- A federal bankruptcy court judge has approved parts of a Boy Scouts of America reorganization plan, including a $30 million contribution from the United Methodist Church to a fund for survivors of sexual abuse related to the scouting.
- Although problems remain, United Methodist leaders are cautiously optimistic that the BSA will survive.
- United Methodist leaders reiterated their commitment to having local churches partner with the BSA and help Scouting grow.
United Methodist leaders greeted with cautious optimism a judge’s partial approval of the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy reorganization plan.
The BSA filed for bankruptcy in February 2020 amid growing allegations of Scouting-related sexual abuse dating back decades, with many allegations involving the chartering or sponsorship of Scout troop organizations, including United Methodist Churches. local.
After months of negotiations and hearings involving multiple parties, as well as a trial earlier this year, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein issued a lengthy ruling on July 29, approving initial settlements of approximately $2.3 billion to abuse survivors. This includes a $30 million contribution from The United Methodist Church to the Survivor Fund.
Silverstein rejected parts of the bankruptcy plan, saying the BSA still had “decisions to make” as it continued its fight for survival, but expressed a willingness to work with the organization.
United Methodist Bishop John Schol is among a group of United Methodist leaders who negotiated on behalf of the denomination.
“I am grateful that Justice Silverstein ruled that the bulk of the BSA reorganization plan met the tests of bankruptcy law and was constitutional, including the approval of the United Methodist settlement,” Schol said in a statement. email to UM News. “However, there are several other issues that the BSA must address in order for the plan to be fully approved.”
Steven Scheid, director of the Center for Scouting Ministries at United Methodist Men, said that while obstacles remain, he sees “God actively preparing a future” for the BSA.
In its own statement, the BSA said, “This decision represents an important step in the financial restructuring of the Boy Scouts of America. … We are committed to working with all constituents to make the necessary changes required by the decision to move this process forward and we remain optimistic that a final plan will be approved as soon as possible.
The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have had a relationship with the BSA for over 100 years, primarily by providing headquarters for Scout groups in local churches.
Some 6,600 Scout units were chartered by United Methodist churches in the United States in May, making the denomination the largest partner in BSA programs.
But local United Methodist churches — which in many cases have recruited and selected adult Scout group leaders — have faced considerable responsibility in this partnership. This became even clearer when allegations of scouting-related abuse escalated and prompted the filing for bankruptcy.
United Methodist leaders formed a committee to represent the denomination in bankruptcy negotiations—something other major partner groups have also done.
The committee eventually negotiated a settlement for United Methodist conferences in the United States to contribute $30 million to a fund for survivors of abuse. Local United Methodist churches would in turn be protected from future lawsuits over allegations of Scouting-related abuse.
The settlement also committed the denomination to review all Safe Sanctuary policies at conferences and local churches; to meet survivors of abuse that occurred in United Methodist-sponsored troops; and to share resources across the denomination on the reality of sexual abuse and ways to keep young people safe.
In her ruling, Silverstein noted that there were no objections to The United Methodist Church’s settlement, and that she found its monetary contribution and willingness to work with survivors “substantial.” She also said the denomination’s commitment to continue working with the BSA “helps secure…the future of Scouting.”
In June, United Methodist leaders and the BSA announced they would continue as partners, but in a new relationship that would include a standard affiliation agreement for local churches wishing to host a Scout group.
Churches will support Scouting in various ways, but responsibility for oversight will shift to local Scout councils.
In addition to approving the United Methodist Church’s $30 million contribution to the Survivor Fund, Silverstein approved $78 million from the BSA, $515 million from local Scout Councils and nearly $1.7 billion from dollars from settlement insurers.
The judge did not approve a proposed $250 million settlement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a major sponsorship organization in years past. She expressed concern about the settlement’s efforts to protect against liability for non-Scout abuse.
The Associated Press covered the bankruptcy proceedings closely and noted that the BSA, when filing for bankruptcy, faced approximately 275 lawsuits and was aware of another 1,400 potential cases. There are now over 82,000 claims.
The Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice – which includes law firms representing more than 70,000 of the surviving plaintiffs – noted the scope and complexity of the litigation. The coalition offered a positive assessment of Silverstein’s decision.
“Confirmation of this plan makes closure possible and some tangible measure of justice for people whose voices have been silenced for far too long,” the group said in a statement.
Schol, in a press release, joined in the expectation of a final agreement.
“I am confident that everyone who works with the BSA will be able to resolve the remaining issues so that survivors are fairly compensated and one million young people continue to participate in Scouting.”
Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more news from The United Methodist Church, subscribe to free daily or weekly digests.
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