PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Boy Scouts of America released decades of so-called "perversion files" Thursday, showing how a range of authorities -- from police to pastors -- quietly allowed scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children to go free.

In many instances -- more than a third, according to the Scouts' own count -- police weren't told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement did nothing, seeking to protect Scouting's reputation.

The confidential papers, released by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files contain details about proven molesters but also unsubstantiated allegations.

The Associated Press obtained copies of the files weeks ahead of their release and conducted an extensive review, but agreed not to publish the stories until the files were released.

At a news conference, Portland attorney Kelly Clark criticized the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to keep the full collection of files secret.

"You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children," said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.

In a statement on Thursday, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said, "There is nothing more important than the safety of our Scouts." Smith said there have been times when Scouts' responses to sex abuse allegations were "plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong," and the organization extends its "deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."

The Scouts in September said they would look into past cases to see whether there were times when abusers should have been reported to police.

In one case from the files, a distraught mother walked into a Louisiana sheriff's office in 1965 and said a 31-year-old scoutmaster had raped one of her sons and molested two others.

Six days later, the scoutmaster sat down in front of a microphone in the same station and confessed: He admitted to raping a 17-year-old boy on a camping trip and otherwise sexually molesting two other boys. The victims corroborated his confession.

"They just occurred," the scoutmaster said.

Seven days later, the decision was made not to pursue charges against him.

The man "was asked to leave the parish, and if he was caught around or near any boy or youth organization, he would be sent to state prison immediately," a Scouting executive wrote to national headquarters. "We are indeed sorry that Scouting was involved."

The files released Thursday were collected between 1959 and 1985, with a handful of others from later years. Some had been released previously, but others were made public for the first time.

Scouting's efforts to keep abusers out were often disorganized. There's at least one memo from a local Scouting executive pleading for better guidance on how to handle abuse allegations. Sometimes the pleading went the other way, with national headquarters begging local leaders for information on suspected abusers.

In 1972, a local Scouting executive urged national headquarters to drop the case against a suspected abuser because he was undergoing professional treatment and was personally taking steps to solve his problem.

The files also show Scouting volunteers serving in the military overseas, molesting American children living abroad and sometimes continuing to molest after returning to the states.

The files showed a "very low" incidence of abuse among Scout leaders, said psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Warren, who conducted the review with a team of graduate students and served as an expert witness for the Scouts in the 2010 case that made the files public. Her review of the files didn't take into account the number of files destroyed on abusers who turned 75 years old or died, something she said would not have significantly affected the rate of abuse or her conclusions.

But critics say the rate of abuse among Scouts is the not the focus. Instead, it is their response to allegations of abuse.

In Kansas in 1961, a county attorney had what he needed for a prosecution: Two men were arrested and admitted that they had molested Scouts in their care.

One of the men said he held an all-night party at his house, during which he brought 10 boys, one by one, into a room where he committed "immoral acts."

Neither man was prosecuted. Once again, a powerful local official sought to preserve the name of Scouting.

Over the years, the mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse by certain professionals would take hold nationally. Each state had its own law, and the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act passed in 1974.

The Scouts, however, wouldn't institute mandatory reporting for suspected child abuse until 2010. They did incorporate other measures, such as a "two-deep" requirement that children be accompanied by at least two adults at all times.

According to an analysis of the Scouts' confidential files by Patrick Boyle, a journalist who was the first to expose about efforts by the Boy Scouts to hide the extent of sex abuse among its leaders, the Scouts documented internally less than 50 cases per year of Scout abuse by adults until 1983, when the reports began to climb, peaking at nearly 200 in 1989.