By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
A Boy Scout bankruptcy case that brought forward more than 80,000 claims of alleged abuse nationwide includes more than 3,000 claims filed in Pennsylvania, reports generated by law firms involved in the case show.
The Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy in February 2020, opening the door for victims to file claims seeking compensation for abuse, regardless of when the incidents took place, and whether the statute of limitations was expired.
Abuse survivors were given until last Nov. 16 to submit a claim through the bankruptcy proceeding.
A report based on claims filed as part of the proceeding shows that only California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida and Ohio have more claims filed than the 3,053 claims filed by survivors who allege they were abused while participating in Boy Scout activities in Pennsylvania.
The revelations come as the Boy Scouts and attorneys for the victims have been grappling over where the money to pay victims will come from.
The Boy Scouts filed a new proposal in bankruptcy court indicating that the local councils would be expected to chip in $425 million while the national organization would provide $115 million. Under that plan, victims wouldn’t be able to sue the local councils. The national organization’s filing indicates that if that plan doesn’t fly, it could put forward a plan that would only involve the national Boy Scouts, and while local councils wouldn’t have to contribute financially, they would then remain at risk of future lawsuits.
Tim Kosnoff, an attorney representing abuse victims, said that none of the plans that the Boy Scouts have offered have been satisfactory. And as far as he’s concerned, if the process ends up with the Boy Scouts running out of money and liquidating all its assets to come up with the funds to pay the victims, that would be fine with him.
“This is the organization has forfeited its moral right to exist,” he said. “It’s an atrocity that an entity like this can use the bankruptcy court to shield itself.”
The attorneys for victims provided information about a portion of the claimants to researchers at Child USA, the Philadelphia-based research organization that lobbies for statute of limitations reform.
Their analysis provides a snapshot of the cases and how often Boy Scouts leadership ignored reports that adults n the organization were molesting boys, Kosnoff said.
— 96 percent of the boys abused were molested by Scout leaders;
— The average age of the boys abused was 12;
— Almost 20 percent of the boys were abused by more than one person;
— 35 percent of victims said that someone else was aware of the abuse at the time it happened;
— 45.5 percent know the abuser did similar things or abused others;
— When victims reported abuse, 64 percent of the perpetrators remained active in the organization after the victim came forward;
— Just over 71 percent of the boys who were abused reported they were molested more than once.
“The Boy Scouts was the perfect most diabolically designed system for the sexual abuse of boys,” Kosnoff said.
The Child USA report noted that the very design of Boy Scout activities contributed heavily to the pattern of abuse.
“While the goals of nature exploration and survival skill development are admirable, the structure of Scouting was insufficient at ensuring the safety of children,” they concluded. “By taking children into nature with only few adults, no oversight, and no child defensible spaces, Scouts exposed children to scenarios which make them situationally weak and vulnerable to abuse from perpetrators.”
In a statement provided for this story, the Boy Scouts of America said that the organization is working to provide compensation for victims while keeping the organization intact to continue serving young people.
“We are devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who have come forward to file claims in the BSA’s Chapter 11 case. We are heartbroken that we cannot undo their pain,” the organization’s statement said.
Thousands of claims
While the court report indicates that 3,053 claims were based on abuse in Pennsylvania, it’s not exactly clear where in the state about 1,300 of those cases took place. There are 1,841 cases linked specifically to local districts including 509 in the Cradle of Liberty Council, based in Wayne and 351 in the Laurel Highlands Council, based in Pittsburgh.
Among the others:
There were 87 in the French Creek Council based in Erie;
Fifty-two claims based in the Moraine Trails Council based in Butler;
Forty-nine claims based in the Susquehanna Council based in Williamsport;
Nine claims out of the Columbia-Montour Council, based in Bloomsburg;
And seven claims in the Chief Cornplanter Council, based in Warren.
The Boy Scout bankruptcy has largely been overshadowed by the parallel scandal involving claims that the Catholic Church shielded predator priests who’d abuse victims across the state for decades.
Kathryn Robb, executive director of ChildUSAdvocacy, said that the Boy Scout scandal has attracted less attention because it’s been in the spotlight for far less time.
Revelations about predator priests have been emerging periodically for almost two decades — since the Boston Globe’s landmark investigation of the Boston Archdiocese in 2002 that was later immortalized in the movie Spotlight. Since then, there have been multiple grand jury investigations examining the conduct of church officials in Pennsylvania, she said.
The flood of claims in the Boy Scout bankruptcy also comes as Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has refused to pass legislation to allow civil lawsuits by survivors in cases where the statute of limitations has expired. A measure to open a window for lawsuits was on track to be on the ballot in May but the Department of State bungled a public notice requirement.
A move to employ a rarely-used emergency provision to fast-track a change to the state Constitution then got derailed in the state Senate.
Advocates argue that the bankruptcy process gives the institution accused of misconduct too much control over the compensation process.
“They are interested in protecting their images and their pocketbooks,” Robb said.
It also strips away some of the most important rights that victims would have if they were able to sue in civil court — chiefly, that they’d be able to identify their abusers and those who covered up the abuse, she said.
That’s important not only to give justice to the victims but to protect the community by shedding light on the actions of people whose conduct hasn’t been publicized.
“The most important thing is exposing hidden predators,” Robb said, which won’t happen through the bankruptcy process.
Thus far, the bankruptcy has had far less direct impact on local Boy Scout operations than the COVID pandemic, said Dennis Dugan, scout executive for the Susquehanna Council of the Boy Scouts, based in Williamsport.
Local Boy Scout officials “feel terrible for any victim that suffered,” Dugan said. ““Prior to COVID 19 we were actually increasing membership in the Susquehanna Council, and we have begun expanding our programming while following all safety programs including masking and social distancing,” he said.
“The National BSA bankruptcy, when completed, will allow Scouting to grow. Parents and youth know that we strive to keep youth safe in the Susquehanna Council and we have had stringent standards and procedures in place for many years and in 2020 we led all 253 Councils with over 99 percent of our volunteers both Youth Protection trained and trained in the Leadership positions they hold,” Dugan said.