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Catholic Responses to the New Boy Scouts Policy

Here's an intersting article on the reaction of various religious groups to the new Boy Scouts policy, admitting gay youth Scouts but still prohibiting gay people from adult roles in the organization.  It's hard to imagine why a Christian, even one who believes homosexuality to be a sin, would favor barring gay boys and young men from even participating as a member in a youth group like the Scouts, and yet some churches have taken that position.  The response to the new policy by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting is more encouraging, but some of the reponses by individual Catholic priests and even a bishop are baffling and disturbing:

      A Catholic pastor in Bremerton, Wash., the Rev. Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea, wrote an open letter to his parishioners announcing that the parish would cut its ties with the Scouts and develop new youth programs of its own.  "I am very aware that my objection to the change ... is increasingly considered bigoted and backward," Lappe wrote. "But I won't put public opinion ahead of the good of the boys and young men in my parish."
     In the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, the pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church notified local Scout leaders that the church would no longer sponsor a Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop. In a letter conveying the decision, the Rev. Brian Grady wrote that it would be "not only unjust, but immoral" for straight boys to have to share tents on camping trips with gay Scouts.
     And in Arlington, Va., Catholic Bishop Paul Loverde issued a statement saying the new membership policy "forces us to prayerfully reconsider whether a continued partnership with the BSA will be possible."  "It is highly disappointing to see the Boy Scouts of America succumb to external pressures and political causes at the cost of its moral integrity," said Loverde, who predicted the policy change will bring "continuing controversy, policy fights and discord."
     However, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting — which works with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to coordinate the church's involvement in Scouting — has taken a more positive view of the policy change.  "We should be encouraged that the change in BSA's youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching," Edward Martin, the committee's chairman, wrote last week in an open letter to Catholics involved in Scouting.  Martin, an Eagle Scout with five children who've been Scouts, said his committee would form a task force to work with Catholic dioceses and parishes on how best to go forward in light of the change.
"Our youth don't want to leave Scouting. Scouting is still the best program around," Martin wrote. "Let's continue this important journey together."


Commenting Guidelines

In my whole life I've never even heard of a boy scouts' dance.  BSA isn't the boys and girls scouts of America.    I think that whole dance "issue" is a straw man.


Jim Pauwels. I think your concerns over accepting a tentmate, bullying and dances reflect the world as it was when you and I were of Scouting age. There's a lot of material available that indicates that attitudes toward openly gay people differ greatly by generation.


The long struggle to get rid of DADT in the military didn't come to an end until people realized that those predicting uproars in sleeping quarters and loss of unit cohesion were mostly in their forties and fifties while most young servicemembers in their teens and early twenties, who would be most affected by the change,  didn't see a problem because they had grown up knowing openly gay people and had supported them as friends, classmates and in shared activities. 


"Most" doesn't mean "every one" but that's a teachable moment for Scout leaders to seize, just as the military has. 

 I think that whole dance "issue" is a straw man.


If there is a dance, there are three possibilities for what a gay boy scout may do:


1. Dance with a girl (because they both like dancing)

2. Dance with another gay scout

3. Hang around the refreshments table and not dance.


how is any of those a problem?

John Hayes - I agree that attitudes change from one generation to the next.  But I wouldn't be too sanguine that bullying is a thing of the past.  

I'm not surprised that the end of DADT has been largely a non-event.  But I wouldn't expect that what works in a highly structured, disciplined and professional environment like the US armed forces would meet with equal success among a gaggle of  teens and their volunteer parent supervisors. Still, I hope you're right that being gay in high school today isn't the utter hell it was for gay kids in my high school.

  I think that whole dance "issue" is a straw man.

I think it is the kind of thing that will be where the rubber hits the road for Catholic scout troops that are trying to discern how to operate under the new rules.  

I don't think Mark Proska's point is dismissable without some further thought.  If the line must be drawn between what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable, where to draw it?  Can two boys dance together?  (Sure, why not? - girls have danced together since at least my day, probably since way before then)  Can two boys slow-dance together?  I can see objections being raised to that one.  A slow dance is usually thought to be somewhat freighted with meaning, isn't it?  (Dancing in general seems to be pretty complicated in its meanings; there is relatively polite and platonic slow dancing and there is intimate slow dancing.  Will scout leaders need to carry tape measures to ascertain the physical distance between the dancers?)  Can they hold hands while they're waiting for the next dance?  If they are found kissing in a dark corner, is that more problematic than a boy and a girl doing the same over in the other corner?  As John Hayes suggests, if two boys are found to be kissing, that may not bother the other teenage boys too much (although I'm somewhat skeptical on that point).  But the question isn't how the boys feel about it; it's how the church authorities feel about it.  How should the church authorities feel about it?



their volunteer parent supervisors


I think that's the key. I hope the BSA is planning a lot of instruction for Scoutmasters and Troop Leaders between now and next January.


The military did a lot of that. Here's one Marine Corps briefing.


You have to get across that it's the leaders' responsibility to  make it work by teaching each of  their scouts what he needs to know to live in a diverse community. 



A lot of the worries expressed about a dance are he same things I see high schools getting worked up about when prom time comes around. You'll live through them, as the do.  


The Church's teaching is that a person with only same-sex attraction must live a life of perpetual chastity. However, that doen't mean being a hermit living without close friends and community involvement. Leaning how to form those friendships and develop a supportive community may be exactly what Catholic Scout groups need to provide to gay kids. 


Manuel's book points out the importance of friendships and  the involvement of other people in allowing priests to live celibate lives. It seems to me that that is what the Church would want to try to teach gay kids through the Scouts.


<blockquote>A licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco, Manuel’s formula for successfully “living celibacy” is to embrace rather than escape the psychosexual dimensions of a life that forgoes genital sex and an exclusive intimate partnership for the sake of service to the church. He affirms the obvious: that the sacrifices entailed also bring multiple benefits, not the least of which is the freedom to cultivate a wide circle of professional and personal relationships and to travel light, serving whenever and wherever needed without the obligations of marriage and family.


This is not to say that living celibacy is easy, especially as a priest goes through midlife, when the uncertainties of aging and the crisis of realizing one’s limits hit the panic button. Manuel proposes a lifelong approach to living celibacy in the form of five “healthy pathways for priests.” They are:


Live close to God and one’s deepest desires;

Develop relationships and communities of support;

Ask for love, nurture others, and negotiate separation;

Cope with stress and recognize destructive patterns of behavior;

Celebrate the holy....


Manuel affirms what Dominican Fr. Don Goergen risked censure to say in his now classic 1975 book The Sexual Celibate -- that “friendship is not detrimental but central to celibate living, that celibate persons are also sexual persons, and that celibate life is a profound and rewarding way of living,” as Goergen wrote. Moving beyond a time when “particular friendships” were forbidden and contact between priests and women was discouraged, Manuel assumes that today’s priests can live chastely and effectively in the real world when grounded in community and in the charism given to them to build up the church.



The issues of celibate priests and gay men are not identical, but there may be some clues In what Manuel says. Some gay men will choose same-sex marriage, perhaps including  raising children. I don't see the Church changing its position on that, but it can still emphasize that we are all children of God. 


Fascinating juxtaposition ....

In a tizzy about letting gay kids into scouts, but doing everything in their power to avoid liability for past misdeeds. 

 I think that whole dance "issue" is a straw man.

To avoid offending members of the straw community, shouldn't that be "straw person"?

Will scout leaders need to carry tape measures to ascertain the physical distance between the dancers?

Jim P,

I hope I won't offend anyone here by saying that discussions of sexual morality often seem to proceed with a rule book in one hand and calipers in the other, thus failing to capture the exuberant diversity of human behavior.

Sexual desire and expression have existed in our lineage far, far longer than reason and morality, and they commonly overwhelm those later developments, partly because they are essential, not merely desirable, for survival, and partly because they require the understanding and skills of a lizard, and not a philosopher's.

Obviously, sex can be a disruptive and destructive force. But I wonder if on balance it does as much harm as the hateful and ham-handed means by which people try to channel it into "right" ways.

John Hayes, thanks for that quote from Manuel and the reference to Fr. Goergen.  It accords with the formation that was given to my single classmates in the diaconate.

John Prior,  :-)

The video embedded in the article Prof. Peñalver linked in his original post is well worth watching.

On one hand, it is very sad that the message from the local pastor is one of unneccesary and unjust  exclusion.  You really have to question the mindset of a pastor obsessed with what boy scouts might do in a tent if one of the boys is gay.

On the other hand, one Eagle Scout who was summarily evicted by a Catholic pastor, speaks with a dignified intelligence and maturity--"We'll find a better place. A place that's more welcoming to us," said Sam Payseur.  Perhaps if the Catholic pastor just met Sam and really engaged him as a human being he'd recognize how ridiculous his comments and actions were.


I’m late responding, but the “hypothetical” dance I was referring to was not limited to a BSA sponsored event.   Boy Scouts interact with the opposite sex even when they are “off duty” and I understand that the maturity the BSA wants to instill in the young men that join it is not supposed to end when the camping trip is over.

Here are some "Points of Clarification" issued by the BSA as part of the package for the vote. They relate to some of the issues raised here:



1. This proposal is in line with Scouting's principles and virtues.


Some have asserted that having different standards for adults and youth is illogical or contradictory and runs counter to the principles of Scouting. Asserting this proposal is contradictory is based on a misunderstanding of the resolution. The resolution states:


Youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life


Any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.


The organization will maintain its current membership policy for all adult leaders.

No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda.


Members must demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.


By reinforcing that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting, and that no member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, this resolution rightly recognizes there is a difference between kids and adults while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of Scouting.




4. The BSA is a leading expert in youth protection, and kids are safe in its programs.


The BSA is fully equipped to administer this policy. Some have asserted that this proposal will put children at higher risk of being sexually abused or bullied and that the organization will not be able to administer this policy while protecting the safety and privacy of all Scouts.


The BSA would never consider a proposal that increased risk to young people. To be clear, the BSA makes no connection between the sexual abuse or victimization of a child and homosexuality. The BSA takes strong exception to this assertion. Some of the nation's leading experts reinforce this position.


The BSA has stringent polices that protect the safety and privacy of youth and adult members and has always worked to ensure that it is a supportive and safe environment for young people.


As it relates to logistical issues for volunteers, Scouting is already equipped to address these issues. No other organization has the same level of expertise for administering logistics and protecting the safety of its participants.


Also, to further prepare the organization, the BSA has created an implementation task force to make sure it is ready, should this resolution pass. It is looking into how other organizations have dealt with these issues. The BSA chose the effective date of Jan. 1, 2014, to give the organization the time it needs to make sure it is operationally ready for this policy.



5. Scouting will remain focused on its mission, the Scout Oath, and the Scout Law.


Some have asserted that this proposal will unduly interject sexuality into the BSA and take away parents' rights to discuss sexuality at the time and place of their choosing. The BSA believes parents should decide if, when, and how to discuss matters of sexuality with their kids.


This proposal reinforces Scouting's belief that sexual conduct by any Scout, heterosexual or homosexual, is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.


While, if this resolution is passed, no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of stating their sexual orientation alone, Scouting expects appropriate behavior from all members, which includes sexual conduct, regardless of sexual orientation.


Guess the Russian Boy Scouts won't be making this change anytime soon. 


MOSCOW — A bill that stigmatizes gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality won overwhelming approval Tuesday in Russia’s lower house of Parliament.


Hours before the State Duma passed the Kremlin-backed law in a 436-0 vote with one abstention, more than two dozen protesters were attacked by hundreds of antigay activists and then detained by police.


The bill banning the ‘‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’’ still needs to be passed by the appointed upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, but neither step is in doubt.


The measure is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values instead of Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against Putin’s rule.


A widespread hostility to homosexuality is shared by much of Russia’s political and religious elite. Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment, or be exiled.

436-0, and one half-brave abstention. I wonder how many of those Duma members are gay themselves.

If they are going to keep the Russian people from learning that homosexuality exists, they will probably have to rewrite a fair amount of history and biography (not that that's a problem for them) and block several million internet sites, including this one.

It's a lot to ask of young people who have been training for years for the event, but I hope athletes gay and straight will consider passing up Sochi next year, so these traditionalists can have what they deserve, an All Russia-Uganda Winter Olympics.