inside-lewis-scouts-0280535

Plaintiff Kerry Lewis reacts on April 13, 2010 after the verdict against the Boy Scouts of America was announced in Portland, Ore. A jury found the organization negligent for repeated sexual abuse by assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes in the 1980s. The Oregon Supreme Court has approved the release of 20,000 pages of files of suspected abusers who were with the Boy Scouts of America. (Rick Bowmer, File/Associated Press)

An Oregon court has approved the release of so-called perversion files compiled by the Boy Scouts of America on suspected child molesters within the organization over two decades, giving the public its first chance to review the files on 1,200 people.

The files gathered from 1965 to 1985 came to light when they were used as evidence in a landmark Oregon ruling in 2010 that the Scouts had failed to protect a plaintiff who had been molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the early 1980s. The Scouts were ordered to pay the man $18.5 million US.

The case drew attention to the organization's efforts to keep child molesters out of its leadership ranks. In recent years, the Boy Scouts have faced numerous lawsuits from men who say they were molested as children by scout leaders.

The 20,000-page files contain accusations against scout leaders that ranged from child abuse to lesser offences that would prohibit them from working in the organization.

The Boy Scouts fought to keep the files sealed, arguing that opening them could unfairly affect those who were suspected but never convicted of abuse.

Media organizations including The Associated Press, the Oregonian and the New York Times challenged the Scouts' effort to keep the files under seal, arguing that their introduction by attorneys in the suit makes them public record. A judge agreed.

The files are part of a larger trove of confidential documents the Boy Scouts began compiling several decades ago on people flagged as being possible molesters. By 1935, a Times article said the organization had 2,910 "cards" on men who were unfit to supervise young boys.

Scout executives had no written guidelines on the subject until a 1972 memo urged them to keep such files confidential "because of misunderstandings which could develop if it were widely distributed."

Boy Scouts react to court decision

"Scouts are safer because those files exist," the Boy Scouts said in a statement released Thursday. "While we respect the court, we are still concerned that the release of two decades' worth of confidential files into public view, even with the redactions indicated, may still negatively impact victims' privacy and have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse."

In the 2010 case, the jury decided the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with scouts, including plaintiff Kerry Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Boy Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys, according to court records. Lewis' attorneys argued that the scouts should have opened the perversion files decades ago.

In 2011, CBC-TV's The Fifth Estate, in a co-investigation with the Los Angeles Times, looked at Scouts Canada's controversial system for recording the names of pedophiles who had infiltrated its ranks and had been removed the organization. It was known as the Confidential List. The investigation followed the public legal battle involving the Boy Scouts of America, which paid out millions in legal settlements.

In an interview with The Fifth Estate, Steve Kent, chief commissioner and chair of the board of governors for Scouts Canada, admitted that contrary to prior statements by Scouts Canada, cases had in fact been found, where suspected abuse hadn't been reported to the police. Kent said these cases were turned over to police across the country to investigate.

In a public letter in February to parents, Scouts and the public, Kent said, "I want to assure all parents that there is no greater priority for Scouts Canada than the protection of children and youth in our care. We have rigorous procedures and policies that help us create the most secure environment possible for our youth members."

With files from CBC News