The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS ) has responded to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and also to allow local troops to decide, based on religious principles, if openly gay men would be allowed to serve as leaders. Their response. which is not affirmative, could harm the future of Catholic scouting.
In a letter to Catholic Scout leaders from NCCS National Chairman Edward P. Martin and National Chaplain Father Michael P. Hanifin that was published by the website, the two leaders offered a mixed message about the decision:
“It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching. At the same time, we express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting, and whether the term ‘sexual orientation’ will be correctly understood and applied only in reference to sexual inclination and not to sexual conduct or behavior. We also express concern that the resolution articulates a position on adult sexual conduct that does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage.”
It is unfortunate that this statement confuses “sexual orientation” with “sexual conduct or behavior.” “Orientation” has been used popularly for many decades now, and it has always clearly meant a person’s interior constitution, not a decision to be involved in sexual activity. Even the U.S. bishops, in their 1998 letter Always Our Children, offered this understanding of the term:
“. . . [I]t seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex, rather than toward those of the opposite sex. It does not totally rule out interest in, care for, and attraction toward members of the opposite sex. Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity.”
Do the leaders of the NCCS not know this understanding of the term? Why would they think it would be incorrectly applied to sexual behavior? I don’t know of any policy situation in any field of endeavor where these two terms have been confused–except for the fact that many anti-gay people assume that “orientation” guarantees behavior, which, of course, is not true.
Most importantly, framing the discussion strictly between the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual behavior” disregards an important quality of gay men that is germane to this debate: the ability to enter into loving and committed sexual relationships. As long as people keep using the orientation vs. activity dichotomy, they make invisible the real lives of lesbian and gay people, who for the most part, are interested in relationship and love.
The NCCS letter does not state directly whether they will discourage local BSA troops to allow openly gay men serve as leaders, but the last sentence in the paragraph quoted above, which deals with a definition of marriage, seems to indicate that at the very least, they will not welcome openly gay men who are civilly married.
Time and again over the past few years, the U.S. Catholic Church has witnessed how Catholic parents, educators, and students have risen up in protest against the unjust firing of gay and lesbian Catholic school teachers who have legally married. It should be clear to the leadership of the Catholic Church that Catholics are not tolerating this kind of discrimination.
So, what will happen to Catholic scouting if gay men–single or married–are not accepted as leaders in their local troops? As most troop leaders are parents of scouts, what will happen when a scout’s gay dad is not allowed to be a leader? In both these cases, I predict that parents and youth will vote with their feet and join another troop which does not discriminate.
We already saw something like this in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming scouts. When one pastor in Illinois tried to separate the parish’s troop from the BSA, the parishioners and scouting parents strongly protested.
The recent 2015 NCCS statement gay men as scout leaders stated:
“Our youth don’t want to leave Scouting.”
I agree. But I think that youth today want Scouting that is discrimination-free. And as the years go by, more parents and youth will be joining that belief, too.
The NCCS has an opportunity to encourage and promote a discrimination-free Catholic Scouting by encouraging their troops not to ban gay men from leadership. It has the opportunity to promote a realistic view of gay men that is rooted in the desire for relationship and love. NCCS can help today’s Catholic youth develop a healthy respect for gay men by allowing these men to serve openly and freely.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles and posts:
The New York Times: “Catholic Panel Urges Churches to Continue Sponsoring Scout Troops”
The New York Times: “Boy Scouts Are Poised to End Ban on Gay Leaders”
The National Catholic Reporter: “Religious groups weigh support for Boy Scouts after vote to end ban on gay leaders”
On 2013 BSA decision to accept openly gay youth as scouts:
Bondings 2.0: “Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting”