Our opinion: A too-familiar scandal

Monday October 22, 2012

They protected sexual predators while ignoring their responsibilities to the innocent victims of those predators. They were determined to protect the reputation of their organization, but by ignoring and covering up the crimes of predators they did extensive damage to that reputation. We’re referring specifically here to the Boy Scouts of America, but it could just as well be Penn State University, the Catholic Church or any organization whose institutional arrogance blinds it to what is moral and what is immoral.

The Oregon Scouting scandal reached as far as Berkshire County on Thursday when the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the release of 14,500 pages of secret "perversion files" related to the molesting of children by Scout leaders and others from 1959 to 1985. An array of police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders -- all undoubtedly pillars of the community -- compounded these crimes by covering them up in the interest of protecting reputations rather than victims.

The confidential files pertaining to two Berkshire County cases are revealing in how institutions too typically react when sexual predators are found in their midst. In a Pittsfield case from 1963, the scoutmaster from Troop 14 resigned after parents reported abuse claims following two camping trips. A Boy Scout administrator, replying to a letter from the scoutmaster, suggested avoiding "problems such as you had before" if he should return to Scouting. Clearly, the scoutmaster should have been advised to stay away from children and Scouting altogether and seek professional help. Law enforcement authorities were apparently not notified by anyone about the incidents. Similarly, an incident in 1976 involving the groping of a scout by a scoutmaster during a camping trip by North Adams Troop 125 ended with the banning of the scoutmaster from the organization but no criminal action.

As Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said in Saturday’s Eagle, "It’s pretty sad that nothing was done to protect the victims in any of the cases." While the statute of limitations may make it difficult or impossible to prosecute these cases at this point, anyone who is abused under any circumstance should accept Mr. Capeless’ invitation to contact his office, as help can be provided by a variety of services even if a case can no longer be brought before the courts.

The Boy Scouts of America share with the Catholic Church an antipathy toward gays, a policy the Scouts re-emphasized earlier this year by reviewing and upholding their stance against gay Scout leaders. It’s unfortunate that the Scouts don’t know who their real enemy is. If the Scouts had expended the same energy on rooting out pedophiles as they did in upholding their archaic anti-gay policy the organization wouldn’t be in this mess.

Excellent work benefiting generations of young men has been done by the Boy Scouts of America in Berkshire County all across the nation, but whether or not the organization can survive this massive scandal depends on how it goes forward. The Scouts should learn from the example of the Catholic Church, which from Boston to the Vatican blamed the media, the victims and society for its failings before grudgingly beginning to institute reform in recent years. The Scouts say they will review all cases going back to 1965 and contact authorities were necessary, but they would be wise to hire independent investigators to do this work. The organization has compromised its integrity and it will need help in regaining it.


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