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UMC to contribute $30M to Boy Scout abuse survivor fund

Boy Scouts of America, BSA
A Boy Scout attends camp Maple Dell on July 31, 2015 outside Payson, Utah. |

The United Methodist Church will contribute $30 million to a fund created for the benefit of those abused while participating in the Boy Scouts of America.

Last Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein approved initial settlements of approximately $2.3 billion to abuse survivors, including a $30 million contribution to the survivors' fund the UMC proposed last year. 

The UMC has a history with the BSA that goes back nearly a century through its predecessor denominations. Thousands of methodist congregations have chartered scouting troops. In recent years, tens of thousands of alleged abuse victims have come forward to make claims against the BSA.

This strong connection to the BSA raised some questions as to what extent the UMC was liable for the sex abuse scandal within the prominent youth organization.

Bishop John Schol, who chaired the team created to support the UMC chartering associations, told The Christian Post that the denomination "voluntarily participated in the mediation sessions for the BSA reorganization plan."

"Our commitment was to put the survivors and their needs first," Schol said. "The United Methodists offered, and it was accepted by the lawyers representing the survivors and more than 85% of the survivors who voted on the reorganization plan."

Schol said the money has been committed, but they are waiting until the plan has final approval as the judge rejected some other elements of the BSA bankruptcy plan.

"We have three years to make our full payment," Schol said. 

UMC also agreed to have leaders hear the experiences of survivors, publish a series of articles on scouting group abuse and steps to prevent future abuse, and review their youth protection policies to ensure they are being adequately implemented.

"Our settlement is an acknowledgement that scouts who were part of United Methodist troops were harmed. We are sorry, saddened and angered by what occurred to young people over the last 80 years," said Schol.

"We prayerfully hope this acknowledgment and financial support will aid in the healing of survivors. We are committed to ... prevention of abuse as we go forward."

In February 2020, BSA announced it filed bankruptcy to help afford the compensation expected to be paid to people abused in scouting.

Last August, the UMC Office of Public Information released a statement expressing concern that legal developments were not addressing chartered organizations.

"[T]he ad hoc committee is disappointed and very concerned that the BSA did not include its sponsoring organizations, charter groups, in the agreement with the claimants," the UMC said at the time.

"Charter organizations were promised by the BSA to be covered by their insurance, but at this time, it is not clear to what extent United Methodist congregations will be covered."

As a result, the UMC committee recommended that congregations with scout troops consider ending or altering their agreements with BSA last year. 

In February, the UMC announced an agreement with the BSA to extend existing charters with congregations until, at the very least, the end of June.

Churches with scouting troops did not need to take action on the issue of charter renewal. However, they were encouraged "to move forward with the annual membership renewal process for all youth and adults who participate in Scouting programs."

"Charter renewal and membership renewal are distinct processes. Charter renewal focuses on the organization-to-organization relationship, while membership renewal involves the relationship between individual Scouts and volunteers and the BSA," the UMC stated in February.

"Annual membership renewal is a vital step in allowing Scouting to continue, as maintaining active membership registrations for all Scouts and volunteers is critical to ensuring that Scouts and volunteers are covered by BSA's insurance, that volunteers meet training and safety standards, and that both youth and volunteers continue to receive communications."

Steven Scheid, director of the Center for Scouting Ministries of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, told CP that they recommended charter organizations "vote against the plan because as of the time of the voting, we did not have a settlement."

"The voting was extended and we negotiated our settlement. Our voting charters then voted to pass the plan," Scheid explained.

Scheid said although "there has been a reduction in Scouting because of the pandemic," membership in the troops increased 4% "year over year," and "congregations continue to support Scouting ministry."

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