On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country ...
Barry was a district Scout leader when I joined the Boy Scouts as an 11-year-old. He was dynamic, athletic and a born leader, and my fellow Scouts adored him. We were amazed by how caring and involved he was. Though he lived in a town 30 miles from my own, I was surprised to see him appear at our Little League football games as a spectator.
Within the next year, we discovered that Barry had, for reasons not fully explained to us, been dismissed from his position. When we asked our troop's Scoutmasters, we were told it was for private reasons and not to worry. Still, we were puzzled by the way our Scoutmasters talked afterwards in hushed tones around the campfire.
I thought no more about Barry until years later, when I met a friend at college who grew up in a town near my own. Gradually, our conversation turned to Boy Scouts. I soon learned from my friend that Barry had molested him after a scouting event. I was impressed by my friend's courage and resilience, but I could see how much the deep pain of his abuse still hurt him psychologically, and emotionally, a decade later.
and to obey the Scout Law ...
The revelation this month that the Boy Scouts kept secret records for a century on Scout leaders who were sexual predators -- which internally they called "perversion files" -- has left me conflicted and confused. According to The New York Times, copies of the files -- over 15,000 pages detailing allegations of sex crimes against more than 1,200 Scout leaders over a twenty-year period -- were released by an Oregon law firm. The firm obtained the files as evidence in an $18.5 million civil judgment against the Scouts in 2010. Though the Boy Scouts fought in the courts for years to prevent the release of these documents, their national president, Wayne Perry, issued a statement this month admitting, "There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong."
When I heard of the release of the secret files, I first thought of my college friend. While he no doubt welcomes the Scouts' public admission, I'm sure it stirred up long-buried pain and sorrow.
I also thought about my own mixed and often contradictory feelings. After I joined the Boy Scouts as an 11-year-old Tenderfoot, I persevered to become an Eagle Scout. Boy Scouts taught me many skills and values for which I'll forever be grateful. To this day, my Eagle Scout award is the single honor I'm most proud of.
Thanks in part to the good habits and life lessons learned as a Boy Scout, I graduated from college, then law school, later serving as a state and federal prosecutor. As a prosecutor, I sometimes investigated child sex crimes (often committed by family members, friends or officials in positions of trust), perpetrated on children as young as 5 or 6. I saw first-hand the devastating effect that pedophiles have on their victims, but was also reassured by the committed work of sex crimes detectives, social workers and child psychologists.
Finally, I viewed the revelation of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts from the position of a dad. The files are filled with the types of tragic stories that haunt the nightmares of every parent. At the same time, I acknowledge that I want my own sons to learn about the positive side of Scouting and the benefits it offers. I can still recite the Scout Oath and Law by memory, and I've tried to teach my sons the truths and values embodied in those words I recited at the start of hundreds of Scout meetings.
A Scout is trustworthy ...
While I'm grateful that the Boys Scouts have begun to admit their mistakes and are instituting a Youth Protection Program to protect minors from sexual abuse, I've come to the realization that the Boy Scouts egregiously breached their first and perhaps most important law -- trustworthiness. The Scouts violated their own duty to the children entrusted to their care. While some of the records were indeed used to prevent pedophiles from returning to Scouting, in other instances Scout leaders and civic authorities conspired to cover up abuse in order to protect the institution of Scouting and its reputation. By their own count, the Boy Scouts admit that a third of all abuse cases weren't reported to the police.
Worse, the Boy Scouts fought for years in the courts to prevent the release of their secret files. Some of the right actions and expressions of remorse recently taken by the Boy Scouts appear to have been brought about not as an act of redemption, but by the actions of victims, lawyers, judges and advocacy groups. As my own Scoutmaster -- a true role model and a man of impeccable integrity -- once told me, it's not messing up that you'll be remembered for as much as what you've done to correct your mistakes.
...to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
To restore its good name, the Boy Scouts must place the interests and needs of abuse victims before the protection of their own organization. As a first step, the Boy Scouts should provide assistance, counseling, treatment and financial aid to those who were victimized. The Boy Scouts have invested heavily in a Youth Protection Program -- and that's a good thing- - but they need to invest more in a Victim Support Program. The Boy Scouts need to reach out to every single victim of abuse with offers of help and support. Counseling hotlines should be established, as well as outreach facilities offering whatever services victims, as well as their families, need to heal.
If parents are to trust their children's well-being to this organization, and if the Boy Scouts are to redeem themselves in the eyes of this former Eagle Scout, they need only be true to their own Oath.
John McCormick and his sons William and Connor are the authors of "Dad, Tell Me A Story," How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2010). For more information about family storytelling, visit the authors' website and blog at http://DadTellMeAStory.com.
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