The Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters over two decades and often left parents in the dark as a means to save face, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After reviewing 1,600 confidential files dated 1970-1991 from the century-old organization, the Times found more than 500 instances in which the Scouts learned of abuse directly from boys, parents, staff or anonymous tips, rather than after the incidents were reported to the authorities.
And in about 80 percent of those cases, there was no record of the Scouts reporting the abuse claims to authorities. The Times also found that officials actively sought to hide the allegations or allowed the suspects to conceal the abuse claims in more than 100 of the cases.
Although the organization, which counts nearly four million adult and youth members, has long sought to keep the "perversion files" out of public view, it could face a damning wave of lawsuits and bad publicity in the coming weeks as the records are set to be released.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ordered the public release of about 1,200 files dating from 1965 to 1985, including some reviewed by the newspaper.
Scouting officials told the Times that in many cases, they covered up the allegations to spare young victims from embarrassment. But some of the alleged molesters then went on to abuse other children, according to Scouts documents and court records cited by the Times.
In one example cited by the newspaper, a Maryland troop leader who confirmed allegations of abuse against him was given six weeks to leave and told he could give his associates "whatever reason that he chose" to resign.
An official was quoted as saying in the troop leader's file that the move gave him the opportunity to leave in a "graceful manner," adding that the senior Scout was reminded that he had agreed to keep the matter secret.
In response to the article, the organization issued an apology to the victims and stressed it had always cooperated with the authorities. Since 2010, the Scouts require officials to report even suspicion of abuse to local authorities.
"The Boy Scouts of America believes that one instance of abuse is far too many," spokesman Deron Smith told AFP.
"We regret there have been times when despite the BSA's best efforts to protect children, Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims."
The organization, founded in 1910, is best-known for promoting outdoor activities and community service for boys aged seven to 21.
In July, it reaffirmed a ban on openly gay members and leaders after a secret review, despite calls to overturn it.