’ own count — police weren’t told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement still did nothing, seeking to protect the name of Scouting over their victims.”

The OCA’s policies do require that proper civil authorities be informed when sexual abuse involves children or whenever the law would require a report to be made.  Church leaders, including parish priests, teachers and parish council members, have to make themselves familiar with state laws to know when and what to report.  Not tolerating any instances of sexual misconduct is the best offense against them.

“The documents reveal that on many occasions the files succeeded in keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions — the reason why they were collected in the first place. But the files are also littered with horrific accounts of alleged pedophiles who were able to continue in Scouting because of pressure from community leaders and local Scouts officials.”

People don’t want to believe that someone who is “such a good man” could do sexual abuse.  People don’t want the name of the institution besmirched.  There are many reasons why people might pressure others to be silent.   Lesson learned is that all allegations must be taken seriously – which means investigated with written reports recorded about their findings.

“The files also document other troubling patterns. There is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were abused by their leaders, or what was done for the victims. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for alleged abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.”

OUCH.   Compassion for the abusers but not for the victims.  Especially in the church there is a pressure and tendency to “forgive” the abusers while paying less attention to the victims.

We see how institutions of all kinds, not just church ones, respond in similar ways to reports of abuse:  protect the institution, shield the big names within the institution, don’t let people know about the abuse to prevent others from being scandalized.   Even if these were acceptable ideas at one time, they are no longer acceptable nor do they represent any standard of behavior for institutions and organizations.  Church leaders have to commit themselves to bringing the church up to the standards of the day.