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The bishop of the Iowa Area of the United Methodist Church is asking the organization’s churches in the state to stop chartering Boy Scout troops because of sex abuse lawsuits by former scouts.
Bishop Laurie Haller told church leaders in a message this week they should not renew chartering agreements with troops at least until the Boy Scouts of America emerges from federal bankruptcy proceedings.
Breaking ties is intended to protect the churches from further liability, now that the United Methodist Church has learned Boy Scouts of America doesn’t have enough insurance to cover sponsoring churches, the letter states.
“The local churches are at risk of having to pay significant sums to victims to compensate them for the damages they suffered at the hands of some scout leaders,” Haller wrote. “In addition, the local churches will have to pay for the cost of their own attorneys to defend those claims. All of this is because the BSA did not fulfill their promise to have enough insurance to protect the local churches.”
Haller recommends churches do not start or renew chartering agreements with Boy Scout troops. Rather, the churches may sign a facilities use agreement with the troops until Dec. 31. “This will act similar to a lease allowing the scout unit to use your space, but they will be responsible for everything else, including the selection of leaders,” Haller wrote.
The Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2020 as it faced hundreds of lawsuits from men who said they were sexually abused as boys by their troop leaders.
Last month, attorneys for the Boy Scouts of America, abuse victims, local councils and other lawyers reached a deal for an $850 million settlement between the Boy Scouts of America and more than 60,000 alleged victims. Earlier this month, a bankruptcy judge approved part of the settlement despite objections from church groups including the United Methodists.
The Boy Scouts of America still needs to reach resolution with insurers.
Scouting has played a large role in the United Methodist Church’s mission and ministry for decades.
More than 3,000 United Methodist churches charter over 9,000 scouting units serving more than 300,000 youth, according to United Methodist Men, which oversees the denomination’s scouting ministries, UM News reported in October 2020.
That has played out in the Corridor with projects like a free pantry installed in front of the First United Methodist Church in Iowa City by Jack Ballard, then a City High senior, as part of his Eagle Scout project in 2017.
Ballard worked with members of Boy Scout Troop 212 and church members to build, install and supply the pantry with food and toiletries, according to a 2017 Gazette article.
“Hopefully, we will be able to continue our long connection with scouting in some way,” Haller wrote to her churches. “But we need to make some changes today to help prevent us from being dragged down with the BSA in the future.”
Local church leaders were reluctant to comment on the directive to stop chartering Boy Scout troops.
“We don’t have any further comment or involvement here at St. Paul from what the statement that was issued by our bishop yesterday,” the Rev. Dr. Sherrie Ilg, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, said Wednesday.
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