Why the U.S. Catholic Bishops Should Support Gay Boy Scouts

boy scouts 1Delegates at a national Boy Scouts of America (BSA) meeting will vote today on whether local troops may allow gay scouts.  The issue is controversial in the Catholic community, which serves as the third largest host of all scout troops nationwide, with some people using their faith to urge inclusion and some using faith to urge exclusion.

Though the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) issued a neutral statement on the topic last week, this week a more positive statement was issued.  Bishop Robert Guglielmone, of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ liaison to the NCCS, made public a letter about the topic in which he stated:

“With regard to a possible BSA membership change, we will continue to uphold the truths of the Church’s teaching and strive to maintain our ties with the BSA.”

He also stated:

‘The Catholic Church in the United States has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the BSA, and I hope that relationship can continue.”

Richard Galliardetz
Richard Galliardetz

A passionate plea for a gay-inclusive policy came from Catholic theologian Richard Galliardetz, in a National Catholic Reporter commentary this week.   Galliardetz, the father of four scouting sons offered personal experience of the discriminatory exclusionary policy the Scouts currently employ:

“My own family has been deeply involved in scouting for years. I have four sons, three of whom are Eagle Scouts and the fourth soon will be. My son Andrew is not only an Eagle Scout; he served as senior patrol leader of his Catholic troop. He also spent three summers as a leader at a Boy Scout summer camp where he shared responsibility for the daily operation of the camp. Because of his reputation for relating well to the younger scouts, whenever boys became homesick or there was a disciplinary issue, more often than not they were sent to Andrew for counseling and support. Unfortunately, because of current Boy Scout policy, that is a role he can no longer play. During his freshman year of college Andrew publicly acknowledged his same-sex orientation and was therefore no longer allowed to serve as a scout leader.”

Galliardetz argues for inclusion based on Catholic principles:

“The official position of the Boy Scouts of America is irreconcilable with the Catholic teaching on the dignity of gay and lesbian persons and its careful distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Allowing gay youth to join the Boy Scouts and allowing gay and lesbian adults to serve as leaders is not condoning homosexual behavior; it is a matter of recognizing the fundamental dignity of gays and lesbians and their right not to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Catholic teaching insists, as [Cardinal] Dolan reiterated, that homosexual persons are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of our love and respect.”

What is needed, he argues, is for Catholic bishops to speak out for an inclusive policy:

‘The Boy Scouts of America are in the midst of a reconsideration of their longstanding opposition to gays as scouts and scout leaders. Consequently, a public statement by Catholic bishops supporting a change in scouting policy would go a long way toward demonstrating that church teaching does not justify discrimination against gays and lesbians.’

Galliardetz is right.  A statement from the Catholic bishops supporting inclusion would be very powerful.  Moreover it would be an example of finally putting some action behind their oft-stated anthem that they care about the dignity of lesbian and gay people, and oppose unjust discrimination in their regard.  Though they often employ that statement, without any real enactment of it, it ends up sounding like an empty line.

Let’s keep the delegates to the Boy Scouts’ meeting in our prayers today, and let’s hope that they act for dignity, respect, and inclusion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Gay Boy Scout Denied Eagle Rank Sparks Reflection on Catholic Teaching

The case of a Boy Scout being denied Eagle rank because he is gay has made one Commonweal blogger wonder why Catholic  leaders have not spoken out against this injustice.


Ryan Andresen

NBCNews.com earlier this month reported the case of Ryan Andreson, a 17-year old Scout from Moraga, California, had completed his Eagle Scout requirements, but his Scoutmaster refused to sign his form:

“. . . the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement that because of Andresen’s sexual orientation and that he did not agree to Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God,’ ‘he is no longer eligible for membership in Scouting.’ But the family on Friday disputed that, saying the only reason Andresen was denied the rank is ‘because the Boy Scouts of America has a problem with Ryan being gay.’ “

Commonweal  blogger Lisa Fullam has questioned why Catholic leadership have not spoken out on this case of blatant discrimination.    Since Catholic teaching on homosexuality defends human dignity, Catholic leaders should be forthright on this matter:

“Official Catholic teaching, unlike that of many right-wing evangelical churches, draws a distinction between sexual inclination/desire (the official teaching tends not to use the word “orientation,”) and sexual acts. Homosexual acts are condemned, while homosexual desire is not. I suspect the BSA does not encourage sexual activity for any of its members, but rather encourages them to remain sexually abstinent, at least until marriage or responsible adulthood. (A quick googling didn’t answer this question for me. My searches yielded reports about sex abuse and poor responses to sex abuse within this all-heterosexual group.) Why wouldn’t the Catholic Church want to encourage all interested kids to join groups calling for responsible chastity? Not to mention the fact that scouting might help them find the kind of solid friends that Church teaching says is helpful for gays in dealing with homosexual desire? Catholic magisterial teaching says that no unjust discrimination of any kind should be practiced against LGB people–wouldn’t involvement in a group that helps form responsible and thoughtful men be a good thing for gay kids? (Since I am talking about a response by Catholic leadership here, I am not calling into question the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships here. There’s no need to change Catholic teaching in order for Church leaders to support scouting for gay kids.)”

Fullam cites another reason that Catholic leaders should speak out on cases like this, and it has to do with a topic that has occupied their minds greatly of late–religious liberty:

“We’ve heard a lot about religious liberty from Catholic leadership this year. Many Christian denominations and other religious groups are supportive of LGBT people and (when appropriate) same-sex relationships. It may well be the case for Ryan–and it is undoubtedly the case for many scouts–that Duty to God as they understand God REQUIRES them to be open and affirming of LGBT people. In their own well-formed consciences, such scouts are put in a difficult position of having to decide whether their membership in a group that excludes gays is in conflict with their promise within that very group to be reverent and to serve God. Wouldn’t a call for an inclusive stance point to the bishops’ sense of the urgency of protecting religious freedom for all and the importance of obeying conscience?”

Fullam’s case is a solid one.  Catholic bishops and other leaders have been shamefully silent on the epidemic of bullying in recent years, and the Andresen case is, at bottom, a case of institutional bullying.  I suspect that Catholic leaders’ obsession with not supporting marriage equality initiatives has made them gun-shy about supporting any initiative that supports LGBT people.  That is not only shameful, but, as Fullam’s argument illustrates, it is a denial of the Catholic Church’s clear teaching on anti-discrimination and religious liberty.   Our youth, and our entire church, deserve better from our leaders.

Ryan’s mother, Karen Andersen, so clearly reflects Catholic principles in the defense of her son quoted by NBCNews.com:

“ ‘I want everyone to know that [the Eagle award] should be based on accomplishment, not your sexual orientation. Ryan entered Scouts when he was six years old and in no way knew what he was,’ said Karen Andresen, 49, a stay-at-home mother of three. ‘I think right now the Scoutmaster is sending Ryan the message that he’s not a valued human being and I want Ryan to know that he is valued … and that people care about him.’ “

Catholic people in the pews can show their support for Ryan Andresen and LGBT youth like him by signing a petition that his mother has organized to secure  his Eagle ranking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Gay Leader is Forced Out of the Boy Scouts

Catholic leaders in the  Archdiocese of Louisville are in involved in a case of a Boy Scout leader being forced out of his Scoutmaster role in a Catholic parish because he is gay.

Greg Bourke

The Courier-Journal newspaper reports that Greg Bourke, the adoptive father of a son and a daughter, and a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Louisville,

“was forced to resign last week, about three months after he wrote to Boy Scouts of America executives, told them he was an ‘openly gay person’ and asked, ‘Am I welcome or not?’

“Bourke, who has lived with his partner for 30 years and has worked 18 years as a systems analyst for Humana Inc., had to resign under a Boy Scouts policy, enacted in 1991 and reaffirmed last month, that bars gays from being Scout leaders or members.”

Bourke recentkly informed the local Scout Council of his orientation:

He also said he and his partner attend Our Lady of Lourdes and it is widely known that they are gay.

“He contacted Scouting officials in part, he said, because he was no longer comfortable hiding his sexual preference in his role with the Boy Scouts when he was open about it everywhere else, including at Humana, where he has been involved in an organization of gay and lesbian employees.

‘I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep a low profile and stay ‘in the closet’ with the Boy Scouts,’ he said in a June 22 letter. . .”

Catholic officials initially refused to request Bourke’s resignation.  Our Lady of Lourdes pastor Fr. Scott  Wimsett and archdiocesan Scouting liasion Fr. Jeff Gatlin both supported Bourke’s disclosure of his orientation.  Later, however, higher archdiocesan officials decided to support the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy:

“In a statement,[Cecelia Price, archdiocesan spokesperson] confirmed that the Boy Scouts contacted Wimsett and Gatlin and that both responded that they believed it was up to the Boy Scouts to enforce its policies.

“Price said the archdiocese later concluded that the charters signed by church pastors require them to conduct Scouting programs according to policies set by the Boy Scouts of America, as well as Catholic Church policies.

“Her statement also said that ‘it is the expectation of the Church that adult leaders — whether heterosexual or with same-sex attraction — in any ministry strive to lead chaste lives and seek to both accept and witness to the full teachings of the Church on chastity and charity, including teachings on the sanctity of marriage.’ ”

Bourke stated that he decided to resign to protect his parish’s Scouting charter:

“Bourke, who initially refused to quit, said in an interview that he decided he had no choice after the . . .  pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, told him Thursday that the parish might lose its Scouting charter unless he left.

“Bourke, who has been a registered Scout volunteer for five years and an assistant troop leader since 2009, said he thinks the Boy Scouts’ policy is ‘hateful’ and ‘outdated,’ but he didn’t want to put the church’s charter at risk.”

Interestingly, Bourke will remain a leader in his daughter’s Girl Scouts’ troop since the Girl Scouts of America do not have a parallel anti-gay policy.  Local Girl Scouts’ leaders condemned the Boy Scouts’ decision:

Co-leader Kim Haydon said in a July 23 email to [Boy Scouts officials] Mazzuca and Oxley that to ‘discount all that he has done for our youth only because he is gay is absurd. Shame on you and your small mindedness.’ ”

Other local leaders also supported Bourke:

“ ‘He upheld the highest ideals of Scouting,’ said Donald E. Overton, a fellow assistant Scoutmaster in Boy Scout Troop 325 and an Episcopal priest.

“Rick Tonini, chairman of the St. Matthews Fire Protection District, described Bourke as ‘a dignified leader and role model’ who led troop members door to door each year helping the fire department raise money for the WHAS Crusade for Children.

“And Brooke Hinkle, whose son, Seth, was in Bourke’s Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop, said, ‘Greg made Seth the person he is,’ teaching him responsibility. . . .

“Tom Clark, who leads [Our Lady of Lourdes’] Cub Scout pack and earned his Eagle Scout badge in 1974 as a member of Troop 325, said in an Aug. 9 email to Oxley that ‘if you continue to pursue your efforts to remove Greg Bourke, you can expect my Eagle Scout badge to be returned to you and my resignation as an adult scouter.’ ”

“Clark also said he would ‘welcome the opportunity for my son to be associated with Greg Bourke.’ ”

“Hinkle said her son, a freshman at Trinity High School, was angry and disappointed when he found out why Bourke was on the way out, asking, ‘Why do I want to be a part of this program?’

“ ‘To him,’ she said, ‘Greg is a leader.’ ”

With testimony like that, one wonders how much reason is guiding the Boy Scouts’ policy.  Kudos to the two priests who refused to participate in this policy’s enforcement.  Their actions are a testimony to the fact that such decisions should be made at a local level, and not by some higher authority.  This is the Catholic social justice principle of subsidiarity which says that decisions should be made at the most appropriate local level.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry