The Boy Scouts of America says it is exploring "all options" to address serious financial challenges, but is declining to confirm or deny a Wall Street Journal report that it may seek bankruptcy protection in the face of declining membership and sex-abuse litigation.
Chief Scout Executive Michael B. Surbaugh issued a statement on Wednesday, saying "I want to assure you that our daily mission will continue and that there are no imminent actions or immediate decisions expected."
Surbaugh was responding to the Journal's report that the BSA, founded in 1910, had hired Chicago-based law firm Sidley Austin to assist in a possible chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. He described the report as "news speculation," but he acknowledged that the group is "working with experts to explore all options available" as well as the pressures arising from multiple lawsuits related to past instances of sexual abuse.
This week's report comes as the Boy Scouts has also faced a drop in membership through the years — the group had 2.3 million members last year, down from its peak of 5 million in the 1970s, The New York Times has reported.
In the last several years, the Boy Scouts has faced numerous lawsuits alleging sex abuse going back decades and that the organization didn't do enough to keep pedophiles from becoming leaders. Filing for bankruptcy would give the Boy Scouts a chance to negotiate settlements with accusers by keeping civil proceedings against the organization from moving forward, the Journal reported.
In 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered that files from the 1960s through the mid-'80s be released that detailed sex-abuse allegations within the Boy Scouts of America.
Last week, a New Mexico man filed a lawsuit alleging that two Catholic priests who were scout leaders sexually abused him for years, starting in the 1980s. Also last week, a scouting volunteer in Indiana was arrested on allegations he engaged in sex acts with a 15-year-old scout.
This past summer, a lawsuit was filed in Connecticut accusing the organization of not stopping a former scoutmaster from allegedly molesting boys in the 1970s.
Other institutions facing multifaceted sexual abuse scandals have sought bankruptcy protection recently. USA Gymnastics took the step last week as it attempts to settle dozens of lawsuits related to abuse by now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. About 20 Roman Catholic dioceses and other religious orders around the U.S. have previously filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of clergy sexual abuse claims.
Last week, a Roman Catholic Jesuit investigation found credible allegations of sexual abuse dating back to 1955, and Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas said the list includes names of 11 men who once worked at the school.
In the statement, Surbaugh apologized on behalf of the BSA to those abused during their time in the Boy Scouts.
"We sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in our programs," Surbaugh wrote. "We believe in fairly compensating [victims] and we have paid for unlimited counseling, by a provider of their choice, regardless of the amount of time that has passed since an instance of abuse."
In addition to sex abuse allegations, a number of changes have taken place in the organization in recent years:
- Last year, the group announced it would become coed — much to the frustration of the Girl Scouts, which had advocated for single-gender scouting.
- The Boy Scouts program announced it would become Scouts BSA beginning in February to reflect the decision to include young women.
- The Girl Scouts of the USA filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, accusing the latter of trademark infringement.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it was ending its more than 100-year relationship with the Boy Scouts and forming its own youth program.
- The Boy Scouts announced in 2017 it would allow transgender children into the organization.
- In 2013, the scouts attracted media attention regarding a debate about whether or not to allow openly gay scouts and leaders into the organization before moving forward to allow gay members.