Matt Stewart was in a Starbucks early Thursday morning when he got a phone call giving him the long-awaited news. Thousands of pages of previously private files from the Boy Scouts of America, detailing years of allegations of sexual molestation, had been released.
Stewart, a Gilroy resident, felt tears well in his eyes as he realized the public finally would see the depth of the abuse of young Scouts like himself -- along with the years of cover-up.
"It was a great moment for all the victims out there," Stewart said. "This is what my brother and I started 10 years ago. It's what people need to know about the Boy Scouts. They have been more concerned about protecting a brand and a logo than about protecting kids."
Matt and Tom Stewart successfully sued the assistant Scoutmaster from their youth in Washington state court. Their case ultimately helped lead to the release Thursday, by court order in Oregon, of nearly 15,000 pages of so-called "perversion files" compiled by the Boy Scouts of America from 1969 to the mid-1980s.
The trove of files contains allegations of sexual abuse of boys by about 1,200 Scouting volunteers -- engulfing the iconic organization in the same kind of sweeping scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Among the cases are about two dozen in the Bay Area.
"This is Penn State," Matt Stewart said. "This is the Catholic Church. It's probably more widespread because you don't need to go to a seminary to become a Scout leader. Anyone can volunteer."
For decades, Matt and Tom Stewart -- who both attained the organization's highest rank of Eagle Scout -- say they suffered in silence and coped with feelings of shame as a result of having sex acts inflicted upon them by a Scout leader in their suburban Tacoma troop. Matt Stewart, now a 47-year-old pharmaceutical salesman, said he was abused between the ages of 7 and 18, mostly during the 1970s. Tom Stewart, 50, an engineer with Boeing, was abused during the same time frame.
"It was weekly for about 10 years," Tom Stewart said by phone from Washington. "He threatened to kill us and our parents if we ever told anybody. It took years for my brother and I to speak out for everyone who feels like they can't because the Boy Scouts make it so difficult on accusers."
Matt Stewart said he contacted Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff in 2002 after reading news accounts about the then-emerging scandal involving Catholic clergy.
While the criminal statute of limitations had long since expired, the brothers won a civil settlement against the assistant Scoutmaster and the national organization in 2006. Through their lawsuit, it became known that the Boy Scouts of America had kept thousands of confidential files dating as far back as the early 1920s on suspected pedophiles among their adult leaders.
"The files weren't made public in our case, but it allowed attorneys around the country to know that they existed," Matt Stewart said.
Those confidential files were entered as evidence in an Oregon case that led to a $20-million judgment against the Boy Scouts of America in 2010. The organization then lost a legal battle to keep the documents secret.
"They should feel an incredible sense of pride because they basically started all this," said Dan Fasy, Kosnoff's law partner. "Imagine the courage it took to call an attorney, talk about what happened and then square off against such a huge, powerful organization."
The Stewarts believe the Boy Scouts of America essentially was protecting pedophiles. And legal experts believe the release of the files could launch a flood of lawsuits.
The San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America said Friday that it could not make anyone available to comment about the documents, referring calls to the national headquarters, which did not return a phone message.
The organization has sought to tamp down the crisis by acknowledging cases of past abuse but painting itself as much more responsive today to allegations, as well as requiring background checks and conducting training programs.
"The BSA's standards and relentless focus on Youth Protection have been recognized and praised by experts in child protection," said Wayne Perry, the Boy Scouts of America national president, in a statement.
That response infuriates Matt Stewart.
"They aren't sorry," he said. "They're sorry that they got caught. They fought for years the release of these documents. When you read these files, what you see is that when you put your kids in the Boy Scouts of America, you're putting your kid at risk."
Matt Stewart said he has never married and has no children.
"After you've been through what I have, you prefer to stay by yourself," he added.
Tom Stewart became a Scoutmaster for a time himself as a way to watch over two sons who were Scouts. But he came to believe that the organization still wasn't doing enough to protect kids.
"The Boy Scouts are gradually putting in more safeguards," Tom Stewart said. "But anyone putting their boys into Scouting needs to be very careful. You can't be dropping off your kids for a camping trip on Friday and have no idea where they are or what they're doing."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.