The bosses of the Boy Scouts of America surprised everyone this week by postponing their decision on whether to allow gay leaders and gay Scouts to join their ranks.
If the BSA's long-standing ban on gays is lifted by national officials in May, the choice to admit gays may be left to local Boy Scout chapters -- as it should be.
Churches and civic groups that sponsor Boy Scout troops wouldn't be forced by the national organization to admit gays. And parents can choose whether they want their child to be in a troop led by a gay man.
If you're asking me if I'd put my child in a Boy Scout troop with a leader who is a known homosexual, I would answer on the side of caution and say "No."
But despite what some of my conservative friends think, allowing gays in the Boy Scouts will not be an open invitation to pedophiles to begin preying on children.
Being gay doesn't mean you are a pedophile. Homosexuality and pedophilia are two completely different issues and studies show that a child is no more at risk of being molested by a gay or bisexual man than a heterosexual one.
As someone who was sexually molested by a camp counselor when I was 8, I know more than I care to about pedophilia and the long-lasting harm it does to children. You can read about my experience and what I learned from it in "Twice Adopted," my 2004 book.
Pedophilia is the most heinous crime against children. But as the newspaper headlines have been telling us for a long time, some of our most famous institutions have a shameful record of coddling the child molesters who work for them.
Everyone knows by now how the men in power at Penn State chose not to tell the police about the serial pedophilia of former football coach Jerry Sandusky because they were afraid to sully the reputation of their "sacred" athletic program. Meanwhile, for years Sandusky was free to prey on new victims.
Penn State's decision to protect its institutional reputation was nothing new. According to HBO's scathing new documentary "Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa," the Catholic Church -- my church -- has implemented a similar policy whenever pedophiles are discovered in its sanctuaries and schools.
From Wisconsin to Ireland to the Vatican, HBO showed that the church's bishops and cardinals have a long and disgusting history of protecting pedophile priests, ignoring children's allegations of sexual abuse, paying the parents of victims to keep quiet and keeping the sex crimes of priests secret from law enforcement.
In my hometown, we've recently been learning from the Los Angeles Times how for decades the hierarchy of the Los Angeles diocese "plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests."
The BSA's similar method of dealing with child molesters in its ranks also has been exposed by the L.A. Times.
The BSA's own files revealed that between 1970 and 1991 officials chose not to tell police about hundreds of alleged sexual abuses, and in some cases allowed the molesters to continue working or volunteering with the organization.
In one case, the Times reported last fall, a camp director who heard about repeated abuse by a staff member told police he didn't report them because "his bosses wanted to protect the reputation of the Scouts and the accused staff member."
The men who run the Boy Scouts have something in common with the men who run the Catholic Church and Penn State. When it comes to dealing with the sexual abuse of children, they've always chosen to protect their own institutions instead of protecting children.
Pedophilia can be prevented and guarded against, but it's impossible to eliminate. But from now on, when it is discovered, the perpetrators -- who on average molest about 120 victims during their "career" -- should be indicted and punished as criminals.
This should be the case no matter who they are, whether they're straight or gay, or what institution they work for. Our innocent children deserve no less.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution" (St. Martin's Press).