In the wake of numerous scandals involving the sexual abuse of young boys, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has announced that it will be ending its 105-year-old association with the Boy Scouts of America, effective December 31, 2019. In the announcement, issued in a joint press release with the BSA last month, the church stated that it has “increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally.”
Officially, the reason is to develop a youth program that serves girls as well as boys. Current Church-sanctioned activities for girls have been limited to lessons in homemaking and grooming and were subject to the inclinations of adult leaders. This has led to gender disparity in youth programs that LDS parents have increasingly found unacceptable.
However, there is also the issue of the recent exposure of decades of sexual abuse by scout masters and adult volunteers, which the Mormon Church has allegedly helped to cover up in collusion with the BSA. Early in May, a lawsuit filed in a federal court in Boise, Idaho makes the accusation that the LDS Church and BSA leadership “actively concealed their knowledge that abusers had been joining Scouting for decades to gain access to and sexually abuse boys.” According to the complaint, the church and the BSA organization disregarded allegations and failed to investigate three men (one now deceased) who served as adult volunteers and subjected boys to a number of predatory sexual acts in incidents dating back to the 1960s.
Plaintiffs say that the BSA was aware of the volunteers’ history of sexual abuse, which should have made them ineligible to serve in that capacity – but allowed them to work with boys anyway. At the same time, the LDS Church has had a long-standing policy that required boys to join the Scouts.
Approximately 20% of all Boy Scouts are of the Mormon faith. Pressure from the church on boys to participate in Scouting put these boys at risk, according to the complaint, which states: “Scouting was an integral part of the LDS Defendants' program for raising, teaching, and guiding boys and men within the LDS Church...[it] was the official program for boys in the LDS Church, and many boys growing up in the LDS Church were required or strongly encouraged to join Scouting.”
As it turns out, the LDS Church has other skeletons of sexual abuse and misconduct that are starting to emerge from their proverbial closets. In April, McKenna Denson filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that she was sexually assaulted by Joseph L. Bishop, who was president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah when she attended in the 1980s. Denson alleges that the Church was aware of his proclivities as a sexual predator, yet placed him in charge of the center. According to documents filed this past week, Bishop admitted to “acts of sexual predation” he had committed several years prior to his appointment – yet he was “represented to McKenna, the public, and members of the church...[as] a safe, honorable, and trustworthy leader.”
Despite these lawsuits, the LDS Church continues its attempts to sweep its record of negligence under the rug. In the lawsuit involving the Boy Scouts, the church claimed that they “have only recently learned about this legal action.” In the matter of Denson and Bishop, attorneys for the LDS church filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the statute of limitations had passed – although the Utah state legislature recently passed a law extending the period during which a victim may seek legal redress, subject to certain conditions.