PHILADELPHIA — A Delaware man has sued the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday over childhood sexual abuse committed by the scoutmaster at his church-sponsored troop.
Melvin Novak filed the lawsuit in state court in Philadelphia, charging that newly released Boy Scout files support his claim that the organization hid abuse complaints for years.
"They knew about this conduct, they knew what was going on, and they covered it up in the most despicable way," lawyer Stewart J. Eisenberg said at a news conference attended by Novak and his father.
The lawsuit names the larger LDS church and the Downingtown-area chapel that Novak attended when the abuse took place.
"This morning's filing of the complaint was the first notice the Church has had related to this litigation, so I can't offer any information on specifics," said Scott Trotter, spokesperson for the LDS Church. "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."
The Boy Scouts said it regrets the past abuse of scouts.
Novak's abuser, Vance Hein, 61, is in prison for a parole violation related to his 1999 misdemeanor conviction in Novak's case. He originally got probation but is now serving 15 to 30 years for possessing child pornography, Eisenberg said.
Novak, 28, of Newark, Del. said the abuse affected several aspects of his life, including school and his professional endeavors. He said the abuse was also a contributing factor to years of substance abuse.
"After all that, my childhood just fell apart," Novak said.
The LDS Church works in conjunction with BSA officials to perform background screenings for all adult leaders called to a position in scouting.
The June 2012 Scouting Handbook, which is given to all scout leaders in the LDS church, says, "The Boy Scouts of America will complete a criminal background check on all new adult leaders as part of the registration approval process." The background screening is performed before an adult leader is called to be a scout leader and serves to protect all parties involved.
In years past, the Church has also established a policy to ensure that at least two registered adult leaders are always present on all Scouting trips, outings, classes and meetings. "In situations that require personal conferences, such as a Scoutmaster's conference or merit badge counseling, the meeting should be conducted in view of other adults or youth," the handbook states.
The Boy Scout files — more than 14,000 pages of secret documents compiled from 1959 to 1985 — show that police, prosecutors, pastors and scout leaders quietly shielded scoutmasters and others who allegedly molested children. In response, the Scouts have apologized and said their response to the allegations were "plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong."
"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," the organization said in a statement Wednesday.
Novak said the alleged sexual abuse took place at Hein's home, on camping trips and on a trip to Canada, a trip that motivated him to go to authorities. Novak said he was 15 at the time and was abused for more than a year.
Associated Press writer Maryclaire Dale contributted to this report.