PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Again and again, decade after decade, an array of authorities — police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders among them — quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children, a newly opened trove of confidential papers shows.
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. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of secret ‘‘perversion files’’ released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, their maneuvers allowed sexual predators to go free while victims suffered in silence.
The files are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain details about proven molesters, but also unsubstantiated allegations.
The allegations stretch across the country and to military bases overseas, from a small town in the Adirondacks to downtown Los Angeles.
At the news conference Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the full trove of 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 Associated Press obtained copies of the files weeks ahead of Thursday’s release and conducted an extensive review of them, but agreed not to publish the stories until the files were released. Clark was releasing the documents to the public online at www.kellyclarkattorney.com ; he said the website was operating slowly Thursday because so many people were trying to access it.
The files were shown to a jury in a 2010 Oregon civil suit that the Scouts lost, and the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the files should be made public. After months of objections and redactions, the Scouts and Clark released them.
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.
Victims like three brothers, growing up in northeast Louisiana.
On the afternoon of Aug. 10, 1965, their distraught mother walked into the third floor of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office. A 31-year-old scoutmaster, she told the chief criminal deputy, had raped one of her sons and molested two others.
Six days later, the scoutmaster, an unemployed airplane mechanic, sat down in front of a microphone in the same station, said he understood his rights and confessed: He had sexually abused the woman’s sons more than once.
‘‘I don’t know how to tell it,’’ the man told a sheriff’s deputy. ‘‘They just occurred — I don’t know an explanation, why we done it or I done it or wanted to do it or anything else it just — an impulse I guess or something.
‘‘As far as an explanation I just couldn’t dig one up.’’
He wouldn’t have to. Seven days later, the decision was made not to pursue charges against the scoutmaster.
The last sliver of hope for justice for the abuse of two teenagers and an 11-year-old boy slipped away in a confidential letter from a Louisiana Scouts executive to the organization’s national personnel division in New Jersey.
‘‘This subject and Scouts were not prosecuted,’’ the executive wrote, ‘‘to save the name of Scouting.’’
In a statement on Thursday, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said’’ ‘'There is nothing more important than the safety of our Scouts.’’
Smith said there have been times when Scouts’ responses to sex abuse allegations were ‘‘plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong’’ and the organization extends its ‘‘deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.’’
An Associated Press review of the files found that the story of these brothers and their scoutmaster, however horrendous, was not unique.
The files released Thursday were collected between 1959 and 1985, with a handful of others from later years. Some have been released previously, but others — those from prior to 1971, including the story of the three scouts in Ouachita Parish — have been made public for the first time.Continued...