bsa uniform & us flag (copy)

The story is hauntingly, infuriatingly familiar.

A large organization, respected — even revered — pledged to uphold and maintain certain ideals and traditions, promising in particular to care for young people, is revealed to have betrayed that trust in the most shocking way.

And then, to compound that failure, it attempted to hide behind a wall of secrecy about the crimes, seemingly more interested in protecting the perpetrators than in protecting the vulnerable children in its charge.

And now, faced with multiple lawsuits from alleged victims, the organization’s first thought seems to be how to shield itself from the financial consequences of the actions of those it protected for so long.

As you may have surmised, this time we are not talking about the Catholic Church and the sexual abuse scandals that have battered that organization for decades now.

This past week, the Boy Scouts of America — the national organization that was founded more than a century ago to teach young men to “Be Prepared” — filed for bankruptcy.

The group is facing legal across the country brought by former scouts and their families who allege that adults in the program used their access to children to sexually molest them.

In 2010, a jury in Portland, Ore., levied an $18.5 million civil judgment against the Scouts that led to the release of secret files — more than 15,000 pages detailing accusations of sexual abuse against 1,247 scout leaders between 1965 and 1985, with thousands of victims involved.

In this area, already scarred by the James Porter scandal — one of the first cases of clergy abuse to become widely known, accusations dating from the 1970s against former teacher and scout leader William Sheehan roiled the town of Foxboro and resulted in its own spate of lawsuits.

Area scout councils that oversee the local troops emphasize that they are not involved in the current financial predicament of the national organization. Scouting activities — meetings, hikes, camping trips — will go on as usual.

In fact, area councils were remarkably unanimous in their response to the bankruptcy filing, issuing almost identical statements. That’s unfortunate because those leaders are at the forefront of efforts to protect Scouts today and might have offered reassurances to parents and guardians.

To be fair, Scouting has taken a number of positive steps that other organizations could well emulate to protect children.

The group pledges that the bankruptcy move is not an attempt to evade responsibility but an effort to ensure its response is fair to all.

What’s needed, however, are not promises. It’s openness and transparency that’s required to restore faith in a once trusted organization. Are the Scouts prepared to do that?

Tom Reilly is a Sun Chronicle news editor. He can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews​

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