The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection following hundreds of sex-abuse lawsuits in hopes of working out a victim compensation plan that will allow the 110-year-old organisation to carry on.
Tens of lawyers in the United States are seeking settlements on behalf of several thousand men who say they were molested as scouts by scoutmasters or other leaders decades ago but are only now eligible to sue because of recent changes in their states’ statute-of-limitations laws.
By going to bankruptcy court, as they did on Tuesday, the Scouts can put those lawsuits on hold for now.
But ultimately they could be forced to sell off some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a compensation fund that could surpass $1bn.
“There are a lot of very angry, resentful men out there who will not allow the Boy Scouts to get away without saying what all their assets are,” said lawyer Paul Mones, who represents numerous clients suing the group. “They want no stone unturned.”
James Kretschmer of Houston, one of many men suing for alleged abuse, said he was molested by a Scout leader over several months in the mid-1970s in the Spokane, Washington, area.
Regarding the bankruptcy, he said: “It is a shame because at its core and what it was supposed to be, the Boy Scouts is a beautiful organisation.
“But you know, anything can be corrupted and if they’re not going to protect the people that they’ve entrusted with the children, then shut it down and move on.”
Evan Roberts, a spokesman for the Scouts, said operations will move forward as normal despite the bankruptcy announcement.
“Scouting programmes will continue throughout this process and for many years to come,” he said.
The Boy Scouts’ finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.
The number of youths taking part in scouting has dropped below two million, down from more than four million in the peak years of the 1970s.
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have kept confidential files since the 1920s listing staff and volunteers implicated in sexual abuse, for the avowed purpose of keeping predators away from youth.
According to a court deposition, the files as of January listed 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims.
Last year, the organisation insisted it never knowingly allowed a sexual predator to work with young boys.
But in May, The Associated Press reported attorneys for abuse victims identified multiple cases in which known sex abusers were allowed to return to leadership posts.
The next day, Boy Scouts Chief Executive Mike Surbaugh wrote to a congressional committee, acknowledging the group’s previous claim was untrue.