(Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America is preparing to report to law enforcement the names of hundreds of adult leaders who have confessed to or been accused of molesting scouts since the 1960s, a spokesman said Monday.
The Boy Scouts' policy since last year has required accusations or incidents of child molestation to be immediately reported to authorities. Before then, reporting requirements differed from state to state depending on local laws, which raised questions about how many incidents went unreported over the years.
The change announced on Monday "is simply retrofitting our current policy to past cases," according to organization spokesman Deron Smith.
The Boy Scouts, one of the country's largest youth organizations, will turn the information over to local authorities in the jurisdictions where the accusations originated.
While some former scout leaders and volunteers could be subject to criminal charges as a result of the names, plaintiff attorneys say they don't expect a wave of charges to be filed.
Prosecutions would require more than simply an accusation, and many of the cases are decades old. In some states, in cases where statutes of limitations on reporting sexual abuse haven't expired, civil charges could still be brought.
The decision to turn over names to authorities comes as the Boy Scouts is preparing for the court-ordered release this month of 20,000 pages of internal files. The files date from 1965 to 1985 and detail roughly 1,200 cases of scout leaders who abused children or were accused of doing so.
The files played a key evidentiary role in a 2010 civil case in which an Oregon jury found the Boy Scouts liable for $20 million for failing to protect a scout from a 1980s leader who was an admitted pedophile.
Since at least 1919, the Boy Scouts, headquartered in Irving, Texas, has maintained an "ineligible volunteers" file to prevent suspected pedophiles from re-entering its ranks in other cities and states.
Law enforcement was involved in about two-thirds of the 1,200 cases that arose between 1965 and 1985, Smith said. But in an estimated 300 cases, there is no evidence that authorities were ever notified because state law did not require it.
It is unclear how many similar cases are contained in the files dating from 1985 to the present, Smith said, but those names will also be turned over to authorities. An internal review is under way.
Defense lawyers who represent molested scouts say it's a decision that has been too long in coming.
"This represents a fundamental shift from any other point in history in the way the Boy Scouts have regarded the contents of these files," said Paul Mones, the lead plaintiff attorney in the Oregon case.
"There were some cases in which the Boy Scouts had admissions from or pretty strong evidence of molestation and didn't contact law enforcement, and still haven't," he said.
Mones said turning over the names "represents a major step forward."
The Boy Scouts have annually counted between 3.5 million and 5 million scouts and more than 1 million adult leaders and volunteers among its members since the 1960s, Smith said.
Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Osterman