When a Virginia Catholic pastor expelled the Boy Scout troop from his parish because of the Scouts’ new policy of admitting openly gay members, he also decided to keep $4,000 of the troop’s money, most of it raised by the boys themselves, to fund a new youth program which prohibits gay members.
In December, Fr. John De Celles terminated Springfield, Virginia’s St. Raymond of Peñafort parish’s involvement with the Scouts due to their decision to welcome openly gay members, having said a year ago there would be “no more compromising with the devil” for the parish. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney noted the priest’s history of anti-gay remarks, as well as the parish’s new partnership with Trail Life USA, an explicitly Christian scouting organization which excludes openly gay members.
To fund Trail Life USA in the parish, Fr. De Celles decided to keep the Boy Scouts’ money raised last fall from popcorn sales. McCartney writes in a follow-up column:
“The vast majority of the boys will never benefit from the funds they collected…
” ‘He hurt these children for no reason so that he didn’t have to fund his own new program,’ Pack 683 parent Stephanie Curb said.
“De Celles had the authority to keep the money, but that doesn’t justify his decision. He should have divided it proportionally between the small number of boys who stayed for the Trail Life program, and the majority who departed for other Cub packs.”
After the priest disbanded the Boy Scouts, only a handful remained to join Trail Life USA with others forming a new troop elsewhere. That new troop is now struggling to pay for activities and financial assistance for scouts who otherwise could not participate. At least one family left the parish as well in the wake of De Celles decision.
However, this situation is atypical. Aside from a few high profile incidents in Illinois and Washington where priests cut ties with the Boy Scouts, most Catholic leaders spoke positively of the Boy Scouts’ decision and Catholic churches have continued hosting troops. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting came out in support of welcoming openly gay boys as well. A partial rundown of Catholic responses from summer 2013 can be found here.
The situation with De Celles is similar to a priest in Wisconsin who threw out a scouting troop even as his diocese urged parishes to sustain their relationship with the Boy Scouts. In Northern Virginia, Archbishop Paul Loverde had expressed his displeasure with the new gay-inclusive policy, but has remained silent and even participated in the annual Scout Mass last month. So far, St. Raymond of Peñafort parish has the only Catholic-backed Trail Life USA chapter in the Washington, DC area where the Boy Scouts actually gained troops last year.
Even if isolated, De Celles actions have harmed the Scouts and their families, as well as the parish overall by reiterating just how unfriendly it is for LGBT people. This defensive Catholic mentality which seeks to punish and to cause pain because society is changing in ways with which they do not agree is dangerous to people and the church. LGBT inclusion is expanding rapidly and those entrusted with spiritual leadership in the Church should follow Pope Francis’ lead in preaching mercy and joy, not judgement and bitterness.
By reading the related posts listed below, De Celles could learn from Catholic parents and a fellow priest about why welcoming gay Scouts is not only consistent, but part of the Catholic call of hospitality. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Boy Scouts in the Catholic Church, please search ‘Scouts’ in the box to the right of this post.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
May 23, 2013: Why US Catholic Bishops Should Support Gay Boy Scouts