How Boy Scoutsí Bankruptcy Is Bad News for Sex Abuse Victims
By Paul Muschick
February 19, 2020
I never thought anyone would find a way to treat sexual abuse victims worse than the Catholic church, but the Boy Scouts of America has done it.
By filing for bankruptcy Tuesday, the Boy Scouts likely blocked victims from being able to confront their accusers in court and force them to confess their sins and divulge their secrets. Thatís because the bankruptcy halts all litigation, nationwide.
There arenít many lawsuits in Pennsylvania because, unlike in some other states including New Jersey and New York, state lawmakers havenít opened a window for retroactive lawsuits by people who were abused as children and lost their right to sue because of the statute of limitations.
And thatís at least partly because of the churchís influence.
It has lobbied hard for Pennsylvania lawmakers not to pass such a law, especially following a groundbreaking 2018 grand jury report. It disclosed how over seven decades, more than 1,000 Pennsylvania children were sexually abused by hundreds of priests.
Unlike the Boy Scouts, though, the church hasnít broadly sought bankruptcy protection from lawsuits in states where they are easier to file. Less than two dozen dioceses had filed for bankruptcy as of September, according to The New York Times.
And it has run its diocesan compensation funds privately. As of last month, the Allentown Diocese had paid nearly $9 million to 47 victims. Those people will remain unknown unless they choose to go public.
By filing for bankruptcy, the Boy Scouts are forcing their victims to go public and file as creditors in the court case. That means their names become part of the public record, unless a judge opts to seal them. Thatís not right.
One of the leading attorneys in handling cases against the organization, Benjamin Andreozzi of Andreozzi & Associates in Harrisburg, told me Tuesday he doesnít believe that will deter victims from filing.
People donít dig through court files looking for that type of information, he said, and the media generally respect the privacy of sexual abuse victims by not naming them unless they consent to be identified. So while their names technically are public record, those people should retain their privacy.
ďItís incredibly unlikely that anyone would ever discover the names,Ē said Andreozzi, whose law firm is listed in the Boy Scoutsí bankruptcy filing as one of the 25 firms handling the most abuse claims nationwide. Some are from the Lehigh Valley.
That point still bothers me, though.
What will bother many victims is their inability to get what they consider justice, Andreozzi said. Because they arenít after just money.
ďFor many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, their definition of justice and closure involves going through a process of exposure and getting answers to questions,Ē he said.
"And you canít fully go through the litigation process when your case is in bankruptcy. You donít get to confront those people who may have been responsible for allowing the perpetrator to get access to you. That is incredibly frustrating for many survivors.Ē
In a column in December, I shared those same laments from a few local church abuse victims.
Juliann Bortz of Lower Macungie, who testified before the grand jury that she was abused by a priest who taught her at Allentown Central Catholic High School in 1965, told me her definition of justice is, ďGetting these guys under oath.Ē
Andreozzi told me the Boy Scoutsí bankruptcy is going to be a ďfairly strong option" when it comes to compensation for victims. I hope so.
In its bankruptcy filing, the organization listed assets between $1 billion and $10 billion and liabilities between $500 million and $1 billion.
The Boy Scouts said in a statement Tuesday that it will continue its programs. Thatís good news, because like the church, the Boy Scouts do a lot of good for a lot of people.
It still, though, is making life difficult for those it wronged in the past.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or email@example.com