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'Very Sad and Tragic Matter': Churches Face Fallout From Scout Crises


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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have been in the hot seat for years and its situation seems to be getting worse.

Membership numbers took a nosedive after the organization filed bankruptcy due to lawsuits by men alleging they were molested as youngsters by Scout leaders. Scandal, conflicts, and decisions to publicly embrace liberal ideas on sexuality have added to the downward spiral.

Now, religious groups that helped run thousands of Scout units are worried they won't be protected as the number of cases against the organization has increased to over 82,000.

BSA submitted an $850 million deal in July in hopes of blocking further lawsuits against it and its local councils. But, the settlement does not protect the more than 40,000 organizations that have charters with the BSA to sponsor Scout units, including many churches.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) said up to 5,000 of its U.S. congregations could be affected by potential lawsuits and advised those churches to cancel or alter their agreements through the rest of the year.

The UMC said these congregations were "disappointed and very concerned" that they weren't included in the settlement.

Everett Cygal, a lawyer for Catholic churches following the BSA's bankruptcy case, said churches now face liability "solely as a result of misconduct by Boy Scout troop leaders who frequently had no connection to the parish.

"Scouting can only be delivered with help of their chartered organizations," Cygal told The Associated Press. "It's shortsighted not to be protecting the people they absolutely need to ensure that scouting is viable in the future."

Other denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), urged their churches to seek legal counseling if there are concerns over possible sex-abuse litigation.

The Presbyterian and Evangelical Lutheran Church said member churches are independent corporations, therefore, they must decide on their own whether to continue a relationship with the BSA. 

"As a result of the bankruptcy, the congregation cannot confidently rely on the BSA, the local council, or their insurers to defend it," the Lutheran church stated. "The congregation needs to make sure that it has sufficient insurance and that its own insurance will cover them."

In a statement, the Boy Scouts said its association with chartered organizations and churches, "has been critical to delivering the Scouting program to millions of youth in our country for generations."

BSA said negotiations with those organizations are ongoing, however, it is hopeful that the bankruptcy proceedings will conclude by the end of this year.

Another obstacle to the negotiations is a differing opinion on how much fault exists within the churches.

Some churches say they were simply providing a place for the Scouts to meet, and the Scout leaders oversaw the hiring process which may have led to sexual abuse.

But some lawyers argue that church leaders took part in those decisions.

"The Scouts had plenty of fault due to their negligence, but the local institutions had plenty of fault also," said Christopher Hurley, whose law firm represents thousands of men who filed claims.

"It's just not okay to pass the buck on this," Hurley added. "Everybody's got to suck it up and make a fair contribution to get justice for these guys."

In a recent letter, United Methodist Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. called on congregations to pray for the survivors and their families.

"This is a very sad and tragic matter that has occurred within our nation and the Church," Saenz said. "It is also a season of renewal and hope. God is unfolding opportunities to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer faith, hope and healing to a hurting and anxious world."

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About The Author

Andrea Morris

Andrea Morris is a Features Producer for The 700 Club. She came to CBN in 2019 where she worked as a web producer in the news department for three years. Her passion was always to tell human interest stories that would touch the hearts of readers while connecting them with God. She transitioned into her new role with The 700 Club in August 2022.