Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting

Recent speculation over a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) proposal to end the blanket ban on gay scouts and leaders have led some observers to wonder about the future of Catholic scouting programs.

The Washington Blade reported on a statement released by the Boy Scouts of America about their consideration of ending a policy excluding gay individuals from joining the organization. There is currently a period of public comment so nothing has been approved yet, but the statement speaks to likely changes:

“Possibly in anticipation of strong opposition by conservative and religious groups, the BSA emphasized in its own statement that the change would allow local units to decide whether or not to admit gays.

“‘The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a policy to units, members, or parents…Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.’

“The BSA website says more than 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by independent chartered organizations.”

Among these 100,000 units, nearly seventy percent are sponsored by faith-based organizations, including ten percent by the Catholic Church.

The American bishops supported the BSA’s decision to affirm the anti-gay policy last year, but no statement has been released by them  in this recent controversy. The Huffington Post covered comments by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokesperson, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, who said:

“The bishops hope the Boy Scouts will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded and under which they have served youth well.”

David Gibson of Religion News Service questions the viability of Catholic involvement in the BSA if gay scouts and adult leaders gain broad acceptance. While no official statement by Catholic leaders lays out their position, past actions in scouting controversies do not inspire hope. Gibson is not positive in his assessment when coupled with recent actions of the bishops against the Girl Scouts as well:

“[Ending the ban on gay scouts] would effectively put an end to Catholic-sponsored scout troops…

“The Girl Scouts are already in the Catholic dock over charges (or an “urban legend,” some say) that their cookies support contraception and abortion programs. (Catholics make up a quarter of the nation’s 3 million Girl Scouts.)

“Is this the end of Catholic scouting? Or are there alternatives?”

Not all view a pro-LGBT decision by the BSA as the end to church-based scouting, with  blogger Tim MacGeorge questioning “Which Catholic parish will be first to welcome Gay Scouts?” on his site, Image and Likeness. where he ponders what parishes will do if the Scouts lift their ban:

“. . . I pray that there will be one Catholic parish somewhere in these United States that will have the faith, the courage, and the decency to do the right thing.  I pray that there will be one courageous pastor who will lead his parish in making a decision that puts them ‘on the right side of history,’ and allows the scout troop under their auspices to accept openly gay scouts and leaders.

“Hopefully Sister Mary Ann and the bishops for whom she works will one day learn that exclusion of people because of who they are as God made them to be is not really a ‘Judeo-Christian principle.’”

With this issue so unknown, we want to know what Bondings 2.0 readers think. Will the Boy Scouts allow openly gay scouts and leaders? If they do, will this signal an end to Catholic scouting or open a new chapter of inclusiveness? Leave a comment below.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

thumbs downAs the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the  stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories.  Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.

The Top Ten

1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people.  16.34%

2. The Vatican censures the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for, among other things, their support of LGBT issues and New Ways Ministry. 15.69%

3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%

4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%

5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13% 

6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%  

7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%

8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%

9 & 10. TIE:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29%                               Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%

Other items:

In several cases, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdraws funding from organizations which support LGBT equality. 1.96% 

Catholic theologian Tina Beattie is disinvited from a fellowship appointment at the University of San Diego because of her support of marriage equality. 1.63%  

The U.S. Catholic bishops investigate the Girl Scouts of America for connections to liberal causes, including LGBT equality. 1.63%  

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt instructs his priests not to speak publicly in support of marriage equality. 1.63%

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis refuses to call a female-to-male transgender student by his male name. 0.98%

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LCWR and Girl Scouts Investigations Are Part of the “War on Women”

LGBT issues have been an important factor in what has been dubbed “the war on women” taking place in society. “War on women” refers to the political trend to dis-empower females in society, particularly in regard to health care and sexuality.  The “war on women” has been playing out in the Catholic Church in the recent investigation of the Leaderships Conference of Women Religious (LCWR, the leading organization of heads of religious communities of nuns) and the Girl Scouts of America.

Two recent commentators have provided insight on these two topics:  Ted Frier, on, tackles the LCWR case, while Marianne Duddy-Burke looks at the Girl Scouts story.

Sister Joan Chittister

In his article, “Catholic on Catholic civil war brewing,”  Frier focuses on Sister Joan Chittister’s response to the Vatican’s investigation of LCWR, and his insight into Chittister’s response follows her example of not mincing words:

“The question is. . .where has all this energy for empirical destruction come from in a Church now projecting its own serious problems with sexual issues onto everything that moves?”

Chittister’s analysis goes beyond the immediate issues at hand and tackles the larger question of how the church is governed:

“Sister Chittister is directly attacking the authoritarianism at the heart of the current political campaign by the Pope and US bishops to impose dogmatic conformity on American Catholics. She even goes so far as to excavate unflattering Church history in order to warn of the dangers of neo-fascist tendencies which inherently lurk within an institution that operates in secret and is led by an all-male hierarchy that occasionally claims it possesses powers of absolute infallibility.

“Chittister concedes that it is not easy to run a ‘universal’ church which must take account of so many different cultures. But the Vatican needs to try harder, she says.

“The Catholic leadership must have sympathy and respect for the national cultures and traditions and values where it is attempting to evangelize, she says, and for the workings of the society itself. And for American bishops, says Chittister, that means appreciating that ‘The American tradition comes out of a commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of thought and democratic participation in the political process.’

“But this is exactly where the Church falls short, since it is America’s democratic traditions which Chittister says ‘the Vatican has always suspected and indeed has never liked.’ “

Her solution to current problems honors the response of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, during her own run-in with the Vatican:

“Chittister’s response to the Vatican’s crack-down was roughly the same as that of Sister Jeannine Gramick of the New Ways Ministry when her group was told to cease writing or speaking about homosexuality or advocating on behalf of gays and lesbians in the Church: ‘I do not choose to collaborate in my own oppression.’

“Chittister has suggested the LCWR follow the example of Gramick’s much smaller New Ways Ministry and simply disband in order to reconstitute itself as a non-canonical institution outside the Vatican’s purview. . .”

In “Is the Catholic Church sending a message to women?,” On Faith commentary on the investigation of the Girl Scouts by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA executive director and a partner in the Equally Blessed coalition, notes:

“It is tempting to laugh off this news as further evidence of how profoundly out of touch many of our bishops are with the lives and concerns of the people who fill their pews. But the hierarchy’s attempt to exert pressure on an organization that has helped millions of girls grow into strong, self-reliant and public-spirited women is only the most recent episode in an increasingly troubling sequence of events.”

She then enumerates the recent cases which make up the “war on women:  the USCCB investigation of theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson, Susan G. Komen Foundation’s attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the contraception issue in the healthcare debate, and, of course, the LCWR case.  Her conclusion:

“The bishops may not acknowledge it, but our church’s moral authority has been weakened by their pursuit of an agenda that demonstrates a passion for power, rather than for service, and a willingness to put women’s lives and ministries at risk to achieve their political ends. At first glance it may seem that the hierarchy’s investigation of the Girl Scouts provides an opportunity to have a good laugh at the bishops’ expense. But it is women and girls who are paying the price.”

In the past, many have noted that homophobia is intimately linked to misogynist tendencies.  In the LCWR case, the nuns’ support of LGBT issues–particularly New Ways Ministry’s programs–was an explicit factor in the Vatican’s investigation of them.  In the Girl Scouts’ story, a number or reporters noted that the a Denver Girl Scouts’ troop had recently accepted a transgender child as a member.  One is reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous line from his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry