Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Scouting Goes Rogue: Part 1 (Introduction)

Earlier this year, we reported on the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to revise its membership policy with respect to youth members and sexual orientation. The relevant section of the policy up to this time, one that was supported by the 2000 Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts of America v Dale, is as follows:

Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all who meet the membership requirements. Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Varsity Scouting are for boys. Venturing is for young men and young women. (Updated March 15)

The adult applicant must possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth. The applicant must also be the correct age, subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle, and abide by the Scout Oath or Promise, and the Scout Law.

While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.

The new policy, voted on at the National Meeting this past May, effective the beginning of next year, is as follows:

Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

In the world of Catholic new media, there has been discussion on this topic at one time or another this past year, as would-be pundits advise Catholic families on what they should or should not do. They draw their conclusions with little in the way of hard evidence, that continued association with the BSA, as of the 23rd of May last, is definitive cooperation with an objective moral evil. Or something.

As poorly thought out as this is, at least it heads in the right direction. What's more, it pales in comparison to the vascilating stance taken by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

The Catholic Church teaches that people who experience a homosexual inclination or a same sex attraction are to be treated with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons. The Church's teaching is clear that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral. Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.

Now, contrast this relatively innocuous position with the official statement by Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, released last May in the wake of the BSA decision.

As an organization founded on character and leadership, it is highly disappointing to see the Boy Scouts of America succumb to external pressures and political causes at the cost of its moral integrity. Additionally, it seems clear that the result of this policy change will likely not bring harmony, but rather continuing controversy, policy fights, and discord.

The above has probably been the most forthright statement to date by any Catholic bishop on the issue.

We hear a lot about how people with same-sex attraction (and the assumption is that "sexual orientation" is limited to that issue) should be treated "with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons." The reality is, that this is not what the Church teaches on homosxuality; it is what the Church teaches on everything! “In omnia, caritas.” In all things, charity. Our mother the Church does not call us to condemnation, but to conversion. She wants us to unite with the Bridegroom, and be happy with Him forever in Heaven. Hers is a message of love, not of hate. What appears at a distance to be a bitter pill, is simply the Bread of Life.

Meanwhile, we hear little from the NCCS on how unnatural sexual proclivities are "an objective disorder," and are an inclination towards "an objective moral evil." That is most assuredly what the Church teaches on homosexuality. A genuine teaching moment has been reduced to a public relations campaign, trying to assure everybody that we promise to be nice, please don't hurt us. As a result, there is little in the way of authoritative direction. And so, at the local level, pastors decide not to sponsor Boy Scout troops at the end of the year (often without even discerning their own bishop's position, as though the Church operates on a congregational polity), parents pull their kids out of Scouting, in some cases as they are about to be eligible for the Eagle Award -- all this without guidance, without an alternative, without much of anything.

To limit the concern of Church officials to merely explicit sexual activity is morally problematic in itself, not so much for what it says, as for what it does not say. Dr Denise Hunnell is a wife and mother with a long history of involvement in Boy Scouting. Not content to rest on those laurels, she brings up the obvious:

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.

Unfortunately, the tepid response that is evident in the NCCS position has been the extent of intellectual rigor among so many Catholic leaders involved in Scouting until now. I have spoken to a number of such leaders at the local level. The responses, including to such as the above, are no less depressing.

A local commissioner who liaises with a Catholic unit: "I don't see the difference here, David."

A decorated Scout leader and recipient of a religious award for his service to Catholic scouting: "I don't have a dog in this hunt."

The scoutmaster of a Troop sponsored by a Catholic parish: "It's above my pay grade."

No kidding. Grown men actually say this stuff.

In the roughly three months this past spring, during what the BSA referred to as a "family discussion," little more than a staged exercise of consultation as prelude to a foregone conclusion, was like a bad remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers once the "pod people" started taking over. I heard more inane and ill-formed observations in two or three months from seasoned and otherwise-sensible veterans of Scouting, than I had in the nine years I had been back in uniform.

The good Doctor, on the other hand, is quite correct to imply elsewhere in her treatise, that the leadership of the NCCS has been naive in its approach to the subject. Even children who prepare for First Communion are taught (or should be taught) the Act of Contrition, that they may make a proper Confession, in which they promise "to sin no more, to avoid the near occasion of sin, to do penance, and to amend my life ..." In other words, it is not enough to avoid sin, but also to avoid those situations which invariably lead to sin. It is what the Jews refer to as "building a wall around Torah." The purpose of the wall (or the fence, depending on your translation) is not only to keep something in, but to keep something else out. To put it another way, in the words of Father Peter Stravinskas: "If you want to avoid the unthinkable, you draw the lines well in advance." Those among the Catholic leadership who advise the BSA do not appear to see this as a problem, which is not about a deficiency in theology, but a more basic level of catechesis -- from bishops, no less, and the intellectual dwarfs who do their bidding!

Over the next few weeks at this time, man with black hat will be laying out the new landscape of the scouting movement in the United States, particularly as it has emerged in the last year.

Part 2 of this series will introduce the reader to what are referred to as the "aims and methods of Scouting," and will give some background on the history of so-called "independent scouting." It will provide a brief glance at how a traditional scouting program would look and operate, and what it would provide, based upon the writings of Lord Baden Powell of Gilwell, the father of the scouting movement, and his 1907 Brownsea Island experiment.

With Part 2 as a basis for comparison, Parts 3, 4, and 5 will each present a possible alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (in the form of Trail Life USA, Troops of Saint George, and the Federation of North American Explorers, respectively). Finally, Part 6 will show why remaining with the Boy Scouts of America, all else notwithstanding, may or may not still be the best alternative over the long haul.

If you are a mother or father of a Catholic household with boys in Scouting, you want to read this series.

If you are a parish or diocesan youth minister, or a Catholic priest whose parish has sponsored a Scout Troop, and you want to know what to do next (while waiting for the diocesan youth ministry office to get it together), you want to read this series.

If you are with a diocesan youth ministry office, or a diocesan Scouting chaplaincy, and are tired of waiting for said dicastery to get it together on this subject, you want to read this series.

Concern is raised in this venue over the limiting of the problem to explicit sexual engagement, when the problem is really broader than that. Most people who think beyond the ends of their noses know, that nobody ever joins Boy Scouting with the expectation of getting laid. (There, I said it.) We must conclude, therefore, that there is more to this issue than the one-dimensional approach employed up to now.

If you agree (or if you don't, and would dare this writer to prove otherwise), you want to read this series.

(NOTE: If you are a parish priest, and need to know a few things sooner rather than later, you know where to find me.)

The thing is, many Catholics with boys in Scouting are willing to listen to anybody with enough initials after his or her name, or enough visibility in Catholic new media, who would accuse them of leading their child down the road to perdition had they not burned his uniform sometime after May 23rd, without even suggesting a viable option. (By "viable," I refer to concept of scouting as described above, as opposed to a Catholic boys club whose members all wear the same polo shirts and pray the Rosary around the campfire.) Maybe it's about time we all brought the conversation up a notch, don't you think?

Or don't you? Stay tuned ...

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