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United Methodists Join Boy Scouts in Settlement Proposal to Aid Sex Abuse Survivors

Leaders of the United Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts of America have reached an agreement tied to a proposed multibillion-dollar settlement that would assist tens of thousands of sexual abuse survivors.

The settlement, which is part of the BSA’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, calls for United Methodists to raise and contribute $30 million over a three-year period to a fund that would be used to compensate abuse survivors. The settlement would also release United Methodist congregations that charter Scouting units from abuse claims related to scouting activities.

“Upon final court approval, the settlement would resolve any claims of sexual abuse that may have occurred in congregation-sponsored Scouting programs,” reads a Tuesday (Dec. 21) statement from the United Methodist Communications Office of Public Information.

In August, a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved an $850 million settlement by the BSA to resolve some 82,000 sex abuse claims, Reuters reported at the time.

The BSA said the United Methodists’ financial commitment will join with efforts by its national organization, local councils, insurance companies and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, creating a proposed settlement that could exceed $2.7 billion.

“This will be the largest sexual abuse compensation fund in the history of the United States,” the BSA said in a statement. “This is an extremely important step forward in the BSA and United Methodists’ efforts to equitably compensate survivors, and our hope is that this will lead to further settlement agreements from other parties.”

The BSA said ad hoc committees representing Catholic organizations are still in the mediation process.

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The BSA has had strong ties with faith groups throughout its history and, the organization told Religion News Service in August, those partnerships have been “critical to delivering the Scouting program to millions of youth in our country for generations.”

Bishop John Schol has chaired the United Methodist Church’s leadership team that has supported the chartering organizations within the denomination as the bankruptcy proceedings have continued.

“We are sorry for what occurred and are praying for all those who experienced harm through Scouting activities,” said Schol in a statement. “We are committed to the protection of children and youth, and the United Methodist Council of Bishops will be working with the church, the Survivor Working Group and BSA to address policies, programs, and procedures in order to keep Scouts safe from abuse.”

Schol told RNS the settlement will require a vote of approval by different groups, including survivors, Boy Scout councils and chartered organizations. The voting deadline is Dec. 28.

An ad hoc committee involved in the mediation included bishops, chancellors and general agency employees.

“Churches that filed a proof (of) claim (with the bankruptcy court) are encouraged to support the plan which includes United Methodist support for healing of survivors, release for all chartering organizations and a contribution to the survivor trust,” Schol told RNS.

The overall settlement agreement will also require court approval.

The scouting organization said it intends to continue the monthslong mediation process with other parties before a confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin on Feb. 22, for its reorganization plan. That plan includes the settlement terms with the United Methodists.

The United Methodist Church’s plans for contributing its part of the funds for the settlement trust will be developed by a team that will “identify strategies and materials that may be used to raise the funds,” its statement said.

Schol thanked those who had been involved in the mediation process, including the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice, for seeking “just resolution” and healing for the survivors.

Last week, that coalition welcomed the “historic, multibillion-dollar plan” that could aid more than 82,500 sexual abuse claimants. At that time, a primary insurer of the BSA, Century Indemnity Co., and affiliated companies committed $800 million to the settlement agreement.

“We have always said that our goals in this situation are two-fold: making sure that current and future scouts are protected and building the largest compensation fund possible,” said coalition co-founder Ken Rothweiler in a Dec. 13 statement. “Today was another step in the right direction.”

The United Methodist bishops also have committed to encourage all BSA chartering organizations to contribute $100 million to the trust fund for survivors.

In August, based on a recent bankruptcy court ruling about the BSA and sexual abuse claimants, United Methodist leaders urged their churches not to extend current agreements to house or sponsor local scout troops beyond the end of 2021. At that time, the denomination estimated as many as 5,000 of its congregations remained exposed to potential lawsuits.

“Chartering congregations were encouraged to pause rechartering until the bankruptcy was resolved,” Schol, leader of the UMC’s Greater New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania conferences, said Tuesday. “An agreement with the BSA leaves all current charters in place until March 31, 2022.”

Adelle Banks

Adelle M. Banks is a senior production editor and national reporter for the Religion News Service, where she has worked since 1995. She previously served as the religion reporter at The Orlando Sentinel as well as a reporter in Providence, Binghamton, and Syracuse, and her work has appeared in USA Today, The Huffington Post, and Jet magazine. Banks won the 2014 Wilbur Award for digital communications and multimedia for her work on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and she has twice been honored by the Religion Newswriters Association.