The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has reacted to the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy change to allow transgender boys to participate in local troops. The NCCS statement, vaguely worded, does not explicitly say they will not honor the new policy, but the import of the message is that they will not. How local parish troops will respond, however, remains to be seen.
According to a Catholic News Service story posted on The National Catholic Reporter website:
“The [BSA’s] change in policy ‘has no impact on the operation and program delivery of Scouting program(s) in Catholic-chartered units,’ said a Feb. 4 statement issued by the Catholic Scouting committee.
” ‘Scouting serves the Catholic Church through the charter concept, which is similar to a franchise,’ it said. ‘The units chartered to a Catholic institution are owned by that organization. The BSA has stipulated that religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions for their units based on their religious beliefs.’
“The statement was signed by George S. Sparks, national chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, and Father Kevin M. Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, who is national chaplain of Catholic Scouting. The statement was approved by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the episcopal liaison between Catholic Scouting and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
The new BSA policy said that the organization would honor the gender listed on a youth’s application, not the gender listed on a birth certificate. Since the NCCS statement said the policy change would have no effect on Catholic-chartered Scouting units, it can be presumed that these units will still use birth certificates as evidence of gender.
Just before the new Scouting policy was announced, a New Jersey regional council of the BSA expelled a transgender boy from a local cub scout troop. The troop was chartered by a local Catholic parish, indicating that the local community saw no problem with accepting a transgender boy.
So, we have an interesting situation here. The BSA has enacted a new policy. The NCCS says that its organization does not have to change its policy because the BSA allows local control for religiously-based troops. Yet, in at least the New Jersey example, a local community’s actions were more in line with the BSA’s new policy.
So, will the NCCS policy ban transgender youth from Catholic sponsored troops? Perhaps not. It seems likely that according to the NCCS’ own reasoning, local authority, if it is inclusive and welcoming like the NJ parish was, might make their own decisions about what evidence of gender they will use to determine admission. Outside the U.S., we recently witnessed Ireland’s Catholic Girl Guides, a scouting organization, announce that they are developing a policy and practices to welcome transgender girls.
Make no mistake, though: it would have been much better if the NCCS statement had simply welcomed the BSA policy change. Once again, we have an example of a secular group being more welcoming than a religious one, which is a truly sad and shameful situation. Moreover, we will still have to worry about how the NCCS will respond to Catholic scouting troops which do welcome transgender youth. Will the NCCS disassociate from these groups?
The NCCS’ vaguely worded statement shows that they are not engaging the transgender issue directly. Their reticence is not helpful because it does not reveal their full perspective on the matter. Instead of addressing the substance of the issue–gender identity–they rely on a procedural topic–local control of policies. Is it possible that they did this to allow the possibility of local Catholic troops to accept transgender youth? Or are they simply reluctant to express an anti-transgender sentiment explicitly? Their future actions will reveal their intent. For now, we hope that the defense of local control will allow many Catholic parishes to show their support of transgender scouts.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017