LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

A Priest's Support for Scouting Reconsidered

By Father Edward Horkan

I am a priest at a Catholic parish with a Scout troop and pack, and I have long supported Scouting. But if the Boy Scouts of America goes through with the proposed changes, I would recommend to pastors of Catholic parishes with Scout troops, as well as other Catholic organizations that sponsor troops, that they reorganize under another form. After all, the troops belong to the sponsoring organizations, and thus they can be rechartered under different auspices very easily. And I strongly expect that, if the proposed changes go through, it will not be long before an organization parallel to BSA is formed, as American Heritage Girls was formed in response to some policy changes by the Girl Scouts. In this case, however, due to the dramatic nature of the change, in the worst possible time, i.e. with the intensity of the so-called "culture wars" in this country, the reaction would be much swifter and more broad based.

The unidentified people who proposed this change in BSA policy seem to think there is no harm done by this policy change because it grants a Catholic or other religious organization the discretion to continue adherence to traditional family morals. However, the abandonment of traditional family morals by the national organization would indicate that such principles are no longer essential to the Boy Scouts of America ethos. And, if the Boy Scouts of America are willing to cave on that principle, what future is there for other principles, such as reverence and belief in God?

The Catholic Church and her parishes and faithful are perfectly capable of running strenuous and disciplined programs for Scouting quite on our own, or in connection with other Christian or other religious groups. The only reason to have them under the governance of the Boy Scouts is that that organization stands for traditional principles of faith, family, and decency, and thus provides a unified prophetic voice to the world. If the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America changes the rules such that the organizaation is no longer standing for those principles, that advantage is no longer there. I would therefore see little reason to accept the governance and oversight, with all of the associated requirements, of being in Boy Scouts of America.

Furthermore, the way in which this proposed change is being considered is also deeply troubling. The leadership of BSA has not consulted either the Catholic Church or any other religious organization, which together sponsor 70 percent of the troops, regarding this radical change in direction. Rather, the proposed change is being considered under the threat of withdrawn sponsorship and donations from the likes of Merck, UPS and the United Way.

It is also possible that the decision is a reaction to election results, polling data, and a sudden reported drop-off in registration for the Cub Scouts. I could note the elections were very close and and politics are notoriously volatile. Furthermore, polls tend to phrase questions in ways that get results desired by the organization conducting them. But that is beside the point.

To be perfectly blunt, if BSA policy is being dictated by left leaning corporations or by the fact that standing up for traditional morals is unpopular, then the organization has lost its nerve, and the entire courageous and self-reliant ethic that has animated its existence for over 100 years has been lost. The fact that the religious groups that sponsor most of the troops have been left out of this decision-making indicates our support -- indeed, our continued participation -- is being taken for granted. Such a situation is simply not acceptable. Catholic parishes and other Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus should therefore refuse to accept it.

In short, I hope that this sudden proposal is simply an ill-considered idea of a few people high up in BSA and will be rejected upon thoughtful deliberation. But if it is adopted -- if BSA no longer stands for traditional ethics, but rather has given in to modern relativism -- if the pressure of politics and money trumps the longstanding principles that the this organization has stood for, then I would propose that the Catholic Church and her people arrange Scouting programs in another way.

Father Edward Horkan is an associate pastor at St. James parish in Falls Church, Virginia. His additional writings may be found at the Pilgrim and Priest website.

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