Boy Scouts must use bankruptcy for moral purpose, not just financial


The declaration landed with a thud. The 110-year-old Irving, Texas-based institution we know as the Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy this week in what is a very messy fight over sexual abuse claims going back decades.

The details here are complex and even arcane. As The Wall Street Journal has reported, there are some 275 pending lawsuits over sexual abuse and another 1,400 more claims waiting in the wings. Most of these — an estimated 90% — are eligible to come forward because several states have revised the statute of limitations to allow claimants to sue over abuse decades in the past. But the top-line out of this legal morass is clear and even simple, if also hard to do: The Boy Scouts of America needs to lead in showing how a venerated organization can do right by victims as it works to restore its ability to serve as an important cultural institution.

And it should be clear that for millions of Americans, the Boy Scouts has been an important cultural institution for decades. The Scouts have long taught leadership, self-reliance, resiliency, creativity and teamwork and all in service to a larger purpose. The Scouts taught public service and civic engagement to generations.

But the Scouts have also been wounded in a culture war and held fast to indefensible positions for far too long in terms of allowing for gay and transgender scouts. The organization has since reversed its position to allow these Americans to serve in its ranks and have also pulled girls into the organization in ways that should serve them, as well as the institution.

Now the organization has to account for decades of denials and obfuscation in terms of sexual abuse. The facts show that there were young Americans who joined the Scouts to learn how to live with honor and courage but who were instead shown dishonor, abuse and cowardice. Doing right by these victims to the extent possible is the only thing the organization can do to show that, as an institution, it will live by the ideals it always needed to serve.

It is possible to do that through the bankruptcy process that will now organize claims in federal court where assets and allegations can be sorted out legally and fairly and a compensation fund can be created. But rather than a purely legal process the Boy Scouts need to demonstrate an understanding that this is about more than money and protecting assets. Transparency fosters integrity, compensation signals acknowledgment of culpability, and accepting fault where appropriate are crucial components of leadership. And we should all hope that the Boy Scouts of America can be that social institution that fosters leadership and service that we’ve always needed it to be.


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