Boy Scouts, Mormons accused in sex abuse complaint

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A 28-year-old plaintiff has filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of sexual abuse by his scoutmaster, who also was a church youth leader.

The lawsuit could presage yet another sexual-abuse scandal involving major institutions in Pennsylvania, after the recent scandals involving the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Penn State University.

The scoutmaster, Vance Hein, was sentenced to 15 years' probation for a period of sexual abuse of plaintiff Melvin J. Novak, and he is now serving state prison time for violating his probation by possessing child pornography, according to one of Mr. Novak's attorneys, Stewart J. Eisenberg of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck in Philadelphia.

Mr. Hein's criminal defense attorney, Francis Connor Miller, did not respond to a request for comment.

With tears in his eyes at a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Novak said many members of his former congregation in Chester County still think highly of Mr. Hein.

"This guy is still worshipped," but they have no idea that all the mentoring Mr. Hein bestowed upon Mr. Novak "was all a hoax just to abuse me," he said.

The church was named because participation in the Boy Scouts is so "intertwined" for members of the LDS church, Mr. Eisenberg said, and they intend to depose church leaders responsible for hiring Mr. Hein to "find out if there was some sort of relationship, some sort of authority that they have over the Boy Scouts that they played in not only in the hiring but in perpetuating the hiring."

The LDS church actively sponsors Boy Scout troops and has adopted scouting as an official church youth program, the complaint said.

Of the Boy Scouts, the complaint alleged that the organization "promotes the wholesomeness of its programs while knowing that since the 1940s, it has been secretly removing scoutmasters for child sexual abuse at an alarming rate. ... Its own records demonstrate that it has long known that scouting attracts pedophiles in large numbers and that scouts, far from being safe, are at the heightened risk of sexual abuse by child molesters."

The Boy Scouts had secret internal files kept for 70 years on "ineligible volunteer files," and those files showed that sexual abusers removed from working with youth "were often able to re-enter scouting in other locations," the plaintiff's court papers said.

"I can't offer any information on specifics," LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.

"What I can say is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. Those found guilty of abuse are deserving of both legal prosecution and church discipline," he said.

The Boys Scouts also issued a statement: "Any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable," Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said. "While we have not seen this lawsuit, we deeply regret that there have been times when Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims."

legalnews

Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 215-557-2354. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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