US Boy Scouts file for bankruptcy
Barraged by sex-abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America have filed for bankruptcy protection in hopes of working out a potentially mammoth victim compensation plan that will allow the 110-year-old organization to carry on.
The Chapter 11 filing in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, sets in motion what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen.
Scores of lawyers are seeking settlements on behalf of several thousand men who say they were molested as scouts by scoutmasters or other leaders decades ago but are only now eligible to sue because of recent changes in their states' statute-of-limitations laws.
By going to bankruptcy court, the Scouts can put those lawsuits on hold for now. But ultimately they could be forced to sell off some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a compensation fund that could surpass a billion US dollars.
The bankruptcy represents a painful turn for an organisation that has been a pillar of American civic life for generations and a training ground for future leaders.
Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout has long been a proud accomplishment that politicians, business leaders, astronauts and others put on their resumes and in their official biographies.
The Boy Scouts' finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.
The number of youths taking part in scouting has dropped below 2 million, down from more than 4 million in peak years of the 1970s.
The organisation has tried to counter the decline by admitting girls, but its membership rolls took a big hit on January 1 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - for decades a major sponsor of Boy Scout units - cut ties and withdrew more than 400,000 scouts in favour of programs of its own.
The financial outlook had worsened last year after New York, Arizona, New Jersey and California passed laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to file claims. Teams of lawyers across the US have been signing up clients by the hundreds to sue the Boy Scouts.
Most of the newly surfacing cases date to the 1960s, '70s and '80s but the organisation says there were only five known abuse victims in 2018.
The Boy Scouts credit the change to an array of prevention policies adopted since the mid-1980s, including mandatory criminal background checks and abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders be present during all activities.
Amid the crush of lawsuits, the Scouts recently mortgaged major properties owned by the national leadership, including the headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the 140,000-acre Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, to help secure a line of credit.
The Boy Scouts have kept confidential files since the 1920s listing staff and volunteers implicated in sexual abuse. According to a court deposition, the files as of January listed 7819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims.