The Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy Tuesday amid an ever-shrinking membership and a host of lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by thousands of Scouting workers or volunteers over several decades.
The 110-year-old organization announced that it would make a Chapter 11 filing in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, kick-starting what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen.
Under the Chapter 11 filing, the Boy Scouts of America will be allowed to continue its operations, and action on the current lawsuits will be placed on hold. However, the organization eventually could be forced to sell off some of its property, such as campgrounds, to create a $1 billion victims’ fund for as many as 5,000 former Scouts who could seek compensation.
“The BSA encourages victims to come forward to file a claim as the bankruptcy process moves forward,” the organization said in a written statement.
More than 12,000 Boy Scouts have been molested by 7,800 people in the organization since the 1920s, according to files revealed in court papers.
Lawyer Jeff Anderson, who has represented survivors of Catholic priest and Boy Scout abuse for decades, called the filing a “legal maneuver” to keep perpetrators’ names and documents secret.
“I don’t believe that this legal maneuver by the Boy Scouts of America will stop survivors from coming forward and shining a light on the perpetrators and perilous practices hidden by the organization,” Mr. Anderson said in a written statement.
Under Chapter 11 reorganization rules, the Boy Scouts of America could try to keep hidden a list of predators compiled by the organization since the 1920s, Mr. Anderson said.
He said the “perversion files,” estimated to contain the names of nearly 8,000 abusive Scouting leaders and workers, should be released publicly.
“It’s important that survivors know they still have a voice and can still bring a claim for the harm they suffered,” said Mr. Anderson of the law firm Anderson & Anderson Associates in St. Paul, Minnesota. “It’s time for anyone abused as a child in the Scouts to come forward.”
In announcing bankruptcy, the Boy Scouts of America emphasized that its local councils, which provide administrative support to troops, are not part of the filing and remain separate, legally and financially, from the national organization based in Irving, Texas.
“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” Roger Mosby, president and chief executive officer of the organization, said in a press release. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process … will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”
In addition to creating a victims’ fund, the organization said it will continue to fund in-person counseling for current or former Scouts who were abused, and for family members.
“I regret that these measures weren’t always in place or weren’t always enough,” said Jim Turley, national chairman of the Boy Scouts of America. “The fact is that predators harmed innocent children in Scouting programs, and for this I am deeply sorry.”
A 2012 court order in Oregon revealed a list of 7,800 abusers who were employed by or volunteered for the Boy Scouts of America since the 1920s. Janet Warren, a professor at the University of Virginia’s medical school, testified last year that her review of files in an unrelated case revealed more than 12,000 victims of sexual abuse.
Speculation swirled Tuesday over whether the Boy Scouts of America will continue to exist in its current organization or whether smaller groups will be formed to carry on its mission. On Jan. 1, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints withdrew nearly 500,000 Scouts after cutting its long-held ties with the organization.
The Boy Scouts of America has about 2.3 million members, down from its peak of more than 4 million in the early 1970s.
Another scouting group, Trail Life USA, sprouted up in 2013 shortly after the Boy Scouts of America allowed openly gay youths to participate, and maintains a similar troop-based structure and focus on camping and outdoors leadership. In a statement on its website Tuesday, Trail Life USA noted its adult background checks and blamed the Boy Scouts’ recent membership changes for the spate of lawsuits.
“In our opinion, the direction BSA has taken over the last five or six years seems to indicate they’ve blurred the lines of sexuality at a time when boys can have a lot of uncertainty and confusion in their lives,” the statement said.
What’s more, the Boy Scouts’ recent opening of its troops to girls angered the Girl Scouts of the USA, which emphasized Tuesday its protocols to guard against abuse.
“We are proud of our outstanding safety record, and have earned the trust of girls and parents because of it,” the Girl Scouts said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Abused in Scouting, a victims advocacy group that was formed just over a year ago, counts nearly 2,000 men among its ranks. A Chicago law firm reports that more than 300 clients are prepared to file claims seeking damages against the Boy Scouts of America. Many more men have stepped forward since states, such as New York and New Jersey, have eased statute of limitation rules to allow victims to file lawsuits alleging sexual abuse dating back decades in some cases.
Richard Halvorson, represented by Mr. Anderson, said he was sexually abused by his Scoutmaster in the early 1980s in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mr. Halvorson said he believes the Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 protection to shield documents and names.
“This is one way to turn around and victimize the victims again,” Mr. Halvorson said.
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America received a rare Title 36 congressional charter honoring patriotic and national organizations in 1916 from President Wilson. More than 130 million Americans are estimated to have participated in the Boy Scouts since its founding.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.