Just thinking out loud
Some of you may have seen or heard about the report in the Wall Street Journal that the Boy Scouts of America have consulted a bankruptcy attorney. If you did, you may have wondered what that was all about. Or, like some people, you may have simply constructed your own narrative, as did the pundit who used it as an opportunity to slam the BSA for its various changes in recent years. “From Woke to Broke” read the headline, as if the BSA were going bankrupt because it’s capitulated to the forces of progressivism.
Well, that’s bunk. But BSA itself is not doing much to explain what’s going on. As a Scouting volunteer, I’ve been sent the Chief Scout Executive’s “explanation,” which doesn’t actually explain anything, two or three times. But piecing together one thing and another, I think I can give a reasonable account of what this is all about.
BSA, like all youth-serving organizations, has to be on the watch for people who want to be volunteers who ought not be volunteers with youth. Namely, child abusers. It has to be vigilant because people who want to do bad things with kids seek out places of trust in organizations that work with children: organizations like scouts, and church youth ministry, and teaching, and coaching, even police and social work. If you want to do certain things with kids, you’ve got to go where the kids are. Weeding out these people is a problem that can never be solved. You have to keep at it.
BSA has done a very good job of keeping at it. They were among the first organizations in the country to insist on screening and training of ALL volunteers. They were far in advance of the church in this regard; when I was Conference Scouting Coordinator years ago, we led the whole Annual Conference in addressing this issue for ALL the ministries of our church that dealt with children, youth, and vulnerable adults.
Well, BSA started its comprehensive approach to screening and training in the 1980s. Prior to that, they expelled bad actors when they were identified, but that was about it. It was more than some orgs did, and nobody in any org knew much what to do with (especially) pedophiles. Kudos to BSA for expelling them, and for keeping an in-house, national database of people who had been denied registration for cause. This prevented someone who had been expelled in one Council from moving to another area and volunteering in another Council and doing the same thing over again. This also, was more than many orgs – including churches – did back then.
Anyway, a couple of years ago, BSA announced that its annual registration fee was going to jump from $24 per year to $30 per year. When I asked a clued-in friend why this was so, he replied that some lawyers had managed to find a way to get a judge to open up some 40-year-old abuse cases, and the payout was astronomical. Now, I don’t keep track of all these things, but I know some things about some of the cases BSA has been hit with over the years. They tend to be very, very old – well beyond the Statute of Limitations for criminal prosecutions. Not only that, but in some cases, they had already been adjudicated, and not only had the wrongdoers been punished, but the local Councils had settled with the victims. Suing the National Council, however, could be a major payday, if a judge would allow it. So, you’re seeing a trickle of cases from the 1970s being brought forward, here and there. Each one is not only a distraction but a financial disaster.
BSA points out that they believe victims and always strive to make things right when taken to court. And they do. But you have to ask yourself, is it fair to hit BSA time and again for forty-plus-year-old wrongdoing that they addressed with the best understanding and policies available at the time, while other orgs with similar histories – churches, schools, whatnot – haven’t been so hit?
So, BSA has apparently started a consultation with a national law firm that specializes in corporate bankruptcies – according to the WSJ. My guess is, they’re just asking questions at this point. They’re not actually going broke, certainly not for anything they’ve been doing in recent years with the program or membership. But if a corporation goes into certain forms of bankruptcy, one of the advantages is that they can continue to do business while all their obligations are sorted out under a federal bankruptcy judge. That means that a judge could – maybe – define these old cases as outstanding obligations and give everyone in the country a set deadline to apply for compensation, after which the corporation would be shielded from ever having to litigate any more of these old cases. As I say, “maybe.” That’s why you hire lawyers – to find out what is possible under the law, and if it’s in your interest to go that way.
In the meantime, BSA continues to do good things with kids of all ages and to screen and train volunteers so as to minimize risk of harm to youth. Hoosier Trails Council, where I am a volunteer, is to my mind one of the best-administered Councils in the nation. And I remain high on scouting in all its forms, as a great experience for children, youth, and their families – and as a major part of any church’s ministry.