US Catholic Faith in Real Life

"Be prepared" for an important change

By Meinrad Scherer-Emunds | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The Boy Scouts of America’s announced earlier this week that its executive board would consider a proposal next week that would let local scouting groups decide for themselves whether to allow gay scouts and leaders. If passed, local groups would be free to “accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

Should the Boys Scouts take that step next week, it would finally agree to a compromise solution that our local community’s Cub Scout packs and parent teacher organizations proposed more than a dozen years ago. Our seven local groups in Oak Park, Illinois were expelled by the Boy Scouts for simply attaching our village and school district’s nondiscrimination policies (including its provisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation) to their charter renewal applications. The ensuing controversy attracted the attention of national media—including a “60 Minutes” crew crawling around our kitchen table and interviewing our son’s Cub Scouts pack. See my article in the April 2001 issue of U.S. Catholic.

Perhaps jumping the gun a little bit, religion reporter David Gibson has already pronounced that the reversal of the Boy Scouts’ long-controversial ban “would effectively put an end to Catholic-sponsored scout troops, which account for 10 percent of all troops.”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has issued a statement (first saying it had been worked on by its bishop liaison, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina and the USCCB, but later backtracking from that) saying it was “premature to discuss the ramifications of the proposed change.” The statement added, “As Catholics, we expect that any changes in policy will continue to respect the values and traditions that the Catholic Church holds with regards to membership and leadership in scout units.”

Gibson says, “The bishops have opposed cooperating with groups that promote positions they consider morally wrong, so affiliating with the BSA—if the gay ban is dropped—would be problematic. Moreover, Catholic leaders have supported the BSA’s gay ban. So it’s hard to see how they could keep their ties in the event of a change.”

Given that different troops will now likely be able to keep different policies, a lot of other scenarios appear more likely. Plus, why would the Catholic Church sever ties with the BSA when it has a very clear anti-discrimination policy on its books. If anything, its previous support for the BSA policy was on very shaky ground. Despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on “intrinsically disordered” sexual orientation and despite the bishops’ conference’s past support of the Boy Scouts’ policies banning gays in its membership and leadership, it is still difficult to reconcile those blatantly anti-gay policies of the Boy Scouts with the official Catholic position against discrimination of gays. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

As the USCCB and the NCCS consider responses to a possible change in the BSA’s policies, one can only hope that they will be inspired by the recent change in tone in a statement of the French bishops on same-gender relations.