The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 2, 2012

Boy Scouts resisted background checks on leaders


When he signed on as a Boy Scout leader, the man was on probation for molesting a Cub Scout in his neighborhood.

One morning in 1991, a landlady went to the apartment of Norfolk, Va., Scout leader Michael Pitz to investigate a noise complaint. She found one Scout tied up on the floor, another bound on the couch and a third standing by, smoking a cigarette.

She later told police and Scouting officials that Pitz had “a long criminal record.” It included a conviction for sodomizing a 10-year-old Maryland boy in 1978.

“She could not believe Mike’s application as a Scout leader cleared the Scout office,” an internal report in Pitz’s file noted.

Pitz was part of a surge in Scouting volunteers expelled for alleged sexual abuse — more than 270 annually in 1991 and 1992. At least in part, the expulsions reflected rising concern nationally about child sexual abuse.

In 1993, leaders of several major youth organizations were called to testify before a congressional panel about a proposed law urging states to require employees and volunteers of nonprofits to undergo FBI fingerprint checks — the gold standard in criminal screening.

Some youth groups were supportive. Big Brothers Big Sisters already was doing background checks.

“This sometimes has met with great obstacles, but we have endured the cost and the burden of getting this done,” testified former NFL star Lynn Swann, who then was board president.

But the Boy Scouts said fingerprint screening would be an unacceptable burden. “Many worthy volunteers would simply not wish to subject themselves to being fingerprinted,” testified Lawrence Potts, then the Scouts’ head of administration.

Potts downplayed the risks of child sexual abuse in youth organizations, saying most molestations occurred among family members. As drafted, he added, the federal law would establish a standard that could result in “massive civil justice damages” against groups that did not do the checks.

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