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.
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.
In 1972, a local Scouting executive beseeched national headquarters to drop the case against a suspected abuser because he was undergoing professional treatment and was personally taking steps to solve his problem. ‘‘If it don’t stink, don’t stir it,’’ the local executive wrote.
Scouting’s efforts to keep abusers out were often disorganized. There’s at least one memo from a local Scouting executive pleading for better guidance on how to handle abuse allegations. Sometimes the pleading went the other way, with national headquarters begging local leaders for information on suspected abusers, and the locals dragging their feet.
In numerous instances, alleged abusers are kicked out of Scouting but show up in jobs where they are once again in authority positions dealing with youths.
The files also show Scouting volunteers serving in the military overseas, molesting American children living abroad and sometimes continuing to molest after returning to the states.
But one of the most startling revelations to come from the files is the frequency with which attempts to protect Scouts from molesters collapsed at the local level, at times in collusion with community leaders.
It happened when a local district attorney declined to prosecute two confessed offenders; when a three-judge panel included two men on the local Scouting executive board; when law enforcement sought to protect the name of Scouting and let an admitted child molester go free.
Their actions represent a stark betrayal, says Clark, who won the case that opened the files to public view. ‘‘It’s kind of a deal. The deal is, our society will give you incredible status and respect, Norman Rockwell will paint pictures of you, and in exchange for that, you take care of our kids,’’ Clark said. ‘‘That’s the deal, incredible respect and privilege. But there was a worm in the apple.’’
The Louisiana case certainly contained all the essentials for a police investigation and, perhaps, a conviction: The scoutmaster admitted to raping a 17-year-old boy on a camping trip and otherwise sexually molesting two other boys; the victims corroborated his confession. But evidently, no charges were ever filed.
The man was let off with a warning that should he be found with young men in the future, he was subject to immediate incarceration at the state prison.
The man ‘‘was asked to leave the parish, and if he was caught around or near any boy or youth organization, he would be sent to state prison immediately,’’ a Scouting executive wrote to national headquarters. ‘‘We are indeed sorry that Scouting was involved.’’
With the deadline to disclose the files looming, the Scouts in late September made public an internal review of the files and said they would look into past cases to see whether there were times when men they suspected of sex abuse should have been reported to police.
The files showed a ‘‘very low’’ incidence of abuse among Scout leaders, said psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Warren, who conducted the review with a team of graduate students and served as an expert witness for the Scouts in the 2010 case that made the files public. Her review of the files didn’t take into account the number of files destroyed on abusers who turned 75 years old or died, something she said would not have significantly affected the rate of abuse or her conclusions.
The rate of abuse among Scouts is the not the focus of their critics — it is, rather, their response to allegations of abuse. In the files from 1959 to 1985, most salient is the complicity of local officials in concealing the abuse by Scouts leaders.
Warren told the AP such complicity ‘‘was simply quite a natural desire to want to be somewhat protective over (the BSA).’’
Certain cases, well-detailed by the Scouts, illustrate how it happened.
In Newton, Kan., in 1961, the county attorney had what he needed for a prosecution: Two men were arrested and admitted that they had molested Scouts in their care.Continued...