ORLANDO, Fla. — This past New Year’s Day was a historic turning point for youth scouting across the nation.
At Boy Scouts of America (BSA) headquarters in Irving, Texas, the century-old organization’s new policy of allowing openly homosexual youths into their ranks became official.
And, in turn, that decision has prompted the growth of a Florida-based alternative group that remains dedicated to the moral underpinnings that, until last year, had impelled the BSA to resist pressure from homosexual-rights lobbyists to adopt a policy of accepting openly homosexual members.
The policy change was originally announced on May 23, 2013, stating that, after “the most comprehensive listening exercise in scouting history,” the organization’s voting members had approved the removal of a restriction denying membership to youth “on the basis of sexual orientation alone.”
When it was announced in May, the decision prompted spirited debate about the Boy Scouts and the proper Christian reception of youth who experience same-sex attraction. But three months into the implementation of the new rules, it has been scouting as usual, according to Deron Smith, director of BSA’s public relations.
“The National Council has received very few inquiries on the implementation of this new policy after we distributed training materials last fall,” Smith explained.
But though the controversy surrounding BSA’s decision has died down, the response to its perceived departure from Christian values is just beginning.
In Orlando, Fla., a new Christian-based adventure and leadership program called Trail Life USA became official on New Year’s Day. The organization’s vision is: “To be the premier national character development organization for young men, which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens.”
According to Richard John Mathews, Trail Life USA’s national director of administration and the organization’s general counsel, the new organization is growing rapidly. Three months since its inauguration, Trail Life has 302 chartered troops with another 304 in various stages of being approved. As of last month, 7,782 youth and adults had registered.
Taking a New ‘Trail’
Mathews, who served as BSA’s legal counsel for 12 years, told the Register that his decision to leave BSA and join Trail Life was very much the product of disappointment with the Boy Scouts’ decision to admit openly homosexual youth.
“I was very much involved with the drafting of the policy to make sure that it was faithful to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Matthews said. “I hoped to put into place a policy that would not violate my Catholic beliefs.”
However, after much discernment and spiritual direction, Mathews said he couldn’t continue with BSA in good conscience.
“It became obvious that the BSA that I had joined had given up its values and pursued other things,” he said.
BSA’s policy change replaced a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to Mathews. However, while allowing membership to young men who are openly homosexual sounds good on paper, Mathews is very concerned about its implementation.
“How is this going to be enforced?” he asked, highlighting a BSA statement that said a summer camp staff member could be homosexual as long as such a person was registered as a youth. “So you get into the issue of having an openly gay adult ‘leader,’ except they call him a youth.”
Knowing that these “what-if” questions would arise, BSA posted a unit implementation guide on its website after the May announcement. The questions dealt with topics such as whether or not a local unit has the capacity to deny membership to youth based on sexual orientation (it doesn’t), as well as whether special arrangements should be made for showering and changing areas in instances when openly homosexual youth were part of a unit.
“We released an implementation guide in August at our annual conference to help with the transition, and as with any new policy, questions are handled on a case-by-case basis through the local council system,” Smith explained.
Catholic Response Mixed
According to Edward Martin, national chairman of the Administration Advisory Board for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), the Church has been associated with BSA since the 1930s. During the last 10 months, Martin said he has personally responded to more than 200 emails from Catholic scouters and clergy who expressed their concerns over BSA’s new mandate. In addition, the NCCS developed a frequently-asked-questions webpage to help explain BSA’s membership change.
“I believe this effort contributed to a better understanding of both the intent of the BSA change and its compatibility with Catholic teaching,” Martin explained.
Martin added that quite a few bishops across the United States wrote letters to their dioceses supporting the continuation of scouting in their parishes.
“I know of no bishop to date who has indicated otherwise,” Martin told the Register.
Bishop Robert Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., serves as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) liaison for the NCCS.
He compared the new policy to any other membership policy that exists within Catholic youth activities.
“If a student or young person expressed same-sex attraction at one of our Catholic schools or Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), we wouldn’t ask him to leave the school,” he said. “That is, unless his actions indicated that this was something more than an attraction or an orientation.”
Bishop Guglielmone added that only a handful of Catholic scouting leaders or pastors of local BSA troops have broken ties with BSA since the announcement of the policy change.
One of those is Msgr. James Hart, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Keller, Texas. He posted a letter to parishioners on the parish’s website last summerstating that St. Elizabeth would cut ties with their long-standing sponsorship of Pack 32.
He wrote, “I, as the pastor, cannot react to the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America and its potential impact on the souls and lives of boys and the faithful, generally, as if it is a neutral matter or in compliance with the Church’s teaching.”
In the letter, Msgr. Hart cited his previous service as chancellor and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Fort Worth, during which he was responsible for diocesan oversight of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Almost all of the cases of clergy abuse of minors that resulted in lawsuits against the diocese, he noted, were perpetrated by young priests who had a same-sex orientation.
Part of a Pattern
Patti Garibay was not surprised to learn of BSA’s change in policy. The former Girl Scout and longtime scout volunteer left the Girl Scouts of America (GSA) more than 20 years ago, out of concerns that the organization was departing from its Christian roots.
“In 1993, the Girl Scouts put an asterisk by God’s name in the Girl Scout Promise,” said Garibay. “It signified that it was no longer necessary to have God in your promise.”
In August 1995, after she says her concerns were ignored by GSA, she formed American Heritage Girls (AHG), an organization with the mission to form women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country. AHG started with 10 troops and 100 girls, but, today, it boasts more than 35,000 members.
Garibay added that 80% of the interest to start an AHG troop comes from concerned GSA parents.
One of those is Ann Saladin, a fourth generation Girl Scout. Her pastor, Father Rick Schilli at Most Sacred Heart Church in Eureka, Mo., has given permission for an AHG troop to be chartered.
Saladin made the decision to part ways with GSA after her daughter, who had joined the Girl Scouts in 2007, was being exposed to values contradicting her Catholic faith with increasing frequency.
“I began to find out some disconcerting information on the nation level,” Saladin said. “I discovered that they were promoting these international conferences related to reproductive and sexual rights.”
Saladin’s concern about GSA prompted her, in 2013, to start MyGirlScoutCouncil.com, an online resource that highlights some of GSA’s questionable policies. Over the last two months, Saladin reports that the website has had around 70,000 separate visits.
“It is not my intention to bash the Girl Scouts,” Saladin explained. “I’m just sharing information from Girl Scouts’ own material to assist families and clergy as they consider whether or not they want to support the organization.”
Some troop leaders have said that she is overreacting to a national level development that doesn’t affect local scouting activities. Saladin said these critics are missing the point.
“Every girl’s membership is to the national organization and the membership dues that every girl pays at the beginning of the year goes to the national organization.”
A Slippery Slope?
When asked if she thought BSA is headed down the same path as the Girl Scouts, Saladin was speculative.
“It would seem difficult to allow members who experience same-sex attraction through the age of 18, and then deny those same individuals to continue to participate in the organization due to [an age] change.
She also noted that major funders of BSA are unsatisfied with the recent policy shift and want the Boy Scouts to go even further. In particular, she cited the recent news that Disney was stopping its financial support for the Boy Scouts beginning next year because of the scouts’ policy banning adult leaders who are homosexual.
Mathews expressed more certainty that the Boy Scouts are headed down the slippery slope of "political correctness."
“There is no question that the BSA will lose the next legal challenge brought by an adult or anybody who is denied membership or participation because of their sexual orientation,” he said, stating that an organization couldn’t successfully defend itself against such a lawsuit if it doesn’t have a consistent position on sexual orientation.
Bishop Guglielmone agreed that the events over the past year regarding BSA are discouraging.
“I don’t know where this is going. I suspect that there is going to be pressure for BSA to go further,” he said. “We will address that issue when it arises.”
Added the bishop, “Boy Scouts of America is a wonderful organization. It is unfortunate that once we get into these issues, it is the kids who suffer.”
Register correspondent Eddie O’Neill writes from Rolla, Missouri.