PORTLAND, Ore. — Again and again, decade after decade, an array of authorities — police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders among them — quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children, a newly opened trove of confidential papers shows.
At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, a pillar of 20th century America. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of secret "perversion files" released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, their maneuvers allowed sexual predators to go free while victims suffered in silence.
The files are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain details about proven molesters, but also unsubstantiated allegations.
The allegations stretch across the country and to military bases overseas, from a small town in the Adirondacks to downtown Los Angeles.
At the news conference Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the full trove of files secret.
"You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children," said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
The Associated Press obtained copies of the files weeks ahead of Thursday's release and conducted an extensive review of them, but agreed not to publish the stories until the files were released. Clark was releasing the documents to the public online at www.kellyclarkattorney.com ; he said the website was operating slowly Thursday because so many people were trying to access it.
The files were shown to a jury in a 2010 Oregon civil suit that the Scouts lost, and the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the files should be made public. After months of objections and redactions, the Scouts and Clark released them.
In many instances — more than a third, according to the Scouts' own count — police weren't told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement still did nothing, seeking to protect the name of Scouting over their victims.
Victims like three brothers, growing up in northeast Louisiana.
On the afternoon of Aug. 10, 1965, their distraught mother walked into the third floor of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office. A 31-year-old scoutmaster, she told the chief criminal deputy, had raped one of her sons and molested two others.
Six days later, the scoutmaster, an unemployed airplane mechanic, sat down in front of a microphone in the same station, said he understood his rights and confessed: He had sexually abused the woman's sons more than once.
"I don't know how to tell it," the man told a sheriff's deputy. "They just occurred — I don't know an explanation, why we done it or I done it or wanted to do it or anything else it just — an impulse I guess or something.
"As far as an explanation I just couldn't dig one up."
He wouldn't have to. Seven days later, the decision was made not to pursue charges against the scoutmaster.
The last sliver of hope for justice for the abuse of two teenagers and an 11-year-old boy slipped away in a confidential letter from a Louisiana Scouts executive to the organization's national personnel division in New Jersey.
"This subject and Scouts were not prosecuted," the executive wrote, "to save the name of Scouting."
In a statement on Thursday, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said" ''There is nothing more important than the safety of our Scouts."
Smith said there have been times when Scouts' responses to sex abuse allegations were "plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong" and the organization extends its "deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."
An Associated Press review of the files found that the story of these brothers and their scoutmaster, however horrendous, was not unique.
The files released Thursday were collected between 1959 and 1985, with a handful of others from later years. Some have been released previously, but others — those from prior to 1971, including the story of the three scouts in Ouachita Parish — have been made public for the first time.
The documents reveal that on many occasions the files succeeded in keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions — the reason why they were collected in the first place. But the files are also littered with horrific accounts of alleged pedophiles who were able to continue in Scouting because of pressure from community leaders and local Scouts officials.
The files also document other troubling patterns. There is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were abused by their leaders, or what was done for the victims. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for alleged abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.
In 1972, a local Scouting executive beseeched national headquarters to drop the case against a suspected abuser because he was undergoing professional treatment and was personally taking steps to solve his problem. "If it don't stink, don't stir it," the local executive wrote.
Scouting's efforts to keep abusers out were often disorganized. There's at least one memo from a local Scouting executive pleading for better guidance on how to handle abuse allegations. Sometimes the pleading went the other way, with national headquarters begging local leaders for information on suspected abusers, and the locals dragging their feet.
In numerous instances, alleged abusers are kicked out of Scouting but show up in jobs where they are once again in authority positions dealing with youths.
The files also show Scouting volunteers serving in the military overseas, molesting American children living abroad and sometimes continuing to molest after returning to the states.
But one of the most startling revelations to come from the files is the frequency with which attempts to protect Scouts from molesters collapsed at the local level, at times in collusion with community leaders.
It happened when a local district attorney declined to prosecute two confessed offenders; when a three-judge panel included two men on the local Scouting executive board; when law enforcement sought to protect the name of Scouting and let an admitted child molester go free.
Their actions represent a stark betrayal, says Clark, who won the case that opened the files to public view. "It's kind of a deal. The deal is, our society will give you incredible status and respect, Norman Rockwell will paint pictures of you, and in exchange for that, you take care of our kids," Clark said. "That's the deal, incredible respect and privilege. But there was a worm in the apple."
The Louisiana case certainly contained all the essentials for a police investigation and, perhaps, a conviction: The scoutmaster admitted to raping a 17-year-old boy on a camping trip and otherwise sexually molesting two other boys; the victims corroborated his confession. But evidently, no charges were ever filed.
The man was let off with a warning that should he be found with young men in the future, he was subject to immediate incarceration at the state prison.
The man "was asked to leave the parish, and if he was caught around or near any boy or youth organization, he would be sent to state prison immediately," a Scouting executive wrote to national headquarters. "We are indeed sorry that Scouting was involved."
With the deadline to disclose the files looming, the Scouts in late September made public an internal review of the files and said they would look into past cases to see whether there were times when men they suspected of sex abuse should have been reported to police.
The files showed a "very low" incidence of abuse among Scout leaders, said psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Warren, who conducted the review with a team of graduate students and served as an expert witness for the Scouts in the 2010 case that made the files public. Her review of the files didn't take into account the number of files destroyed on abusers who turned 75 years old or died, something she said would not have significantly affected the rate of abuse or her conclusions.
The rate of abuse among Scouts is the not the focus of their critics — it is, rather, their response to allegations of abuse. In the case of the files from 1965 to 1985, most salient is the complicity of local officials in concealing the abuse by Scouts leaders.
Warren told the AP such complicity "was simply quite a natural desire to want to be somewhat protective over (the BSA)."
Certain cases, well-detailed by the Scouts, illustrate how it happened.
In Newton, Kan., in 1961, the county attorney had what he needed for a prosecution: Two men were arrested and admitted that they had molested Scouts in their care.
One of the men said he held an all-night party at his house, during which he brought 10 boys, one by one, into a room where he committed, in his words, "immoral acts." The same man said he had molested Scouts on an outing two weeks prior to the interrogation.
But neither man was prosecuted. Once again, a powerful local official sought to preserve the name of Scouting.
The entire investigation, the county attorney wrote, was brought about with the cooperation of a local district Scouts executive, who was kept apprised of the investigation's progress into the men, who had affiliations with both the Scouts and the local YMCA.