The Cookie Crumbles for Girl Scouts in St. Louis

COMMENTARY: The radical shift in some of the organization’s priorities is why St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is the latest Church leader to counsel Catholic families against Girl Scouts participation.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis
Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis (photo: Archdiocese of St. Louis)

The Girl Scouts: The green vests. The mint cookies. The celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex “marriage” as a Top 10 moment of 2015 ... Wait … What?

You think you know the Girl Scouts, because you were a Girl Scout. Because the troop leader at your parish sits next to you every Sunday. Because the little girl next door selling cookies is so polite. And while the girls are as darling as they have always been, the organization has changed dramatically over the years. These changes have infiltrated so many aspects of the organization that they’ve become impossible for Catholic families and clergy to ignore.

In 2014, the USCCB finished a two-year investigation into the Girl Scout organization, identifying multiple concerns with programming, advocacy efforts, and policies at multiple levels of the organization that conflict with Church teaching. Based on the concerns identified, bishops have begun to look into the connections to the girls in their own dioceses, and are alerting laity and clergy that these conflicts exist. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City was the first to share concerns in 2014, followed in 2015 by Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. (who is now serving as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph), and Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2015.

Last week, Archbishop Robert Carlson of the St. Louis released the strongest statement yet on this topic, providing both a letter and accompanying resource on several relevant areas. Archbishop Carlson details pro-life concerns regarding “WAGGGS’ continued promotion of contraception and abortion rights on behalf of its girl members” with “financial contributions from GSUSA to WAGGGS, based on the number of registered GSUSA members,” as well as GSUSA’s curriculum and social media’s continued promotion of women and organizations whose public positions on several issues conflict with the teachings of the Church. (GSUSA, the U.S. branch of the Girl Scouts, is a member of of WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.)

Additionally, Archbishop Carlson especially notes that “recent concerns about GSUSA and their position on and inclusion of transgender and homosexual issues are proving problematic. Our culture is becoming increasingly intolerant of a Catholic worldview regarding these issues. While Catholics are called to treat all people with compassion and mercy, we must at the same time be mindful of whom we allow to teach and form our youth and the messages they present. Because local Girl Scout troops are chartered with [their local council] GSEM, not the parish, any authority on policy and teaching resides with [the local council] GSEM rather than with parish leadership. In addition, given the fact that the Girl Scout program is a secular organization, they are not obliged to uphold the teachings of our faith.”

While acknowledging years of dialogue with the Girl Scout organization, and commending faithful Catholic Girl Scout leaders for their time and commitment, Archbishop Carlson’s assessment finds that “Girl Scouts is exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior and it is clear to me that as they move in the ways of the world it is becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.” Therefore, he is “asking each pastor that allows Girl Scouts to meet on parish property to conduct a meeting with troop leadership to review these concerns and discuss implementing alternative options for the formation of our girls.”

In conjunction with this recommendation, the archbishop has disbanded the archdiocese’s Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts, instead forming a Catholic Committee for Girls Formation that will focus on the faith formation of all girls in the diocese. This move is in addition to the closing of the archdiocese’s Scouting Office last year, with all ministry and faith formation opportunities for girls being run through the Catholic Youth Apostolate.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Catholic Youth Apostolate provides an exceptional resource of support for Archbishop Carlson’s letter. Echoing the U.S. bishops’ framework for Youth Ministry, the document begins with the reminder that “All ministry with adolescents must be directed toward presenting young people with the good news of Jesus Christ.” Documented concerns are divided into four areas: the relationship between Girl Scouts and WAGGGS, transgender and homosexual concerns, questionable partnerships, and curriculum concerns. Along with these concerns, the Archdiocese explains that “While GSUSA claims they do not take a stance on these issues, it is clear that their actions would suggest otherwise. These progressive issues are becoming more and more central to the Girl Scout message. By promoting our local Girl Scout troops to our young women, we are helping them form an allegiance to an organization that is becoming increasingly incompatible with Catholic values.”

The archdiocese also addresses the concern regarding the purchase of Girl Scout cookies, identifying the “licensing fee attached to each box of Girl Scout cookies produced, paid to GSUSA,” which amounts to millions of dollars every year.

As Archbishop Carlson asks pastors and troop leaders to familiarize themselves with alternatives, and “strongly consider offering one of these programs instead of Girl Scouts,” the Catholic Youth Apostolate’s resource recommends American Heritage Girls and Little Flower Girls Club, where “girls are still able to participate in many similar activities while also learning about their faith as a core element of the program.” Additionally, all religious awards are available to all girls.

Change can be difficult to consider, but the archdiocese is confident that the laity share Archbishop Carlson’s love for the teachings of the Church and the young girls of the diocese. Brian Miller, executive director of the St. Louis archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Apostolate is optimistic, saying “I know that we have so many dedicated and faithful Girl Scout leaders throughout the Archdiocese. Hopefully the information we’ve provided can give them a good idea of the best way to move forward and continue to form our young women of faith.”

The cookie is crumbling in the St. Louis Archdiocese. May other bishops consider the documented concerns that Archbishop Carlson presents, and join him in sheparding the future of our Church. Our girls, and our Church, deserve it.

Ann Saladin writes from St. Louis.

She is the author of the website