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Boy Scouts release secret child abuse files -- 'the pain and the anguish of thousands'

The files contain information about reported abusers in 49 states from 1965 to 1985, representing the pain and anguish of thousands of untold scouts. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

Updated at 6:45 pm ET -- More than 1,200 formerly secret Boy Scouts’ files detailing accusations of child sex abuse within the organization from 1965 to 1985 were published online Thursday by lawyers, one who said the documents revealed an unintentional but “de facto cover-up of abuse.”

The  documents, known as the “ineligible volunteer” files within the organization, were ordered released by the Oregon Supreme Court. Media organizations had sued for the release of the files, part of a 2010 case in which a Portland, Ore., jury decided that the Boy Scouts were negligent in allowing a former assistant Scoutmaster to associate with the organization's youth after he admitted molesting 17 boys.

“What we can read through the files, for us it represents the pain and the anguish of thousands of untold Scouts,” said attorney Paul Mones, who litigated the 2010 case on behalf of victims in Oregon with lawyer Kelly Clark. “While there are 1,247 files, we know that each Scout leader (accused of molestation) molested on the average more than one Scout.”

The attorneys called for Congress to audit the Boy Scouts, which is a congressionally chartered organization, to ensure that the group was following its current policy to protect children from abuse. Boy Scouts National President Wayne Perry said later Thursday the organization welcomed any additional examination by authorities.

Greg Wahl-Stephens / AP

Portland attorney Kelly Clark is shown Tuesday with some of the 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America concerning child sexual abuse within the organization.

The files, which can be accessed on www.kellyclarkattorney.com, represent reports of Scouts allegedly abused by more than 1,200 different Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers across the country.

People will see in the files "over and over again where there is a concern that this material not get out … this will make Scouting look bad,” Clark said. Alleged offenders were also being “given second chances,” he added.

“In too many of these individual situations what happened was a de facto cover-up. I don’t believe that anybody woke up and conspired and said, ‘How do we create a system that would cover up child abuse?’ But when they put the interest of the organization ahead of the safety of kids, pretty soon they were engaged in a de facto cover-up of abuse,” Clark said.

Child sex abuse survivor on release of Boy Scouts' files: This 'empowers us' 

A sampling of some of the files:

-- An assistant Scoutmaster in Texas in 1965 admitted to several acts of “perversion,” a Boy Scout executive wrote.

“ … of course we don’t know yet whether the parents of the boys involved” are “going to file charges or not. The Minister of the Church is doing his best to protect Boy Scouting and keep this incident as quiet as possible …,” the executive wrote.

The man tried a dozen years later to take up the same post in another troop but was rejected.

-- A Scoutmaster in Pennsylvania who admitted to “acts of perversion with several troop members” in 1972 was put on probation though he had submitted his resignation letter. It’s not clear from the documentation if he indeed maintained the post, but one Scout executive wrote about the situation a few months after the first report:

“If it is acceptable with you, I would like to let this case drop. [He] is undergoing professional treatment in an effort to stabilize his emotional stability. He recognizes that he has had a problem and he is personally taking steps to resolve this situation. The community involved is rather unique and one father has threatened legal action which could only injure the Boy Scouts of America. Therefore, I would suggest that we let it drop. My personal opinion in this particular case is, ‘if it don't stink, don't stir it.’"

The man was later allowed to become a Scoutmaster for another troop in 1976 on a probationary status. Two years later, a Scout’s mother filed a complaint saying the man had punched her son in the chest, causing him bruises. The Boy Scouts decided to keep him on a probationary status.

A Boy Scouts' director of field services wrote one year later: “We have had no negative reports on [his] service during this past year. Apparently his character and leadership requirements have been satisfactory.” But in another document, that appears to be dated 10 years later, a Scouting official wrote on stationery from the national office: “This guy is not still in Scouting is he?”

-- A Cub Scout leader in Alaska was said to be caught sleeping in the nude with boys on a camping trip and showing them pornography.

“The response from the national organization … says: ‘I will agree that sleeping nude and showing boys pornographic books indicated very poor judgment in dealing with Cub Scouts,'” said the attorney Clark, who was reading from a letter dated 1981 during a press conference. “'I do not know, however, that this is a serious enough offense to refuse registration anywhere he might try to register unless there are more instances.'”

The file shows that a Boy Scouts' council executive submitted information from the Air Force that the man had faced a court-martial in December 1981. He was convicted of wrongfully and willfully permitting and condoning two boys under the age of 16 to engage in sexually oriented activities.

Included in the file is a newspaper article from 1991 about a suspected child molester. Another council executive had sent it in, noting that he had contacted police who confirmed the suspect was the former Cub Scout leader.

“If we can provide the training we have available for our youth maybe we can give them the ability to recognize this guy wherever he may show up,” he wrote. “Since he seems to be running and has had a past involvement with Scouting, we need to be alert.”

Clark said of the files: “There is absolutely no indication that anybody at least at the national level of Scouting was being proactive to get this problem out in the open to get the help of law enforcement and act sort of proactively with it. You do see regular … examples of top Scout leadership or regional Scout leadership taking steps to try to keep this quiet, to keep it under wraps.”

In a number of the cases, the allegations were later substantiated by court proceedings, the attorneys said. However, in a great many cases no such substantiation ever occurred.

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A report released by the Boy Scouts in September said that 829 of the files from Jan. 1, 1965, to June 30, 1984, involved suspicions or confirmations of inappropriate sexual behavior with 1,622 youth. The report was done for the organization by Janet Warren, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia.

Some of the findings included:

-- 486 of the men identified in the files as suspects were arrested at some time for a sex crime. It may have occurred before they got involved with Scouting, as a result of the incident noted in their file or after they left the organization.
--  In 531 of the cases, there was information indicating alleged inappropriate sexual behavior with multiple youths. 
--  In 252 of the cases, the available information indicated alleged inappropriate sexual behavior with only a single victim. 
-- 128 of the men in the files had their registration revoked within a year of signing up.
-- Police were involved in the investigation of 523 cases.

At the time, the Boy Scouts said in a letter that they would review their files created from 1965 to the present “and ensure that all good-faith suspicion of abuse has been reported to law enforcement.” They also said that there “have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong.”

Boy Scouts admit response to sex abuse was 'insufficient' 

On Thursday morning, the organization reiterated that in a statement and also noted: “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”

“While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals’ actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse,” the statement added.

In an interview with NBCDFW.com, Perry said: "I would ask parents to look at the programs we have and then judge us versus, maybe not the past, but judge where we are today and certainly judge us against any other youth service organization in the world and they will see that your kids are very, very safe."

He also said later in a statement that the organization would be hosting a youth protection meeting in November with experts to share and discuss best practices.

The attorneys said the files also could inform future prevention of child sex abuse since the documents revealed how pedophiles operated and infiltrated youth groups -- knowledge “no other youth organization had at that time or since,” Mones said.

“The importance is what Scouts could have done with this information,” he said. “At the trial they said they had never looked at the files to examine them for any purpose to protect Scouts. Their one goal of taking Scout leaders out who had molested Scouts, yes … they did take Scouts out. However, the information that they gleaned, how these people used Scouting activities to bring Scouts into their midst, how these guys were not just bad leaders … these people were leading Scouts.”

“So our goal really is to look to the future through the past,” he added.

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For John Mark Buckland, 42, who was abused by a Scout leader at Travis Air Force Base in Vacaville, Calif., the release represented an empowering moment.

“It unveils all the secrecy, or at least a good portion of it, and the secrecy is the biggest demon there is when it comes to things like this, because it’s by being hidden that it basically just eats people away like a cancer,” Buckland, of Huntington, W. Va., told NBC News. 

“We’ve been powerless up to now. We’ve been at the whims of a multibillion-dollar organization that … has all the money to keep us under a desk in a box. And for now, they can’t do it anymore.”

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