Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. issued the following letter today in response to an announcement of a settlement reached in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case.
Download his letter.
Read more details from the settlement from United Methodist Communications.
Members of the Great Plains Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, our redeemer and savior whose birth we are preparing to celebrate.
I am writing to share news that you may already have heard or likely will hear in the national media. After many weeks of prayer, study and negotiation, The United Methodist Church has reached a settlement with parties representing victims of abuse regarding the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Details of the agreement may not be shared out of confidentiality concerns, but the denomination has agreed to pay $30 million to compensate the survivors of sexual abuse. That amount will be divided between the annual conferences based in the United States.
As you may know, the BSA recently filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy due to more than 84,000 claims of sexual abuse from people who were part of Scouting dating back to the 1940s. As a result of this settlement, churches with a vote on the BSA’s bankruptcy settlement are encouraged to vote “yes,” instead of following the previous recommendation. Churches who filed a proof of claim and have a right to cast a ballot in the proceeding will receive additional information and instructions on how to change their vote as soon as possible.
As part of its bankruptcy filing, the BSA reached an $850 million settlement between itself, its local councils, and representatives of most of the survivors. The next phase in securing justice for those who were harmed is to focus on insurers, other leadership affiliated with Boy Scouts at the times of these abusive situations, and chartering organizations.
That final grouping involved some of our churches. Unlike some other denominations and civic organizations, United Methodist churches served primarily as chartering organizations, meaning the Scouting program matched up with the mission of local churches and allowed for an extension of our churches’ ministries to young people. In most cases, our churches did not directly operate the program, nor did they provide direct supervision for Scout troops, but they did provide a location for meetings, places to store equipment and a group of people from which to draw upon resources, such as financial donations, expertise for merit badge training and more.
The Great Plains Conference had 112 claims of abuse filed against our churches, most dating prior to 1980. Since being notified, the conference has worked with attorneys, clergy, and congregations in efforts to respond to the claims. Scott Brewer, our treasurer and director of administrative services, has worked diligently for several months now to keep churches updated and, in consultation with conference chancellors and denominational leaders, to provide the best counsel possible.
This settlement should end any further involvement of our local churches.
While this settlement may end legal proceedings against United Methodist churches, we remain committed to the missional importance of ensuring that our local churches are safe for all children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Indeed, as part of our commitment as a denomination going forward, annual conferences will lead reviews of their policies and those of local churches to ensure children are safe as they participate in Scouting and other programs. And the General Commission on United Methodist Men will work with the BSA and local councils to improve Scouting, particularly in areas of safety, while also working to grow scouting ministry.
We seek to welcome children and youth and to teach them about the love of Jesus Christ. We grieve that one too many have been harmed. We cannot do anything to change the past, but we can ensure the safety of children today and going forward. It is the primary reason our conference requires Safe Gatherings training before any paid staff member or volunteer is allowed to work with children, youth, or vulnerable adults in any of our churches or on our churches’ properties.
The use of this program is non-negotiable. Safe Gatherings protects not just the person under our care, but the church as well because our staff and volunteers are trained to behave responsibly and learn how to recognize potentially troublesome situations.
We strive to live up to Wesley’s general rules to do no harm, do all the good we can, and help people stay in love with God by attending to the means of God’s grace. We will do this by fostering safe environments for the children, youth, and vulnerable adults entrusted to our care and by contributing financially to ensure people who were harmed receive justice.
For more details on the settlement, please read this press release from United Methodist Communications.
Please pray with me for continued healing for all involved in this situation. Even decades later, some people are still hurting and need our care and support. May God yet work through this situation to bring justice, healing, and a greater concern for the welfare and safety of all children and youth.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
Great Plains Conference