Is the Girl Scouts Safe for Catholic Girls?

U.S. bishops’ committee for laity looking into ‘possible problematic relationships with other organizations,’ materials and resources. Part 1 of 2.

Washington, D.C., area Girl Scouts attend Girl Scouts At 100: The Launch of ToGetHerThere on Capitol Hill on Feb. 1.
Washington, D.C., area Girl Scouts attend Girl Scouts At 100: The Launch of ToGetHerThere on Capitol Hill on Feb. 1. (photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Girl Scouts of America)

After years of questions and concerns about the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is conducting an inquiry into the organization and its relationship with the Catholic Church.

In a recent letter, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, briefed the country’s bishops on the committee’s “ongoing consideration” of the issue.

The main focus, Bishop Rhoades observed, is “possible problematic relationships with other organizations, the issue of problematic programmatic materials and resources and other matters of concern.”

There are more than 3 million Girl Scouts in America. Some estimates suggest that as many as 25% of them are Catholic or are in troops sponsored through a Catholic organization.

The bishops’ conference is hoping to address long-standing parental and parish concerns regarding the appropriateness of Catholic girls joining the Girl Scouts. Their apprehensions center on three areas of concern, accompanied by a constellation of smaller issues.

First, there are concerns about GSUSA’s ties to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), the confederation of international Girl Scout groups that has exhibited pro-abortion and pro-homosexual agendas in many instances.

Second, questions have been raised about GSUSA’s connection to and involvement with Planned Parenthood and other groups who provide, promote or condone abortion and contraception.

Finally, there is the issue of how GSUSA handles sexuality, sexual education and homosexuality.

One Family’s Awakening

Christy Volanski’s two daughters, Sydney and Tess, were both part of Girl Scouts. The girls had friends in their troop and enjoyed their experience, but after eight years of active scouting, Christy discovered that “the program was not in line with our personal faith and morals. The discovery of GSUSA’s ties to WAGGGS, a group advocating for accessible abortion and ‘sexual rights’ for youth, was upsetting. As members of Girl Scouts USA, we were automatically part of and supported WAGGGS, which, along with their controversial advocacy efforts, has a documented partnership to International Planned Parenthood Federation.”

The discovery led Sydney and Tess to begin, which tracks problems with the organization from a Catholic perspective, and one of the biggest problems is WAGGGS.

The organization dates back to 1928 and was founded to unite girl groups from around the world. But its mission and ideology have become anti-life.

In its role as an NGO (non-government organization), it has partnered with both the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which funds population control and “reproductive health” initiatives, and with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and actively campaigned for sex education, contraception, emergency contraception and abortion (including abortion as part of “minimum packages of sexual and reproductive health services”).

A portion of the group's website that had included this last phrase was later modified to read “sexual and reproductive health services should, as a minimum, be accessible, affordable and safe.” estimated how much of the Girl Scouts’ money goes to WAGGGS, based on the 2009 annual report.

With 3,330,429 registered scouts, it’s possible that GSUSA generated $39,965,148 in membership fees alone, if each one of the scouts paid the full membership fee. They also average about $700 million in annual cookie sales. GSUSA pays an annual quota fee to WAGGGS, which totaled $1,465,389 in 2009.

And just who makes up the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts? They’re mostly Americans. GSUSA makes up 43.98% of the WAGGGS membership, with second-place India making up only 16.04%, followed by the Philippines (8.77%) and the U.K. (6.79%), with the 117 other member countries accounting for the remaining 24.42%.

Based on the available numbers, this means that 64.4% of the WAGGGS budget comes from U.S. girls.

GSUSA claims that no dues money is used to pay their financial obligation to WAGGGS, saying "Every Girl Scout and Girl Guide organization is a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts – and each Member Organization, including Girl Scouts of the USA, pays dues. WAGGGS operates in much the same way as the United Nations: each member organization pays dues based on the size of its membership and the per capita income of the country in which the organization resides. Membership dues from girls and from adults are not used to pay the WAGGGS quota. All dues collected from Girl Scout members are used to pay for services that directly impact the development and delivery of Girl Scouting to girls in the USA and girls who are involved in USA Girl Scouts Overseas, our program that brings Girl Scouting to American families who live and work abroad."

Nonetheless, the connections disturbed Christy Volanski enough to prompt her to contact her local council and then the national office.

“They were indifferent to the WAGGGS information promoting abortion and ‘sexual rights’ for youth,” she said, “and attempted to distance themselves from that advocacy effort, although we knew from GSUSA that all members of GSUSA were also a part of WAGGGS.

“They also claimed to be neutral on the subject of abortion and birth control, despite the evidence that local Girl Scout councils were permitted by GSUSA to partner with the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.”


Planned Parenthood

The Girl Scouts’ connection to Planned Parenthood is a major area of concern.

In 2004, GSUSA CEO Kathy Cloninger admitted, “We have relationships with our church communities, with YWCAs and with Planned Parenthood organizations across the country to bring information-based sex education to girls.”

Since then, the Girl Scouts have issued a series of denials explaining that they have no relationships with Planned Parenthood. Its current statement is simply: “No, Girl Scouts of the USA does not have a relationship or partnership with Planned Parenthood.”

This is correct. Although figures in national leadership roles have ties to or support the agenda of Planned Parenthood, GSUSA tries to remain neutral on hot-button issues related to sexuality and abortion.

However, local councils are free to form partnerships, and there is evidence that some councils have done just that.

The connection between various councils and Planned Parenthood falls into several different categories. Sometimes, it is nothing more than the Girl Scouts appearing at a particular event along with Planned Parenthood, as the Girl Scouts of Northern California did in 2009 at the Women’s Policy Summit.

Other connections are more problematic, such as when various councils partnered with Planned Parenthood on their “Real Life. Real Talk” or “Nobody’s Fool” sex-education programs, as did councils in New York, Texas and Arizona.

In an annual report, Planned Parenthood of Western New York listed Girl Scouts of Western New York as a “community partner.”

Some issues that have generated a great deal of heat on the Internet are too sketchy to sort out.

The notorious, explicit Planned Parenthood pamphlet “Happy, Healthy and Hot” was allegedly discovered in a room at the United Nations that was used for a “girls only” workshop. The Girl Scouts deny that any of their people brought the pamphlet into the room or distributed it, claiming it must have been left there by a group who used the room earlier. 

According to a Washington Times article, the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood handed out the semi-pornographic pamphlet “It’s Perfectly Normal” at a meeting in 2004, so it wouldn’t be unusual to find similar content at the same U.N. meeting that produced the WAGGGS’ demand for “sexual and reproductive rights” and “safe abortion.”


The problem comes down to organization. While the Boy Scouts of America have a strong central leadership that sets policy from the top down, GSUSA relies more on local leadership.

As GSUSA spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins observes, “Each council is a separate 501c3 organization with its own board of directors that is responsible for delivering the programming and membership to Girl Scouts. We can’t stress enough that Girl Scouts is a grassroots volunteer organization that is run mostly by parents in each community. The local volunteers, many in Catholic churches across the country, control what programming the girls receive. Parents, many of whom serve as troop volunteers, are actively engaged in those activities and well aware of what their girls are doing. The notion that a small band of individuals from a faraway place ‘control’ everything the girls see and do is simply fantasy.”

But reports of activities that depart from the traditional values that many families want to pass on to their daughters seem to add up to a pattern that makes many parents leery. Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at some of those.

Part 2 of this story can be found here.

Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald writes about Catholicism, technology and culture at