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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."

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



Commenting Guidelines

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By my tally, just discrimination now includes:

  • Marriage
  • Adoption
  • Teaching
  • Military
  • Priesthood
  • Being a member of a church choir
  • Scouting

and unjust disrimination includes:

  • ?


One really needs to read the entire letter from Fr. Lappe of Bremerton, WA.  It is frightening:

He dredges up every possible discredited theory for same sex attraction -- for example boys not engaging in enough "rough and tumble play."  You mothers out there seem to be the primary cause gayness, according to Fr. Lappe -- overprotecting the boys and being emotionally unavailable to girls.

In his great compassion for confused adolescents who think they are gay, his parish has programs that will "cultivate authentically masculine and feminine identities."  I am not sure what exactly that means -- but I guess it means roughhousing and team sports for boys. Heaven forbid a young boy plays with a doll in Bremerton. 

One might laugh at the absurdity of Fr. Lappe -- except we know the real damage this sort of stuff has done to kids.  Hopefully the increasing acceptance of gays in our culture will insulate kids from self-hatred which Lappe's ilk have historically instilled. 

Jack - this is the document that Fr. Lappe seems to rely on for that part of his letter.  (This link is to an excerpt; the entire pamphlet doesn't seem to be available for free on the web; but the content in this excerpt seems to be of a piece with Fr. Lappe's letter.)  

It is published by the Catholic Medical Association, whose name certainly sounds as though it is an august and mainstream Catholic organization, and perhaps it is, but it seems to have fewer than 1,000 members, which is not what I would have expected from an august and mainstream organization for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals.  

I'll just remark that the approach to homosexuality and treatment advocated in this pamphlet - that with appropriate interventions and treatments, homosexuality can be healed - doesn't seem mainstream.  I have no informed opinion on the heated question of whether mainstream science has succumbed to political correctness on homosexuality. 

Whatever the merits, or not, of the Catholic Medical Association, its pamphlet, and Fr. Lappe's endorsement of them, I think his policy is wrong.  If a teenager thinks he may be gay, and wants to be a scout, he should be able to be a scout.  I just don't see why scout membership or activities would need to depend on sexual identity.  Nor do I know of anything in Catholic teaching that would discourage or prohibit it - in fact, Catholic teaching would encourage other scouts to stand in solidarity with their gay peer, istem.



After you have had a double vodka martini (up, dirty with many olives) read the comments to the letter.

I wonder if the parishioners were consulted about any or this, or whether the priest simply dictated this dissolution of the parish's BSA troop (humor me ... I can always hope, can't I?)  Has there been any kind of an outcry about this unilateral action?  What has the local ordinary said, if anything?

The Catholic Medical Association point person on gay issues and the main author of that pamphlet is a Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons.

He's a dangerous man and not just because he thinks he can "cure" gays:

"A Pennsylvania psychiatrist whose evaluation led Bishop Robert Finn to keep the Rev. Shawn Ratigan in ministry is an adviser to a group that supports priests accused of sexual abuse.


Richard Fitzgibbons, who examined Ratigan in January after disturbing photographs of children were found on the priest’s computer, is an adviser to Opus Bono Sacerdotii, according to the group’s website. The nonprofit organization provides services to accused and imprisoned priests, including financial, legal and emotional support.

After his evaluation, Fitzgibbons told Finn that Ratigan was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression, according to a report commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

Finn relied on Fitzgibbons’ opinion in his decision to send Ratigan to a Vincentian mission house in Independence, where he remained a priest and allegedly continued to take lewd photographs of children, the report said"


Bishop Guglielmone, the USCCB liaison to scouting is quoted:


The compromise was to add a sentence to the requirements for being a Scout that explicitly said no Scout would be rejected for reasons of sexual preference alone. It seems fairly clear that the National Catholic Committee on Scouting gave tacit approval to this compromise to prevent a full lifting of the ban.


Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the USCCB episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), told me that the Church can “live with” this compromise.


“I kind of expected that this is the way the vote would go,” Bishop Guglielmone told the Register. “I’m not particularly encouraged by it, but I knew it would happen eventually. As the policy change is right now promoted, we can live with it. Unfortunately, there are many people who are interpreting this policy to go much further than it actually does, particularly in the secular press.”…


“My concern is that we have well over half a million young people in the program,” he said, “and most of those kids are going to stay no matter what happens. We have a real obligation to stay in dialogue and to stay connected to the program.”


Added the bishop, “The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know. That’s why I feel it’s imperative for the Church to continue to be involved. And if it gets to the point where some of our basic issues are threatened — such as being able to pick leaders for Catholic chartered groups or in diminishing the role of religion and God — then we will have to re-evaluate our participation in the program at that time.”


The wording of the resolution seems almost custom-made to appeal to Catholics, separating as it does being and behavior. On that level I don’t object to it. The idea of a boy being removed from a fraternal organization devoted to cultivating character and morals at a time when he’s struggling with sexual identity seems cruel and contrary to the principles of scouting.

Perhaps a little more tolerance would be beneficial:



Most people with liberal sensibilities often call for “tolerance” without really appreciating what that entails in a liberal democracy such as ours. 

Tolerance, if it is a civic virtue, requires that we believe that those with whom we disagree are mistaken. For when a fellow citizen and I agree, we don’t tolerate each other. We agree. Yet, ironically, many in our society believe that judging another to be mistaken – whether on religious matters or issues involving the propriety of one’s sexual powers – is itself an act of intolerance.

Under this definition of tolerance, agreement, rather than disagreement, becomes a necessary condition for being tolerant. In that case, tolerance is turned on its head, and has become, paradoxically, intolerance. 

Many often claim that we ought to be skeptical about the confidence we place in our own judgments on matters over which reasonable people disagree. But it is precisely on those issues that some are the most judgmental, unforgiving, and punitive. They seem, ironically, to emulate the very sort of closed-mindedness and dogmatism that they often attribute to what they pejoratively call “Christian fundamentalists.” While claiming to reject institutions and ways of life that exclude those who are different, they do not practice what they preach, and in fact make it a point to exclude those that do not toe the party line.


I respectfully disagree.  I do not think that tolernace presupposes agreement as a necessary presupposition for peaceful co-existence.  We are all able to distinguish the language of disagreement from the language of intolerance in the culture wars today.  It is the latter that is problematic and which impedes civil discourse.

After his evaluation, Fitzgibbons told Finn that Ratigan was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression, according to a report commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

Whether or not what Ratigan is a pedophile, it can't be clearer that possessing child pornography violates Article 5 of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  Possession of child pornography is an express instance of abuse as defined in that document.

According to the provisions of Article 5 in the Charter, Ratigan must be removed from ministry, and dismissed from the clerical state if warranted (and how can it not be, given his track record?), for a single violation of possession of child pornography.

Perhaps it's not Fitzgibbons' role to call out Charter violations, although it strains credulity that an expert consulted on Charter violations wouldn't be familiar with the provisions of the Charter.


Tolerance can have a paradoxical effect, i.e., requiring someone to tolerate that which they find politically, morally, or economically, intolerable, is a form of intolerance. Googling on the subject, I found this article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that includes a catalog of various forms of tolerance. Perhaps it might illuminate some of the issues under discussion here. Excuse the length. I have highlighted some possible talking points. I excerpt from the article; the whole thing is here: Toleration, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. Four Conceptions of Toleration

The following discussion of four conceptions of toleration is not to be understood as the reconstruction of a linear historical succession. Rather, these are different, historically developed understandings of what toleration consists in that can all be present in society at the same time, so that conflicts about the meaning of toleration may also be understood as conflicts between these conceptions.

1. The first one I call the permission conception. According to it, toleration is a relation between an authority or a majority and a dissenting, “different” minority (or various minorities). Toleration then means that the authority gives qualified permission to the minority to live according to their beliefs on condition that the minority accepts the dominant position of the authority or majority. So long as their being different remains within certain limits, that is, in the “private” realm, and so long as the minority groups do not claim equal public and political status, they can be tolerated on pragmatic or principled grounds—on pragmatic grounds because this form of toleration is the least costly of all possible alternatives and does not disturb civil peace and order as the dominant party defines it (but rather contributes to it); and on principled grounds because one may think it is morally problematic (and in any case fruitless) to force people to give up certain deep-seated beliefs or practices.

The permission conception is a classic one that we find in many historical writings and in instances of a politics of toleration (such as the Edict of Nantes in 1598) and that—to a considerable extent—still informs our understanding of the term. According to this conception, toleration means that the authority or majority, which has the power to interfere with the practices of a minority, nevertheless “tolerates” it, while the minority accepts its inferior position. The situation or the “terms of toleration” are hierarchical: one party allows another party certain things on conditions specified by the first one. Toleration is thus understood as permissio negativa mali: not interfering with something that is actually wrong but not “intolerably” harmful. It is this conception that Goethe (1829, 507, transl. R.F.) had in mind when he said: “Tolerance should be a temporary attitude only: it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to insult.”

2. The second conception, the coexistence conception, is similar to the first one in regarding toleration as the best means toward ending or avoiding conflict and toward pursuing one's own goals. What is different, however, is the relationship between the subjects and the objects of toleration. For now the situation is not one of an authority or majority in relation to a minority, but one of groups that are roughly equal in power, and who see that for the sake of social peace and the pursuit of their own interests mutual toleration is the best of all possible alternatives (the Augsburg Peace Treaty of 1555 is a historical example). They prefer peaceful coexistence to conflict and agree to a reciprocal compromise, to a certain modus vivendi. The relation of tolerance is no longer vertical but horizontal: the subjects are at the same time the objects of toleration. This may not lead to a stable social situation in which trust can develop, for once the constellation of power changes, the more powerful group may no longer see any reasons for being tolerant (cf. Rawls 1987, 11, Fletcher 1996).

3. Different from this, the third conception of toleration—the respect conception—is one in which the tolerating parties respect one another in a more reciprocal sense (cf. Weale 1985, Scanlon 1996). Even though they differ fundamentally in their ethical beliefs about the good and true way of life and in their cultural practices, citizens recognize one another as moral-political equals in the sense that their common framework of social life should—as far as fundamental questions of rights and liberties and the distribution of resources are concerned—be guided by norms that all parties can equally accept and that do not favor one specific ethical or cultural community (cf. Forst 2002, ch. 2).

There are two models of the “respect conception,” that of “formal equality,” and that of “qualitative equality.” The former operates on a strict distinction between the political and the private realm, according to which ethical (i.e., cultural or religious) differences among citizens of a legal state should be confined to the private realm, so that they do not lead to conflicts in the political sphere. This version is clearly exhibited in the “secular republicanism” of the French authorities who held that headscarves with a religious meaning have no place in public schools in which children are educated to be autonomous citizens (cf. Galeotti 1993).

The model of “qualitative equality,” on the other hand, recognizes that certain forms of formal equality favor those ethical-cultural life-forms whose beliefs and practices make it easier to accommodate a conventional public/private distinction. In other words, the “formal equality” model tends to be intolerant toward ethical-cultural forms of life that require a public presence that is different from traditional and hitherto dominant cultural forms. Thus, on the “qualitative equality” model, persons respect each other as political equals with a certain distinct ethical-cultural identity that needs to be respected and tolerated as something that is (a) especially important for a person and (b) can provide good reasons for certain exceptions from or general changes in existing legal and social structures. Social and political equality and integration are thus seen to be compatible with cultural difference—within certain (moral) limits of reciprocity.

4. In discussions of toleration, one finds alongside the conceptions mentioned thus far a fourth one which I call the esteem conception. This implies an even fuller, more demanding notion of mutual recognition between citizens than the respect conception does. Here, being tolerant does not just mean respecting members of other cultural life-forms or religions as moral and political equals, it also means having some kind of ethical esteem for their beliefs, that is, taking them to be ethically valuable conceptions that—even though different from one's own—are in some way ethically attractive and held with good reasons. For this still to be a case of toleration, the kind of esteem characteristic of these relations is something like “reserved esteem,” that is, a kind of positive acceptance of a belief that for some reason you still find is not as attractive as the one you hold. As valuable as parts of the tolerated belief may be, it also has other parts that you find misguided, or wrong (cf. Raz 1988, Sandel 1989).

To answer the question which of these conceptions should be the guiding one for a given society, two aspects are most important. The first one requires an assessment of the conflicts that require and allow for toleration, given the history and character of the groups involved; and the second requires an adequate and convincing normative justification of toleration in a given social context. It is important to keep in mind that the (normatively dependent) concept of toleration itself does not provide such a justification; this has to come from other normative resources. And the list of such resources, speaking both historically and systematically, is long.


Very well said.  Tolerance does not imply agreement.  it implies accepting that people with differeing opinons come to them from an honest disagreement with oneself. 

Margaret, thanks for that article.  But which model best describes the situation between the homosexual community and religions that cling to a traditional morality?  

Alan, very well said.  Tolerance does not imply agreement. 

I may have mistaken Bruce's point, but I believe he also said this?



As a Catholic, a wife of a Cub and Boy Scout leader, mother of three boys and a Cub and Boy Scout leader myself, I cannot begin to express how insulting and nonsensical this statement is:

"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."

What exactly does he think is going on at these campouts????

First of all, no Scout should ever be "forced" to share a tent with any other Scout with whom he feels uncomfortable or unsafe. That shouldn't happen and if it does, there are other problems in that unit that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.

Second of all, my family has friends who are gay and my sons have all said they would have no problem sharing a tent with a gay Scout. Again - what does he think is going to happen in that tent? We've been on enough campouts to know what happens in tents (The walls aren't very thick and boys aren't very quiet.) Let's see.... they might be playing cards. Or talking about Star Wars. Or Mythbusters. Or Duck Dynasty. Or school. OR they might be working on a report for a merit badge if they're at summer camp. Oh yes, they might also be, oh, I don't know, SLEEPING. If anything inappropriate or immoral is happening in that tent, then there are problems with the Scouts and/or leadership of that unit that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.

Third of all, way to insult the leaders. That's why we have leaders. This is why we have mandatory Youth Protection Training. And several more levels of leadership training, much of it mandatory before a leader can take a group of Scouts out on a campout. If the leaders aren't paying attention to what's going on with the Scouts under their care, there are problems with the leaders that have NOTHING to do with sexual orientation.

I seriously wonder what some of these people are thinking before they open their mouths or take their thoughts to a keyboard. What a bizarre way to villify a group of people for merely exisiting as our loving Father created them. What an insult to the volunteer men and women who commit themselves to leadership, serving our youth. And what an insult to the Scouting Youth who choose to participate in a program so that they can develop strong character and their duty to God, Country, themselves and others. Perhaps some of these priests could learn a thing or two from actually spending time with our Scouts - because reading many of these comments, it's clear they have no clue, or at least, very little regard for the leaders and members of our program in the first place. 


JP: Well, the section I highlighted, "qualitative equality," which is a subset of Point 3, the "respect conception," would seem to most clearly accomodate differing views between traditional and liberal views on homsexuality--a live and let live attitude on each side as long as one side doesn't encroach on the basic views of the other. But we are not there.

Rather, it appears that we are in a state of moving from Point 1, the "permission conception," to something else. Point 1 being:  'According to it, toleration is a relation between an authority or a majority and a dissenting, “different” minority (or various minorities). Toleration then means that the authority gives qualified permission to the minority to live according to their beliefs on condition that the minority accepts the dominant position of the authority or majority," i.e., Don't ask, don't tell. What is the something else we are moving toward? Of course, I don't know that. There are enormous regional and demographic differences. [Let's bracket the likelihood that scouting from its original days had homosexual boys in their troop and had homosexual leaders as well].

Given the quotes from local sources in Eduardo's post, we might agree that large regional and perhaps sub-regional difference here would include, on the one hand, Southern, ex-urban, rural, and some suburban areas, who are not ready for openly gay scouts to appear in their troops. While urban, Northeastern, Callifonia, and parts of the Midwest, etc., probably are ready. It is interesting to note that the head of the National Catholic Scouting movement seems prepared to stay in the BSA. And as we know, the Mormons intend to stay, while the Baptist following their ecclesiology will likely allow each congregation to decide for itself. So this is not simply an issue of  religious views, but of traditional vs. liberal. 

To digress a bit: Given these regional and/or demographic difference, it might be prudent to leave these matters to states and local authorities. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules on DOMA and the California, Prop 8, cases now before it. Will it be Roe all over again?

The burden of Bruce's remark about a litte more tolerance goes for both sides of this question. I say that as a regular reader of the univocal coverage on this subject by the NYTimes.

Margaret - I agree that we're moving from #1 to something else. Your description "a live and let live attitude on each side as long as one side doesn't encroach on the basic views of the other." sounds to me as though it might be more like #2 than the part you highlighted in #3. I think #2 is a pretty apt description of some of the multicultural urban local communities found on the North Side of Chicago along the lakefront - different cultures and/or ethnicities living in more or less "live and let live" respect (usually). There are a lot of gay residents up and down the lakefront who are part of that stew. I note that part of #2's description includes, "This may not lead to a stable situation in which trust can develop." Again, that rings true to my experience living on the North Side. It's not ideal. As Christians, we should set the bar higher. Sounds to me like #4 is where we should strive to end up. This is where homophobia is the big obstacle, I guess. Homophobic-driven behavior doesn't seem capable of achieving esteem of the other. I really think it's incumbent on all of us to shine sunlight on homophobia among Christians whenever we encounter it.

I recently went camping with youth and I have to say that boys and girls slept in separate tents. Common sense tells you that the reason is that it is thought unwise to put in the same tent teens who might be attracted to each other. Do the people who have no issue with gay teens sharing the same tent also have no issue with teenage boys and girls sharing the same tent, and if they do, how is it different?

Not that it would stop me from recruiting gay teens, but I think that the logistics are not entirely straightforward. Am I confused?

The Girl Scouts have always been inclusive and it has been nothing but a good thing.

In the light of Rev. Derek Lappe's comments, what are the responsibilities of church parishioners in voicing their opinion about those comments? On one hand, it seems to me, the Church continues to differ from its parishioners on issues like homosexuality. One the other, if the Church moves too fast, it would isolate the conservative parishioners and would need to provide justification for the turnabout on its own moral teachings. Then, is it not the role of the parishioners to be the catalyst for any change on views such as homosexuality? Your thoughts.

Claire --

It seems to me that there is a big difference between boys and girls sharing tents and straight boys and gay boys sharing tents.  The girls would on some level be inclined to accept advances by the boys, but straight boys especially young ones, are positively disinclined to accept sexual advances from other boys.  

I'm NOT saying that gay scouts would be more likely to cause sexual problems than straight boys.  It would be unfair to think that gay boys are less respectful of boys than straight boy are respectful of girls.

Ann, what about gay boys sharing the same tent with other gay boys? That's what I meant.


Claire, your question presupposes that gays inevitably act out when they're sexually attracted to others because they have no self-control.  Do we assume that straight people have no self-control?  Then why does anyone assume that gays don't either?

Angela,  we have doubts about the self -control of teenagers, and that's I think why usually teenage girls and boys do not share sleeping quarters in the same tent. Why should gay youth be assumed to have more self-control than straight youth?


"...a live and let live attitude..."

The problem with this is that it's almost always a cover for a live and let die attitude.

Alan, I believe homosexual behavior is immoral.  Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe homosexual behavior is immoral.  Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I don't think it is either of those - it's simply a statement of fact as to what you believe (I assume).

The question of tolerance comes up in what you say or do next. 

I think Jim Dunn got it right: Tolerance does not imply agreement.  it [requires] accepting that people with differing opinons come to them from an honest disagreement with oneself. 

I don't think its worth quibbling over "opinions" vs. "beliefs"

Claire, if you can't trust two gays occupying the same tent to behave themselves, then bunk a gay kid with a straight kid.  Problem solved. 

Claire --

It seems to me that a pair of gay boys in a tent with some straight ones pose no more problem than a pair of gay boys in a school's boys room or in the gym showers.  The assumption behind all this fear-mongering is, I suspect, the same old stereotype of gay males as creatures who simply cannot control their sexual natures.  Unfair.  

There have undoubtedly been gay boys in the scouts for generations.  Did they tempt straight boys before?  Nobody is saying they did, so i assume that in the past there was no big problem about their sharing tents.   So, unless gay boys have changed, there is no reason to  assume the gays will make noticeably more sexual problems in the future.  Are future problems possible?  Sure.  But they're no more likely than they were in the past.

What concerns me most about this brouhaha is the feelings of the gay boys when they read that so many people consider them to be sexual monsters even at their tender young ages.  No wonder suicide is so common among gay children.  Sad, sad, sad.  No, tragic.

" ... and unjust disrimination includes:"

Everything about healthcare that the USCCB doesn't want to do.

I believe heterosexual behavior resulting in excess population is immoral. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe that enforced celibacy is immoral in that is contravese the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe that trying to require women to carry children that they do not want is immoral. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe that forbidding divorced and remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist is immoral. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe that denying the Eucharist to any non-CatholicChristian who presents her/himself to a eucharistic minister is immoral. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

I believe that imposing a narrow, religiously biased definition of marriage on a population that does not agree is immoral. Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?

" ... and unjust disrimination includes:"

I think that a Catholic archbishop in Uganda protested the provision in a law that would punish homosexuality with the death penalty. So the Catholic church institution believes that executing homosexuals because of their being homosexual is an unjust discrimination. I suppose that that could be considered a start.

. . .  I believe homosexual behavior is immoral.  Is that the language of disagreement or intolerance?


Unless a Boy Scout (and the age range is 11 to 17) is married, according to the Catholic Church, any sexual behavior is immoral. And since somewhere above 80 percent of all heterosexuals engage in sexual intercourse before marriage, the odds are very high that most Boy Scouts (even if they are all heterosexual) will engage in immoral sexual behavior in their lifetime. Let's not even think about the odds of 11- to 17-year-old boys engaging in masturbation alone or in (perfectly heterosexual) groups.

I think a good case could be made (based on Catholic thinking) that most heterosexual behavior the Church considers immoral is worse than homosexual behavior. In any case, even in orthodox Catholic thinking, homosexuals do not have a monopoly on sexual sins. 



The difference being, of course, that the Boy Scouts are now implicitly sanctioning acting on desires the Chuch considers harmful, leading young men away from a mature expression of sexual desire.


Following on David Nickol, the Catechism (2352) says about masturbation "To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability."

Which is probably a good way to think about.other sexual activity, as well. 

As 2358 says, people with "homosexual tendencies"..."must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided"

Which I think means you shouldn't exclude kids from scout troops or parish activities simply because they experience same-sex attraction. 

If kids with either same-sex or opposite sex attraction act out that attraction, I suppose there could be situations at which the only practical solution is to separate them from the scout troop or impose restrictions, but I would ponder the advice of 2352 first.  




The Boy Scouts are now implicitly sanctioning acting on desires the Church considers harmful.

Don't think so. As I understand it, the BSA hasn't changed its policy that sexual activity isn't something that Boy Scouts do - regardless of whether their attraction is opposite sex or same sex.

I assume some heterosexual Scouts have had problems meeting that standard in he past.  


Boy Scouts don't date girls?   Don't kiss them?   Don't take them to dances?   You assume all heterosexual activity between boys and girls is harmful--that's not what the Church teaches.


I didn't say those things, Mark. I reported what William Perry, the President of the BSA said:


"the resolution reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and that any sexual conduct, heterosexual or homosexual, is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

Wayne Perry


But, John, you're avoiding the issue, as is the BSA. The Church teaches that it is important for young men to develop a mature expression of sexual desire, and this change in policy severely restricts the ability of Scout leaders to do that in a way that accords with Church teaching.

For the BSA, and those who support this change, to hide behind the fig leaf of being against some vague notion of "sexual conduct" is an intentional dodge.

I think Mr. Proska is suggesting that within BSA it is OK for gay scouts to act their orientation in ways that are less than genital contact, in other words it may be OK for gay scouts to hold hands, dance together, go to a movie together, etc.  I don't know for sure what BSA means by "sexual conduct", but I have to think they really won't be out to stop gay kids from going to a movie together.  Sexual conduct for the BSA  is probably something much closer to something directly involving the genitals.  It would be silly for the BSA to regulate anything less.

Even assuming a very conservative acceptance the teaching of the Church on homosexuality as contained in the Catechism, I think it is similarly silly for the Church to be preoccupied with adolescents who may be expressing same sex attraction through activities short of genital contact.  For example -- I think it would be silly to  prohibit a teenager at a Catholic school from bringing a same-sex date to a school prom.  The catechism says LGBT people are called to chastity.  A gay teenager can certainly be chaste and a have a same sex prom date.  Just like a straight teen can.  Better for the school to emphasize the universal call to chastity than get hung up on whom one may be tempted to be unchaste with.


Is it so hard to believe that Scouts, whatever their sexual orientation, are serious about the values they are learning to live by: trustworthy, loyal, etc? Or that they really are more interested in outdoor activities than those that might occur within a tent?

If a tent is a problem, there is nothing sacrosanct about a two-person tent. There are plenty of one-, three-, and four-person tents that would probably reduce to zero the number of incidents that this thread is so concerned about. My own preference for camping is a tarp, which is delightfully open to the night and eliminates the dampness that accumulates on tent walls from a sleeper's breath. There's very little privacy under a tarp. The whole creation is right there with you, including insects.

There is also, I think, adult supervision at campouts, and although we have learned that that is not as sure a warrant for good behavior as we once believed, it is something.

These are young people who are growing up. Remember how it was? By all means, give them good counsel and good example. But they will find their own way and make their own mistakes. And most of them will turn out no worse and maybe even a little better for them. 



The Church teaches that it is important for young men to develop a mature expression of sexual desire, and this change in policy severely restricts the ability of Scout leaders to do that in a way that accords with Church teaching.

Mark Proska,

Are you saying that accepting gay scouts will somehow prevent or interfere with boys becoming heterosexual? Are you saying the result of the Boy Scouts' new policy will mean that there will be more homosexuals than there otherwise would have been, because the Boy Scouts will allow boys to be gay when they otherwise would have "developed" into heterosexuals?

The Church teaches that it is important for young men to develop a mature expression of sexual desire, and this change in policy severely restricts the ability of Scout leaders to do that in a way that accords with Church teaching.

Mark Proska,

One more thought. When you say, "restricts the ability of Scout leaders to do that," what do you mean by "do that"? (The sentence doesn't make sense if read closely.) Are you saying that it is the task of Scout leaders to help Scouts develop into heterosexuals?

Without going into any detail that might scare the horses or cause delicate women to faint, I specifically remember some "horsing around" that took place on a boy scout campout that involved genitals and ammoniated toothpaste.  (No, you probably DON'T want to know.)

Was that homosexual behavior?  It was between males, orientation unknown.  Was it sinful?  Does anyone really care?  Is it anyone's business?

Sexual conduct for the BSA is probably something much closer to something directly involving the genitals.

 Mr. Marth—

That is my suspicion as well, and I think it’s an abdication of responsibility.  The BSA’s responsibility—our responsibility—begins well before that. 

I agree that a prom-bound teenager without same sex attractions can be as unchaste as a prom-bound teenager with same sex attractions.   The difference being, of course, that, according to Church teaching, only one of the teenagers is engaging in an activity that is ordered to the Good.

 David Nickol—

 No and No.

 David Nickol—

 Change “do” to “foster” and No.

Well, well. And all these years I've thought stannous fluoride was the recommended additive.

Mr. Proska, you write:

I agree that a prom-bound teenager without same sex attractions can be as unchaste as a prom-bound teenager with same sex attractions.   The difference being, of course, that, according to Church teaching, only one of the teenagers is engaging in an activity that is ordered to the Good.

According to Church teaching, how can either couple's unchaste activity be "ordered to the Good" ?

Let me be clear, I believe the Church's teaching on sexuality and LGBT issues are woefully in need of "development".  The teachings are rooted in outdated psychology and non-contextual and ahistorical readings of scripture. 

That being said -- even if one accepts the current Church teachings on LGBT issues -- I am very concerned about the attitude of Fr. Lappe and what I think you are implying.  It comes very close to suggesting the Church's approach to gay adolescents and gay people in general is that we must push them towards "reparative therapy" to convert them to heterosexuals.  The damage that has been wrought by parents forcing gay kids into such programs is well-documented.  See here for example:

Depression and suicide are far too real for gay teens. If the Church is really going to accept "with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard, " then it must run as far away as possible from discredited reparative therapy and the bad psychology behind it (much in evidence in Fr. Lappe's letter). 



FWIW - I think what Claire is calling out is a real complication for scout leaders. The way I see it playing out is that no heterosexual scout will want to share a tent with the gay scout, as the former's reputation at school and among his peers will henceforward be in tatters.  (I'm not supporting that dynamic, just describing what I expect would happen).

Also, I suppose scout leaders will need to expend considerable energy in preventing scouts from bullying the openly gay scouts in the troop.  I don't doubt that's a problem that leaders have been dealing with already; just from talking to scouting leaders around here, I believe that the former policy wasn't universally enforced.

In spite of those complications, it seems clear that the former policy was unjustly discriminatory, and it's better to make scout leaders' lives more complicated than to keep the former policy in place.


Regarding Mark Proska's hypothetical of a dance: I suppose boy scouts still go to boy scout camps for the summer, and may invite the girl scout or campfire girl camp across the lake for a dance on Friday nights?  It doesn't seem completely far-fetched to me.  More complications for the scout leaders.


Mr. Marth--

Sorry, I omitted an important claue.  It should read, "...only one of the teenagers, in the very act of attending the prom with a member of the opposite sex...."

I did gather that you find the Church's teaching deficient, but I understood the premise of this thread to be how the Church should respond, not whether the teaching was True.  Maybe one of these days we'll see a thread on this blog that questions Church teaching, but it seems the editors are reluctant to go there.

i am not familiar with Fr. Lappe, or reparative therapy, but I understand that Father Harvey's Courage ministry is in accord with Church teaching.

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.


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