By SCOTT K. PARKS / The Dallas Morning News
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Pedophilia has dogged the Boy Scouts for decades, and the issue shows no signs of going away. No one knows how many men have infiltrated the organization for immoral sexual purposes.
News organizations and child advocates are awaiting an Oregon court’s ruling on whether thousands of internal files documenting suspected pedophiles in Scouting should be released to the public.
The so-called “ineligible volunteer” files are kept at the Boy Scouts’ national headquarters in Irving.
Spanning two decades between 1965 and 1985, they tell unspeakable stories.
The files were entered into evidence during a civil court case pitting former Boy Scout Kerry Lewis against the Scouts’ national council and its Portland-area branch.
Lewis alleged that a Scoutmaster had sexually abused him repeatedly when he was a Scout during the 1980s – even after the Scoutmaster had been identified as a pedophile.
The case ended in April when a jury returned an $18.5 million verdict against the Scouts.
Kelly Clark, one of Lewis’ attorneys, successfully argued that the BSA had reacted defensively to allegations that it hadn’t done enough to identify and prosecute pedophiles in its ranks, preferring instead to quietly expel them.
Evidence showed that Scout leaders often did not tell parents that pedophile Scoutmasters had abused their children. The Oregon jury’s verdict sent a clear message to Scouting, Clark said.
“The short version is that you cannot put the mission of the organization above the safety of kids, no matter how divinely inspired you think it is,” Clark said.
The Scouts plan to appeal the Oregon verdict, but they face similar pedophile cases around the U.S.
Virginia Starr, a spokeswoman for the Scouts, addressed the issue in e-mailed answers to questions from The Dallas Morning News. She said the organization established a Youth Protection Program in the late 1980s and has repeatedly improved it during the last 20 years.
Scout leaders are no longer allowed to meet one on one with boys. Mandatory youth-protection training for all Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers was adopted just last month. Criminal background checks for volunteers are required.
In addition, Scoutmasters and Scouts cannot sleep in the same tent unless they are father and son. Separate shower arrangements are made for adults and children on campouts.
Jim Brunner, Scoutmaster of Troop 300 in Plano, is among the many adult volunteers watching the pedophile cases as they go to court. He said the allegations are decades old and do not reflect today’s reality.
He praised chief Scout executive Bob Mazzuca and the national office for adapting to the times, even to the point of including warnings against pedophiles in the legendary Boy Scout Handbook.
“The Boy Scouts are on the cutting edge of youth protection,” Brunner said. “They’ve led the way.”
Pedophiles present one problem for the Scouts. The ban on gays presents another challenge. It essentially forces families to decide whether it’s ethical to belong to a group that discriminates against people based on sexual orientation.
Mazzuca said his organization’s position is essentially synonymous with the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“The issue only becomes an issue when a person makes it an issue,” he said in an interview with The News. “Sexuality has no place in Scouting in any context.”
In a two-page document titled “2009 Report to the Nation,” Mazzuca makes no mention of youth protection or any of the other issues that threaten to distract Scouting from its mission.
Instead, the report is filled with facts: Scouts collaborate with 118,000 educational, faith-based and community organizations; 52,470 Scouts earned the Eagle rank in 2009; Scouts contributed more than 700,000 hours to projects beneficial to streams, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water.
Concluding his interview with The News, Mazzuca said, “We plan to be here for another hundred years.”