Secret files kept by the Boy Scouts of America reveal the organization's leaders may have helped hundreds of suspected child molesters "cover their tracks" by often hiding the allegations from parents, the public and police, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.
Documents obtained by the newspaper detail a paper trail of abuse where volunteers and staff were sometimes allowed to quietly resign to spare their reputation and that of the Scouts.
"We are making no accusations and will not release this information to anyone, so our action in no way will affect your standing in the community," stated a form letter sent to some alleged abusers in the '70s.
The records are part of the Scouts' "ineligible volunteer" files, a confidential list of alleged molesters kept by the organization since 1919. Some of the files have been made public after being introduced as evidence in civil trials.
The Times obtained the records from a 1992 California case. For its story, the newspaper reviewed 1,600 files dating from 1970 to 1991:
In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from boys, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.
In about 400 of those cases—80%—there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, The Times found.
Two of the examples cited:
In 1976, five Boy Scouts wrote detailed complaints accusing a Pennsylvania scoutmaster of two rapes and other sex crimes, according to his file. He abruptly resigned in writing, saying he had to travel more for work.
"Good luck to you in your new position," a top troop representative wrote back. He said he was accepting the resignation "with extreme regret."
A Maryland leader, who in 1990 "readily agreed" that abuse allegations against him were true, was given six weeks to resign and told he could give "his associates whatever reason that he chose," his file shows.
"This gave him an opportunity to withdraw from Scouting in a graceful manner to be determined by him," an official wrote. "We also reminded [him] that he had agreed to keep the whole matter confidential and we would not talk to anyone in order to give [him] complete ability to voluntarily withdraw."
Scouting officials reportedly declined to be interview by the Times, but said in a statement, "We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement and today require our members to report even suspicion of abuse directly to their local authorities."
The Scouts have said the decades of files were kept confidential to protect victims, encourage prompt reporting of questionable behavior and keep unwanted leaders out.
"We have a long history of incorporating new, best practices into our youth protection program," Scouts chief executive Robert Mazzuca said in June. "But unfortunately, there have still been times when the best practices of the time were insufficient, and for that we're deeply sorry."
Nearly 20,000 pages of confidential Scouts files from 1965 to 1985 are expected be made public in late October or November.