On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported the organization failed to report allegations of sex abuse of scouts by adult leaders and volunteers to police in hundreds of cases from 1970 to 1991. In some cases, the Boy Scouts helped the accused "cover their tracks," the paper said.
The story was based on a review of 1,600 internal Boy Scouts case files the newspaper said it obtained that detailed accusations against confirmed or alleged child molesters within the youth organization.
About 1,200 "ineligible volunteer" files dating from 1965 to 1985 are set to be publicly released under a June order by the Oregon Supreme Court, including some already reviewed by the newspaper.
Those files played a key role in a 2010 civil trial in which an Oregon jury found the Boy Scouts liable in a 1980s pedophile case and ordered the organization to pay nearly $20 million in damages.
The files will be released within three to four weeks, said Paul Mones, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff in the Oregon case.
In the wake of revelations about systemic child sex abuse within the Catholic Church and the recent Penn State sex abuse scandal, the files threaten to damage the reputation of one of America's most trusted institutions.
Mones said the allegations revealed in the Oregon case are not necessarily comparable to the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
"In the Catholic Church there were overt cover-ups, and I don't think you see a lot of that here with the Boy Scouts," Mones told Reuters on Sunday.
The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement on Sunday that while it regrets past incidents where scouts were sexually abused, its current policies require even suspicions of abuse to be reported directly to law enforcement.
"The BSA (has) continuously enhanced its multi-tiered policies and procedures, which now include background checks, comprehensive training programs and safety policies," the statement said.
The organization said it has maintained an internal "ineligible volunteer" file since at least 1919 to prevent suspected or confirmed child sex abusers from joining or re-entering its ranks.
Boy Scouts of America officials and attorneys have said the files represent only a fraction of the adults who participate as scout leaders each year.
The Boy Scouts have annually counted between 3.5 and 5 million scouts and more than 1 million adult leaders and volunteers among its members since the 1960s, a spokesman for the organization said.
The organization is facing more than 50 pending child sexual abuse cases in 18 states, according to Kelly Clark, another plaintiff attorney in the Oregon case.
Mones said he did not expect many new lawsuits to result from the upcoming release of the Scouts' files, predicting that statutes of limitation on sex abuse charges in most U.S. states would prevent victims from successful civil or criminal prosecution of alleged molesters. (Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Walsh)
In one case, for example, a camp director wrote to the top Boy Scout lawyer noting a "lifelong pattern" of abuse in a staffer. "When a problem has surfaced, he has been asked to leave a position 'of his own free will' rather than risk further investigation," the letter said. Many of the files contained a checkbox saying, "Internal (only scouts know)." The scouts say they were aiming to protect victims' privacy; since 2010, the organization has required any suspicion of abuse to be reported to officials. But the group has taken little responsibility for past troubles—and extensive legal consequences could ensue, the Timesnotes.