The Boy Scouts of America organization is going through a rough period -- and deservedly so. How it deals with its controversies will go a long way in deciding the future of Scouting, which has seen a 20 percent drop in membership since 1999.
Last week, thousands of pages of confidential Boy Scout files kept between 1959 and 1985 were released detailing suspected and proven cases of child sexual abuse of Scouts involving Scout leaders. The files -- dubbed "perversion files" in media reports but officially called the "Ineligible Volunteer Files" by the Boy Scouts -- contain memos by Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and parents, and newspaper clips about legal cases. Locally, cases or allegations involve troop leaders from Arlington Heights, Bensenville, Carpentersville, Naperville, Villa Park and Wood Dale.
It's all very sad.
What is most disturbing about the files, however, is not that the organization tried to keep sexual predators away from children -- that should be lauded. But it's that in many cases the end goal was not protecting children but preserving Scouting's name.
According to The Associated Press, BSA acknowledges that more than a third of the abuse instances documented in the files were not reported to police. The AP found a Pennsylvania case in which a Scouting executive, recommending the case be dropped, wrote, "If it don't stink, don't stir it."
That does more than stink. It's a stench the public has smelled more than once. We are reminded of the efforts of the Catholic church to deal with cases of child sexual abuse by priests on its own rather than report them to authorities. And of the case of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University, in which university officials and legendary football coach Joe Paterno were accused of keeping silent their suspicions for fear of ruining the reputation of the football program.
Keeping silent can never be the answer. Everyone has a responsibility to report suspicions to the proper authorities when children are involved. Anything less is repugnant -- and gives these predators more chances to find other victims.
Locally, we reported over the weekend on some cases in which the Boy Scouts removed people from volunteering but no official charges were brought. (Others did include information on charges.) It's unclear if the cases were reported to authorities. It would be a travesty if they weren't. But we urge the local Scout councils to follow through on their promises to be vigilant in protecting children.
"Our policies have evolved since the mid-1980s," said Matt Ackerman, spokesman for the Boy Scouts Three Fires Council based in St. Charles. "We do take youth protection very seriously. It's one of the most important things that we have to do,"
We agree, The Boy Scouts failed in the past. They must not fail again.