Catholics May Have A Choice If the Boy Scouts Allow Openly Gay Leaders

June 22, 2015

What will Boy Scout troops sponsored by Catholic parishes and agencies do if the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) ends its current ban on allowing openly gay men to serve as scout leaders?

Robert Gates addressing the Boy Scouts of America national meeting.

That question is not a hypothetical one since last month when Robert Gates, the president of BSA, called on the national organization to lift the ban.   His message had a tone of inevitability to it, as he addressed the national meeting of the BSA in Atlanta in May.  He cited the spread of marriage equality and the rise of employment discrimination lawsuits as events which are signaling that the organization should change.  The New York Times quoted from his speech:

“[W]e must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, said the current bay on gay men “cannot be sustained,” and that “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Since many troops are sponsored by a variety of religious institutions, Gates qualified his call for change by saying that local organizations should be allowed to establish their own policies:

“I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs. I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement. . . .

“Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith. We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.”

National Catholic Committee on ScoutingIn response to Gate’s speech, Edward P. Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, posted a letter on the Committee’s Facebook page addressed to Catholic scout leaders, saying in part:

“We agree with Mr. Gates that there is cause to act. We also agree with Mr. Gates that chartered organizations must be allowed ‘to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.’ We certainly support efforts to preserve the Boy Scouts of America. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has as its mission the constructive use of the program of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable form of youth ministry with the Catholic youth of our nation. We will continue to pursue that mission until such time BSA rules conflict with Catholic teaching. That hasn’t happened yet, nor do we expect it to happen.”

Wouldn’t it be great if the NCCS would allow local Catholic sponsors of BSA troops, the same freedom that Gates wants to allow all BSA troops to determine if they should allow openly gay men to be scout leaders?  That would certainly be a step in the right direction.  It would allow Catholics who see the ban as discriminatory and against their Catholic principles of equality and respect to judge for themselves who would make the best scout leader, regardless of sexual orientation.   When enough Catholic troops do allow gay leaders, they will be a shining testimony to all the others, providing them with wonderful examples of how right it is not to discriminate.

Commenting favorably on Gates’ call for inclusive policies was Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for EqualityThe New York Times quoted him as saying that the move was “undeniably a step forward.”  The story continued with Wahls’ comments:

Zach Wahls

” ‘It seems like the Boy Scouts will continue an internal dialogue about the subject,’ he said, adding that a relaxing of the national ban seemed all but certain. The executive board could mandate such a change at any time in the coming year, he said, or it could decide, as it did in 2013, to put the matter up for a vote at next year’s annual convention of scout leaders from around the country.”

Incidentally, Wahls will be a keynote speaker at the national conference of Call To Action, the Catholic social justice organization, to be held in Milwaukee in November 2015.  He will speak on the topic “What Makes a Family?” For more information, click here.

In 2012, Greg Bourke, an gay scout leader at a Catholic parish in Louisville, Kentucky, was forced to resign from his role after he acknowledged his orientation publicly. If he did not resign, the troop was threatened with losing its charter. Bourke, along with his now-husband, Michael DeLeon, are among the lead plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case on marriage equality that will be decided in the coming weeks.

In 2013, the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming members of local troops.  Following that decision, some Catholic parishes, very few, decided to cancel their scouting programs rather than abide by the new policy.  Other parishes, the NCCS, and a number of bishops issued statements saying they had no problem with the inclusive policy.  Let’s hope and pray that this new inclusive policy will receive similar support that the previous decision received from this latter group. To read the blog posts from that decision and its repercussions, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter:  “Boy Scouts chief says ban on gay Scouts should be lifted nationwide”

Crux: “Boy Scouts president calls for end to ban on gay leaders”

National Catholic Reporter: “Possible Boy Scout gay leadership change has religious groups weighing options”

 


Parish Wants to Cancel Scout Troop, But Diocese Supports Inclusion

August 12, 2013

boy scouts 1Another Catholic parish has announced that it will likely no longer host its Boy Scout troop due to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow gay youth to become members.

The Eau Claire, Wisconsin Leader-Telegram reports that the parish, St. Mary’s in Altoona, Wisconsin, told the troop which has met on church property for 20 years to start looking for a new home:

“Bob Thill, Troop 90 scoutmaster for the past seven years, said the troop has been told it should plan on finding a new home after the current one-year agreement expires Dec. 31 because of concerns about the policy change.

“Thill called the tentative decision by the Rev. Derek Sakowski of St. Mary’s ‘very disappointing’ but said the Scouts are looking for a new site to charter the troop.”

Though the pastor has not made a final decision, he explained his reasoning:

“For his part, Sakowski said he was uncomfortable with the wording in the revised Boy Scouts membership standards indicating that no youth may be turned away ‘on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.’

“Sakowski said ‘sexual preference’ is too ambiguous, and he has written the national headquarters of the Boy Scouts seeking clarification as to what is meant by the term.

“ ‘We want to know if it fits with our Catholic values. If I don’t get a (satisfactory) response, then I can’t renew the charter,’ he said, adding that same-sex attraction alone is not considered sinful by the Catholic church.”

Local television station WEAU reported that the Diocese of La Crosse, in which the parish is located, has no problem with the Scouts’ policy:

“The Diocese of La Crosse however told us “A youth experiencing same-sex attraction should not be afraid that he will be expelled by the scouting community by disclosing the experience of such attraction.” . . .

“In their statement the Diocese of La Crosse also mentioned that Pope Francis recently said, ‘same sex attraction’ alone does not preclude active membership in the church.

“The Diocese says at this time there is no reason to believe St. Mary Parish in Altoona will end the partnership with Troop 90.”

As Bondings 2.0 reported in the spring, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting declared that there is no conflict between the new policy and Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

The pastor of the parish has said that he will meet with parents before he makes a final decision.  Let’s hope that the parents will convince him to continue the program.  Or perhaps the diocese will intervene.

The interesting thing is that while I disagree with Fr. Sakowski’s inclination to ask the troop to move, I do agree with him that the term “sexual preference” is not helpful.  It is an old-fashioned term and implies a choice in sexuality, which more modern notions of sexual orientation say does not exist.  Orientation is more often something discovered than chosen.

Other parishes have cancelled scouting programs because of the new policy.  You can read about them here, here and here.  What I think is hopeful, however, is the vast number of Catholic parishes are continuing to support the Scouts.  That’s good news!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Pastoral Dimension of the New Boy Scout Policy on Gay Youth

July 19, 2013

Boy ScoutsThe National Catholic Reporter’s columnist Father Peter Daly recently wrote a column praising this spring’s Boy Scouts of America decision to admit gay scouts.  Writing as a pastor and a former Scout, Father Daly reminds readers of the pastoral dimension that must be attended to in discussing this issue.

He begins by noting that all of the hype about the new policy clouded the fact that Scout troops tend to be pretty ordinary groupings:

“If you come to one of their troop meetings on Sunday afternoons, you would think you had stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. The boys actually are what the Scout Law says: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (Well, truth be told, maybe they are not always clean. But they are boys, after all.)

“When our Boy Scouts meet in our parish hall, they carry in the American flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say the Scout Oath. Then they go to work on their projects. They go camping, get merit badges, build fires, tie knots, make balsa wood cars, and horse around; exactly the same as Scouts did when I was a Scout a half-century ago.”

And while much will be the same, there is one significant change that this policy makes:

“After the rule change, I sent our Scout leaders a letter saying there was no change in our relationship to Scouting and no change in the behavior we expected of Scouts. We still expected everyone to be chaste, boys and leaders.

“But one important thing has changed: Boys can now be honest about themselves to others without fear of reprisal by the Scout leaders.

“Let’s face it: There have always been gay Scouts. Just like there have always been gay men in the military and in the priesthood. In fact, we have always had some gay bishops, whether they want to admit it or not.

“What is different now for our boys is that they no longer have to be afraid. They do not have to be afraid of reprisals and bullying. They do not have to be afraid that if someone knows they are gay, they will be excluded or expelled.”

And he puts the whole controversy into perspective by reminding readers that when we discuss gay scouts, we are really discussing youth in a very fragile moment of their lives:

“Growing up is hard enough without an added layer of fear and discrimination.

“Gay boys are no different from any other boys. They are experiencing their maturation in fits and starts. They are discovering what it is to be a man. They are figuring out what it means to love. If the boy is a Catholic, he is also discovering what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That is hard for us all, whether we are hetero or homosexual, but there is an added a layer of difficulty for gay adolescents. I’ve witnessed this in my own ministry.

“Three times in my 27 years as a priest, I have had to sit across the room from young men who tried to commit suicide because they were gay. Three times, I have heard their anguish as they told me that their church regarded them as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and their love as seriously immoral. Three times I have had to hear them say that part of the reason for their despair was our preaching.”

And he has a sharp critique of those who oppose the new policy:

“Conservative Catholic theologians would no doubt demand that I condemn all homosexual acts as immoral. They would want pastors to insist that all gay boys must learn to carry their unique cross of perpetual life-long chastity, a burden we would never dream of imposing on heterosexuals. They would want me to say that all gay acts are evil and all inclinations are intrinsically disordered.

“Well, let them say it. Let them say it to those boys who tried to commit suicide. Let them say it to the frightened little Scout who is still figuring out himself.

“It is easy to be some ivory-tower theologian writing in the abstract. They are not speaking as pastors or parents or Scout leaders. There is truth in lived experience, too, just as much as in theories. That is real ‘ontological’ truth.”

Many thanks to Fr. Daly for bringing a much-needed pastoral sense to this whole debate about the Boy Scouts.  Such sensibility is needed in more of our church discussions about LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Two Bishops on Scouts’ Policy

June 4, 2013

Two Catholic bishops have weighed in on the Boy Scouts’ policy of including gay youth among their ranks, and these two prelates take distinctly different approaches.  While the first bishop shows himself guided by Catholic principles, the second one is guided by a complete lack of true information about lesbian and gay people.

Bishop David Choby

Bishop David Choby

Bishop David Choby, of Nashville, approved of the Scouts’ decision.  In USA Today,  he stated:

“The policy in its form is not inconsistent with church teaching, which upholds the dignity of each and every human being, regardless of sexual orientation. It does not communicate in any way an approval or support for sexual activity between scouts.”

Indeed, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting took this position in its official response to the policy.

Bishop Edward Slattery, of Tulsa, expressed reservation about the new policy.  The Tulsa World noted Slattery’s opinion:

Bishop Edward Slattery

Bishop Edward Slattery

“ ‘I think the Boy Scouts do wonderful work, and should continue to do so,’ he said. But he said he was not happy about the decision to allow openly gay scouts.

“ ‘What do they mean by openly gay? I assume that means they are sexually active.’ . . . .

“ ‘This culture of ours is crazy, no rules,’ he said.”

Bishop Slattery’s comments reveal a false assumption that I think operates in the minds of many bishops who oppose homosexuality:  “openly gay” = “sexually active.”   Does he assume that all who are “openly heterosexual” are also all sexually active?

Bishops like Slattery need to dialogue more with lesbian and gay people to understand that acknowledging a homosexual orientation does not indicate one’s participation in any sexual activity.  The need to be known honestly by one’s true identity is most often the reason that someone wants his or her orientation to be known.

Moreover, if Slattery dialogued with lesbian and gay people, he would come to know that they are quite often very ethical people who live by very high moral rules. Clearly, the ignorance of lesbian and gay reality that the bishop’s statements indicate explain why he would be opposed to the new policy.  He does a disservice to lesbian and gay Catholics, the Boy Scouts, himself, and the entire church not to educate himself better on these issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Another Parish Cuts Scouting Program, While Catholics Organize to Protest Bigotry

June 4, 2013

Although the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has recommended that Catholic parishes support the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) new inclusive policy of admitting gay scouts, and some bishops have even already announced support for the new measure, some parishes are taking steps to end their relationship with the scouting organization rather than include gay kids.  Last week, we reported on the first known parish to sever ties with the BSA, which was in Bremerton, Washington.  Over the weekend, a pastor in a Chicago-area parish also announced that he would be closing down the parish’s scouting programs rather than admit gay scouts.

Father Brian Grady

Father Brian Grady

The Chicago Tribune reported on Fr. Brian Grady’s decision for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Fr. Grady’s reasoning as reported in the paper seems based on myths and stereotypes and clearly inaccurate knowledge of homosexuality and youth:

” ‘For a young boy to (have to) share a tent or be exposed to other boys who are openly homosexual is not only unjust, but immoral,’ Grady wrote. ‘As a former Boy Scout, I know how uncomfortable it would have been to have to be in close proximity with boys that would perhaps be looking at me as more than just a friend.’

“Grady said he was saddened to be ‘forced to make this decision.’ In an interview, he said: ‘We welcome those individuals … but we also recognize certain actions are not to be encouraged.’ “

His reasoning makes it sound like he is placing his own anxieties about sexuality onto both the gay and straight youth who would be involved in scouting.

Charlie Payseur

Charlie Payseur

The leaders of  the scouting program are of the opposite opinion of the pastor.  According to The Tribune:

‘Troop 550 Scoutmaster Charlie Payseur said he and his assistant leaders were “livid” about the move. Grady has been very hospitable, Payseur said, but had not discussed the issue with them.

” ‘It has never been an issue, nor would I turn a Scout away,’ Payseur said. ‘I treat everyone the same. It’s bothering me that people can’t just accept people for who they are.’ “

The Crystal Lake Patch offers even stronger comments from the scoutmaster:

” ‘I am fuming,’ Charlie Payseur said. ‘We’ve been affiliated with that church for over five years, and to not even tell the people who founded the pack? It would have been common courtesy (for Grady) to tell us himself.’ “

In response to the ban on scouts by the Bremerton, Washington, pastor, Fr. Derek Lappe, on which we reported last week, Catholics United, a political organizing group, has launched a petition campaign for Seattle’s Archbishop Peter Sartain to condemn the bigoted behavior of the pastor.  The petition text reads:

boyscoutpetitionArchbishop Sartain,

As Catholics and people of faith, we know that Jesus instructs us to be a loving and inclusive community. These values are shared by the Boy Scouts.

We ask that you publicly remind the priests of your diocese that Catholic social teaching prohibits discrimination against gay people.

When religious leaders like Fr. Lappe promote discrimination, it only hurts the Church.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quotes James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, as to what they hope the petition will accomplish:

“The Catholic Church has long held that individuals with same-sex attractions should be respected and protected from discrimination. Catholics United calls on Fr. Lappe’s superiors to condemn this kind of bullying from a man who is supposed to be a witness of Christian love and acceptance.”

The Post-Intelligencer quotes from Fr. Lappe’s letter explaining his decision, in which he displays an amazing lack of accurate knowledge on homosexuality:

“The letter sought to refute the generally accepted genetic origin of same-sex attraction. Lappe listed other ‘groups’ including:  ‘Mother was overprotective (boys).’   ‘Mother was needy and demanding (boys).’ ‘Lack of rough and tumble play (boys).’ ‘Dislike of team sports (boys).’ ‘Sexual abuse or rape.’ ‘Extreme shyness.’ ‘Parental loss through death or divorce.’

“As well, said Lappe, the parish’s programs ‘are well equipped to help cultivate authentically masculine and feminine identities.’ “

The statements by Fr. Grady and Fr. Lappe reveal they are not in possession of accurate knowledge about homosexuality.    Let’s hope that other pastors have a better understanding than these two do.  It would be a shame if Catholic parishes ended their relationships with scouting programs, particularly when the National Catholic Committee on Scouting is encouraging Catholic parishes to support the new policy.

The examples of these two parishes illustrate not only why pastors need better education about homosexuality, but also why lay people need to be involved in the decision-making processes of Catholic life.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

June 3, 2013:  Religious groups who supported gay Scout ban now are okay with changing it. Why?The Washington Post

June 3, 2013:  The Boy Scouts, Gay Youth and Catholic Teaching ,  Huffington Post

June 4, 2013:  The church’s Boy Scout dilemma: Should they stay or should they go? , U.S. Catholic

 


National Catholic Committee on Scouting Supports Boy Scouts’ Inclusive Policy

May 31, 2013

National Catholic Committee on ScoutingThe National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has announced that it will support the Boy Scouts of America’s new policy to allow gay youth to become scouts.

Religion News Service (RNS)  reports on a letter that NCCS Chairman Edward P. Martin sent to Catholic scout leaders in which he said that his committee found no contradiction between the Scouts’ new policy and church teaching:

“ ‘We should be encouraged that the change in BSA’s youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching,’ Martin said, asking that ‘Catholic Scouters and chartered organization heads not rush to judgment.’ ”

RNS also described a bit of the process that NCCS went through to arrive at this conclusion:

“Martin said that in the week following the vote, he and his colleagues consulted with the BSA, with other faith-based Scouting groups and with Catholic experts, and weighed feedback on social media before declaring themselves satisfied that the new policy would not conflict with Catholic teaching.

“One of the experts Martin cited was Edward Peters, a canon lawyer popular with church conservatives who wrote that while he disliked the new policy it was not contrary to church doctrine.”

Bondings 2.0 readers may remember that Peters was involved with Detroit Archbishops Vigneron’s statement that Catholics who support marriage equality should not present themselves for communion.

The NCCS letter details their understanding of what the new policy means

 

  • “A youth will not be prevented from receiving a rank award or religious emblem simply for being gay.
  • “A youth will not need to hide the fact that he is gay if he doesn’t want to.
  • “A youth thinking or knowing he is gay should not be afraid that he will be bullied or expelled by the Scouting community by disclosing his sexual orientation.”

There had already been some discussion about whether Catholic dioceses would support the new policy, with different statements made by different places.  One pastor in Bremerton, Washington. had already announced that it would cancel Scouting programs in the parish.

The NCCS’s support is not binding on local bishops who can decide on their own policy.  Accoring to RNS:

“Each bishop can decide whether the new membership policy is acceptable. Guglielmone has written to every U.S. bishop, and Martin said the NCCS would develop a plan to ensure ‘a consistent message is delivered to dioceses, parishes, Catholic Scouters and the media’ on the church’s views about allowing gay Scouts.”

New Ways Ministry applauds the NCCS statement of support, and particularly the fact that they were able to elicit endorsement from one of the country’s most conservative canon law scholars.  We urge all Catholic dioceses to support the Boy Scouts’ new policy, and we hope and pray that very soon the Scouting organization will also allow gay men to be scout leaders, which the new policy did not cover.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

May 30, 2013: Anti-Gay Letter from Catholic Priest Is Inadequate Response for Boy Scouts

May 24, 2013: National Committee and Local Dioceses Begin to React Boy Scouts’ Decision

May 24, 2013: Catholic Bishops Should Go At Least As Far As Mormons Have on Gay Scouting Policy

May 23, 2013: Why the U.S. Catholic Bishops Should Support Gay Boy Scouts

May 18, 2013: Boy Scouts’ Proposed Change Finds Catholics on Both Sides of the Debate

 


Anti-Gay Letter from Catholic Priest Is Inadequate Response for Boy Scouts

May 30, 2013

Fr. Derek Lappe

A Catholic pastor in Bremerton, Washington, has closed the parish’s scouting program in the wake of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept gay youth.  His decision, which he announced in a searing letter to parishioners, contradicts much of the Catholic hierarchy’s response so far.

Fr. Derek Lappe released the charged letter last Sunday to explain his actions and offer a  his views on homosexuality. He accuses the Boy Scouts of conceding to political correctness, strangely refers to the organization as the “New Boy Scouts,” and lists debunked pseudo-science to explain LGBT sexuality including a “Dislike of team sports” or “Lack of hand/eye coordination.”

Relying heavily on writings of the anti-gay Catholic Medical Association, Lappe’s screed continues in an emotional and disparate manner until it ends with this:

“To me it is cruel, and abusive and absolutely contrary to the Gospel to in any way confirm a teenager in the confusion of same-sex attraction, which is what the New Boy Scout policy will do.

And so, we are going to redouble our efforts to create a community that is supportive of happy, healthy, holy marriages. In our marriage preparation we are going to try to get women to stop marrying such loser men who will never be capable of being good dads and husbands, and vice versa…

“We are going to provide youth activities for any and all youth…Our current Fraternus andFidelis programs are well equipped to help cultivate authentically masculine and feminine identities.”

Reporting on Fr. Lappe’s letter, Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that this letter “is the most hard-line anti-gay statement to come from anywhere in Washington’s three Catholic diocese over the past year,” which included anti-marriage equality campaigning last year before that state’s referendum.

KING 5 reports that a local chapter of Scouts For Equality will help relocate every scout in the Our Lady Star of the Sea parish’s troop to continue with the Boy Scouts, if they choose to do so.

Positive reactions from Catholics is more common than Fr. Lappe’s homophobic one. Dioceses and parishes in Grand Forks, Madison, Rochester and elsewhere are either welcoming the continuation of Catholic scouting or delaying comment until they can consider it further. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting released a statement that it will study the Boy Scouts’ decision, and nothing from the USCCB has been released yet.

The pastor’s letter is retrograde, perpetuating myths about LGBT people and promoting intolerance among youth in those very moments in life where love and affirmation are needed most. Fr. Lappe must apologize in good faith for the harmful act he undertook writing this anti-gay letter, and work now to foster a welcoming community for all his parishioners.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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