As you may know, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is currently going through a bankruptcy process and is negotiating settlements regarding claims of sexual abuse in that process. Representatives of The United Methodist Church and the South Georgia Conference are monitoring the proceedings closely. There has not been a final decision or ruling made in the matter.
The partnership between the BSA and The United Methodist Church has been strong. We would like to see this partnership, which has borne so much fruit and ministered to so many young people, continues to flourish for years to come. Scouting has been an important and vibrant ministry of the church.
At the same time, developments in the bankruptcy case and proposed settlement have caused great concern to church leaders. We are concerned:
that BSA has failed to adequately insure itself and its sponsoring organizations against claims of abuse.
that BSA has failed to include sponsoring organizations in these settlement and bankruptcy negotiations, but has indicated in their proposals that these organizations will contribute financially to the settlement.
that sponsoring organizations will be left out of settlement negotiations in numerous other class-action and individual lawsuits which have been filed or could be filed.
that churches are not fully informed about the risk which they have borne and continue to bear as sponsors of BSA troops and packs.
Given this, Conference and denominational leaders offer a few recommendations at this time:
We recommend that churches not renew their charter agreements with the BSA. If you currently have an active charter agreement, we recommend you write to your local scouting council that you will not renew it past Dec. 31, 2021 (This allows adequate time for scouts to find another location).
More info will be forthcoming to provide additional guidance over the coming weeks and months.
Should your church desire to continue to support your BSA troop/pack, we recommend that you use a Facilities Use Agreement” as soon as possible. We recommend that you ask the local BSA Council to sponsor the troop/pack, while the church provides space under the agreement. (Sample agreement is available - see below). We propose that churches consider a "Facilities Use Agreement" in 2022 and going forward.
We further recommend that churches require any groups meeting in their space to meet Safe Sanctuaries standards. Church should require this in writing, and offer training.
Mrs. Cater Thompson, Conference Chancellor, and Dr. Derek McAleer, Director of Administrative Services, wrote a letter to South Georgia United Methodists. (August 24, 2021)
The South Georgia Conference has developed an FAQ document on this topic.
Should a church want to continue to support their BSA scout packs or troops, we recommend the church utilitze a Facilities Use Agreement (FUA) that allows scouting organizations to use the church facilities. This FAU clarifies that the church is providing space, but does not assume any responsibility for nor liabilty for scouting activities or organizations. This FUA originated in the Office of Civic Youth-Serving Agencies/ Scouting Ministries of The United Methodist Men as part of their response to BSA bankruptcy and proposed settlement. The local scout council would then be the chartered organization.
September 17, 2021
• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once a major chartering or sponsoring group of Boy Scout troops, says it will pay $250 million to a fund for victims of Scouting-related sex abuse.
• The United Methodist Church, another major chartering group for troops, continues to negotiate in the bankruptcy proceeding out of leaders’ concern for liability faced by local churches.
The United Methodist Church continues to seek liability protection in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy, but another religious group has agreed to pay into a proposed fund for survivors of Scouting-related sex abuse.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — known to many as the LDS or the Mormons — said earlier this week that it would put $250 million into a victims’ fund that is part of the BSA’s bankruptcy reorganization strategy.
“This contribution will provide opportunities to alleviate the suffering of those who have experienced abuse,” said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS church had been the largest sponsoring or chartering group for BSA troops but cut ties with the BSA at the end of 2019.
The United Methodist Church has been another major chartering group, and thousands of local churches continue to sponsor and provide space for BSA troops.
United Methodist leaders have expressed deep concern for victims. They also have said they’re worried about liability for local churches associated with troops where abuse is alleged.
The denomination has filed motions in the bankruptcy and been part of negotiations.
“The United Methodist Church has not reached a settlement agreement at this point and continues to work with the various entities to achieve a settlement,” said Bishop John Schol, who leads the Greater New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania conferences.
Schol chairs a team formed to help lead The United Methodist Church through the unfolding BSA bankruptcy.
He declined to predict a timetable for negotiations or predict with specificity what a settlement might entail.
Burdened by abuse claims going back decades, the BSA filed for bankruptcy in February 2020, and continues to try to work out a reorganization plan acceptable to the bankruptcy court and to most abuse victims. It’s on the fifth version of a plan.
This week brought not only the LDS church development but an announcement by The Hartford insurance company that it had entered into a new agreement in the BSA bankruptcy, and would put $787 million into the victims fund.
The payments would provide the insurance company and the LDS church protection from further liability in Scouting-related abuse cases, The Associated Press reported.
That news service also said the recent proposed settlements with The Hartford and the LDS church are opposed by the official victims committee appointed by the U.S. bankruptcy trustee, along with some law firms representing hundreds of men who say they were abused.
The AP also reported that the latest version of the BSA plan provides a way for churches, civic groups and other troop sponsors to be released from liability. A full release would come for assigning insurance rights and making a significant cash contribution to the fund, the news service said.
An Aug. 25 press release from United Methodist leaders said that an ad hoc committee, consisting mostly of annual conference chancellors, was representing United Methodist interests in the bankruptcy. The press release noted that as many as 5,000 United Methodist congregations in the U.S. were exposed to potential lawsuits by those claiming abuse.
The United Methodist Church, through the ad hoc committee, joined the LDS church in a filing in the bankruptcy in April. The Catholic Church, another major troop-sponsoring group, has joined in other United Methodist filings.
The Aug. 25 press release also summarized advice from the ad hoc committee that United Methodist bishops and other conference leaders have been sharing with local churches that sponsor troops.
The committee said churches supporting Scouting units should hold off on renewing annual charters. Instead, the committee said, they should agree to extend an expiring charter through Dec. 31, replace an expiring charter with a facilities use agreement through Dec. 31, or terminate an existing charter and replace it with a facilities use agreement that runs through Dec. 31.
“All of those options allow more time to see how the bankruptcy will impact United Methodist congregations,” the Aug. 25 press release said.
August 25, 2021
The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which dates back more than 100 years. In February 2020, the BSA announced the national organization would file for bankruptcy to allow it to continue carrying on its mission while also compensating sexual abuse victims who were harmed during their time in scouting. While the bankruptcy is ongoing, the BSA, along with its local councils, recently reached an agreement with representatives of most of the survivors on a proposed $850 million settlement.
At this time, negotiations are ongoing for other parties with an interest in the bankruptcy. Questions remain about how that agreement might affect chartered organizations, including thousands of United Methodist congregations that have sponsored scouting programs. United Methodist congregations represent the largest active collection of chartered organizations. The interests of those congregations are represented by an ad hoc committee established to represent United Methodist interests, which is actively engaged in the bankruptcy process and related negotiations.
The denomination continues to maintain a relationship with the BSA and churches may continue to support scout troops. However, the 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. This leaves as many as 5,000 United Methodist U.S. congregations—or more than 15 percent of U.S. congregations—exposed to potential lawsuits by the survivor claimants. 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.
The ad hoc committee has advised that churches that support scouting units should: (1) agree to extend an expiring charter through December 31, rather than renew that charter; (2) replace an expiring charter with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31; or (3) terminate an existing charter and replace it with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31. All of those options allow more time to see how the bankruptcy will impact United Methodist congregations.
United Methodist leaders across the denomination grieve for those who experienced harm. Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey called upon the church to pray for the victims and their families. “This tragedy is a reminder for all of us to be vigilant, update Safe Sanctuary policies and continue to review those policies to ensure congregations are following the policies and keeping all young people safe from harm.”
More than 80,000 distinct claims from 1940 through 2018 were filed by the court-established deadline. Some of those claims are potentially connected to scouting units sponsored by United Methodist congregations. The BSA implemented its current program designed to help prevent sexual abuse and ensure the safety of Scouts starting in the 1980s and there have been fewer cases since the development and improvement in the program. The percentage of claims related to United Methodist-sponsored scouting units is proportionately lower than that of other chartered units. United Methodists have and continue to implement Safe Sanctuary policies and practices.
A leadership team has also been formed to help develop principles, guidelines and action steps in preparation for leading the church through the unfolding bankruptcy and its impact on United Methodist chartered organizations. The team, chaired by Bishop John Schol, includes representatives of the Council of Bishops, as well as persons with financial, legal and communications expertise.