Honesty is the best policy

Honesty is the best policy

September 21st, 2012 in Opinion Times

The Boy Scouts of America, until recently, always has enjoyed a reputation generally beyond reproach. For generations, many parents encouraged their sons to join Scouting groups where they would be taught the values, skills and traits that are widely held to be essential to the molding of good, self-reliant citizens of the nation and of contributing members of society. Turns out, though, that the BSA didn't always practice what it preached and taught. The group's once-stellar reputation has taken a major and deserved hit as a result.

For several decades, and perhaps more, Boy Scout officials failed to report hundreds of alleged child abusers to authorities - or to the parents of the boys and young men allegedly victimized. That's the conclusion of an recent investigative report in the Los Angeles Times.

Reporters examined more than 1,600 files from 1971-1990 and concluded on the basis of evidence discovered that in many cases that BSA "officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it. The problem apparently extends far beyond those years. The paper reported that the BSA apparently maintained a blacklist of alleged predators dating to 1919.

Such self-interest - putting the well-being of the organization ahead of the safety of those in its charge - is hardly in keeping with long-stated principles that encourage Scouts to respect the law and to keep themselves morally straight. The latter phrase, over the years, has been interpreted to mean to live one's life with honesty. Revelations of the cover-up of alleged abusers - which first came to light in a federal court case - suggest that the Boy Scouts, in many documented instances, did not follow its own precepts. That's unacceptable,

To be fair, the BSA has initiated steps in recent years to protect its members from abuse. It now mandates staff and volunteer background checks. It has increased child abuse prevention training. It requires that those involved in Scouting promptly report any suspicion of abuse or molestation to law enforcement officials. And it has instituted a policy that requires two adults to be present at all activities and that says that no Scout should be alone with a leader.

Such positive steps, though, do not negate what took place in the past, explain the organization's continued reluctance to publicly discuss the allegations and to provide more transparency about the BSA's so called "perversion files."

The newspaper investigation covered only the 1971-1990 files. It did not examine more recent files and the BSA has neither released nor made public its own examination of more recent file. Without that information, there's no way to say definitively if the new requirements have reduced reports and instances of alleged abuse. That should be public information.

If the Boy Scouts of America is to fully regain its reputation as a positive role model, it will have to reassure parents and the nation that it can and will honor its own principles. It can start that process by engaging in a public discussion about the actions described in the report in the Los Angeles Times.