PHILADELPHIA — A Delaware man 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 “perversion 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 Mormon church and the Downingtown-area chapel that Novak attended. The Boy Scouts said it regrets the past abuse of scouts, while church spokesman Eric Hawkins said abusers should face both legal prosecution and church discipline. Neither group had seen Novak’s lawsuit.
His abuser, 61-year-old Vance Hein, 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 made him “a quitter” when it came to school and jobs, and plunged him into years of substance abuse.
“After all that, my childhood just fell apart,” said Novak, who now manages a retail store. “It took away a lot of accomplishments and experiences I can’t get back.”
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Novak said he wants his name released to heighten awareness of the issue.
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.
The suit faults the church for not doing background checks on Hein, who had gone East after serving as a scout leader in California, Eisenberg said. The lawyer wants to investigate the reason for that move, given the alleged practice of quietly removing scoutmasters amid sex-abuse complaints.
Novak said he was sexually assaulted at Hein’s home, on camping trips and on a trip to Canada, a trip that motivated him to go to authorities. He was 15 and had been abused for more than a year.
Hein, he said, had groomed him over the years with gifts and rewards.
“From the time I was 8 years old, this guy was like Santa Claus,” he said.
Novak was not ready to sue when he was younger, his father said. Changes in Pennsylvania law now give child sex-abuse victims more time to do so.
Novak has quit the Mormon church, but his father remains active at the congregation in Marshalltown where Hein led the Boy Scout troop for years.
“Evil people can fool us all,” the elder Novak said.