I am the wife of an Eagle Scout and the mother of three Eagle Scouts. I spent many years as a Cub Scout leader, my husband did a stint as a Scout Master, and one of my sons served as an assistant Scout Master. Our family has been heavily invested in the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps this explains why I feel so heartbroken over the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow openly homosexual boys to be members of the Boy Scouts.
When the policy change was first being discussed, the possibility of openly gay Scout leaders was considered. The national organization would take a hands-off approach and leave each troop free to restrict membership according to the chartering organization’s moral principles. This would allow the Catholic troop to ban Scout leaders living active homosexual lifestyles, while the Episcopal troop down the road could say, “no big deal” and have leaders representing the full LGBTQ spectrum.
The policy that finally emerged and was approved on May 23 retained the ban on homosexual Scout leaders but stated that sexual orientation alone would not be a barrier to boys joining the Boy Scouts. However, this loosening of the membership standards is not as broad as is being reported in the media. One of the introductory clauses states:
AND WHEREAS, Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting;
At first glance this appears to be consistent with Catholic teaching. Same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on such inclinations is disordered and immoral. A young man who claimed to be homosexual but lived chastely would be treated no differently than his heterosexual counterpart doing the same.
However, a Scout who insisted on engaging in homosexual acts could be barred for failing to live up to the Boy Scouts standards for virtue. Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the USCCB liaison to the Boy Scouts, was not pleased with the policy change but seemed resigned to it. Bishop Guglielmone stated it was a change that could accommodate Catholic teaching. Canon lawyer, Dr. Edward Peters, seemed to reach the same conclusion in his cogent analysis of the membership resolution.
When dealing with this issue isolated to the theoretical realm, Bishop Guglielmone and Dr. Peters are correct. However, when looking at this in the context of a real Boy Scout troop and real Catholic families, it is difficult to see how it can be workable. Consider the seemingly exculpatory clause cited above.
What constitutes sexual conduct? It would be normal for a high school age Boy Scout to post pictures on Facebook of his girlfriend. He might be seen holding hands with her. He might even be seen giving her a kiss. None of this would be considered as inappropriate sexual behavior. Now consider the Boy Scout with a same-sex attraction. Would it also be acceptable for him to hold hands and kiss his boyfriend? This policy opens the door to a Clintonian parsing of the definition of sexual relations. Will the Scout invite his boyfriend to the Court of Honor to share in the celebration of his Scouting achievements? Will other Scouts and their parents be expected to look upon this behavior with tolerance and acceptance? For Catholics, that would be impossible.
An integral aspect of Scouting is the development of leadership. Older Scouts teach and guide younger scouts. As a parent, I would not be comfortable with a high school boy who felt the need to openly declare his sexual attraction to other males being a mentor for my son.
Most parents would never allow a teenage son to share a tent with a girl, no matter how much he promised there would be no sexual activity. Propriety and avoidance of temptation demands such a prohibition. How could a Scout attracted to members of the same sex expect to be treated as one of the guys with no concern about potential sexual encounters on a camping trip? The very fact that a young man felt compelled publicly to define himself based on his sexual orientation raises the concern that he will view other Scouts from a sexual perspective. Protecting this Scout’s virtue as well as the virtue and innocence of other Scouts requires the same segregation used for coed activities.
Finally, the Boy Scouts of America have shown their hand: they can be bought. This issue came to the forefront, not because of some ideological epiphany, but because corporate sponsors of the Boy Scouts are cutting off donations in response to pressure from gay advocacy groups who oppose funding an organization that does not embrace homosexuality as normal. The Boy Scouts are trying to bend just enough to stem the loss of corporate money. There is no reason to trust that they will not compromise further in order to attract donors.
So what is a Catholic Scouting family to do? Should they go or should they stay? There is no single right answer. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting is taking a wait-and-see approach according to its public statement:
Since the change in policy will not take effect until January 1, 2014, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has adequate time to study its effects. The NCCS will determine how it may impact Catholic chartered Scout units and activities. In doing so, we will work within the teachings of our Catholic Faith and with the various local bishops and their diocesan scouting committees.
Since there is no clear-cut moral obligation to dissociate from Scouting, current senior Scouts may just want to finish up their Scouting career and move on. Families with younger boys, however, may want to reconsider a significant investment of time and resources to Scouts.
The potential conflicts with Catholic moral teaching are not going to get easier and will most likely get worse—especially if the national leadership of the Boy Scouts provides further accommodations to those seeking to abolish any moral opposition to the homosexual lifestyle. It is time to seek other options that can be trusted to provide a strong moral formation of boys to men. Perhaps it is time for parish Knights of Columbus councils to push hard for the formation of Columbian Squires Circles as an alternative for Catholic Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts of America tried to preserve their financial stability by making honor and virtue a matter of opinion. By tying their principles to the shifting sands of popular culture, the Boy Scouts have forfeited their credibility as a solid pillar of moral authority. With this change in membership policy, the Boy Scouts of America today cannot be compared to the Boys Scouts of yesterday and it does not bode well for Catholic Boy Scouts of tomorrow.