By Sam Hodges | UM News
Originally published at https://www.umnews.org/en/news/churches-advised-to-oppose-bsa-bankruptcy-plan
More than 9,000 United Methodist churches with a history of sponsoring Scouting troops have a say in the Boy Scouts of America’s sex abuse-related bankruptcy proceedings.
With a deadline looming, United Methodist leaders earlier this week began advising those churches to vote “no” on a proposed BSA bankruptcy reorganization plan. A press release reiterating that recommendation went out on Dec. 2.
The plan seeks to halt a deluge of lawsuits against BSA by creating a fund for those who, as Scouts, experienced sexual abuse from troop leaders or others. Under the plan’s latest version, nearly $1.9 billion has been committed to the fund.
A next step in the complicated litigation is an approval vote for the plan.
Abuse survivors are one class of voters. Others are local Boy Scout Councils, insurers and sponsoring or “chartering” organizations such as churches that provided space for Scout troops or Cub packs, took responsibility for their leadership and could be sued by survivors.
A United Methodist Ad Hoc Committee — consisting of eight annual conference chancellors, two bishops, two lawyers from the General Council on Finance and Administration and two staff members from United Methodist Men — has been part of the bankruptcy negotiations.
Members of the committee have sought a plan that deals compassionately with abuse survivors financially and otherwise, but also protects United Methodist churches from abuse-related lawsuits.
The United Methodist committee was part of mediation talks that continued through the Thanksgiving weekend. But votes on approval for the plan have to be in by Dec. 14, in anticipation of a January bankruptcy court hearing.
So the committee has put out the word that the churches involved — all of them in the U.S. — should vote “no.”
In a message to annual conferences and shared publicly by some, the Ad Hoc Committee said:
“We do not have a signed settlement that would bring healing to the survivors and a release from claims against United Methodist local churches and other United Methodist entities. These releases are essential to prevent congregations and United Methodist entities from being sued and numerous court cases for United Methodists to defend.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once a major chartering organization for BSA, announced in September that it would pay $250 million into the survivors’ fund. The Associated Press reported that the LDS church’s settlement within the larger plan included protection from abuse-related lawsuits.
Bishop John Schol, who chairs a leadership team working with the Ad Hoc Committee, stressed in a phone interview that negotiations for a United Methodist Church settlement remain active.
“We continue to work vigorously to reach a settlement, but if we are unable to reach a settlement, the present plan will greatly impact United Methodist congregations and United Methodists as a whole,” he said.
Schol noted that “no” votes can be changed to “yes” if the committee reaches an acceptable agreement.
Annual conferences have scrambled this week to alert churches to have charge conferences for deciding on a vote and getting it submitted in time. The ballot has to be received by Dec. 14, not just mailed by then.
The United Methodist Church and predecessor denominations have worked with BSA for more than 100 years.
As of 2020, United Methodist Men — the church agency overseeing the denomination’s Scouting ministries — reported that more than 3,000 United Methodist churches chartered some 9,000 scouting units, serving 300,000 youth.
The United Methodist Church is the denomination most involved with BSA, and connects with about 20% of BSA youth membership.
Beset by abuse claims going back many years, BSA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2020. It’s been trying for a plan that would compensate abuse survivors, halt litigation and allow the organization to continue operating.
But it’s been a complex undertaking, involving competing abuse survivors’ representatives, Boy Scout Councils, insurers and chartering organizations.
A little over a year ago, United Methodist leaders encouraged local churches with a history of chartering troops to file a “proof of claim” in the bankruptcy, asserting rights to insurance coverage or any other protection BSA might have offered.
The more than 9,000 churches that filed a proof of claim are the ones voting on whether to approve the plan.
Church leaders said in an Aug. 15 press release that the bankruptcy plan, as drafted then, left “as many as 5,000” United Methodist congregations in the U.S. exposed to potential lawsuits by abuse survivors.
The BSA faces more than 82,000 sexual abuse complaints within the bankruptcy proceeding.
In September, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein of Delaware approved a process for soliciting votes on the plan. Even if the different voting classes decide affirmatively, the plan would still require court approval. A confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 24.
The Ad Hoc Committee said in the Dec. 2 press release that it would be prepared to present its objections to the plan to the court if no settlement is reached.
A nine-member official tort claimants committee, appointed by a U.S. Trustee to represent all the abuse survivors, has advised voting against the plan, calling it “grossly unfair” in compensation for survivors.
But the Coalition for Abused Scouts for Justice, representing about 18,000 of the abuse survivors, wants a “yes” vote, saying the survivors’ fund is the largest of its kind in U.S. history and that the plan is the quickest, best solution
That group notes that the fund could see “significant additional contributions,” including from settlements by groups that chartered troops.
The sexual abuse claims against the BSA date from 1939 to 2020.
Voting on the plan began in October, but United Methodist leaders earlier advised not taking any action as the Ad Hoc Committee worked toward a settlement that better protected chartered groups.