As the Boy Scouts of America deliberate about accepting gay members, with a decision looming next week, Catholics involved with scouting are lining up on both sides of the debate.
An article in USA Today reports on the upcoming decision facing BSA:
“The proposal, which would allow gay Scouts but continue to exclude gay adults as leaders, has the unanimous support of Boy Scouts’ top officials, and will be voted on by the group’s 1,400-member national council on May 23…
“Already suffering a long-term membership decline, the Scouts’ proposal is an effort to appeal to younger parents who increasingly support gay rights. But the current two-pronged ban has strong support among existing members and volunteers, many of whom believe accepting gay members will clash with their religious convictions.”
Strong opposition comes from faith-based groups, responsible for over 70% of scouting troops nationally, and among these are Catholics conflicted by the proposal. The National Catholic Council on Scouting released a vague statement affirming the hierarchy’s understanding of gay issues and promising to respond once the proposal is voted on.
At the grassroots level, USA Today reports some Catholic scout leaders are already threatening resignation, and some pastors plan to sever ties with BSA if openly gay scouts are allowed. Yet other Catholic leaders are hoping that gay scouts will be accepted:
“At St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church in Springfield, Va., the Rev. John De Celles announced in his church bulletin that the parish troop would end its relationship with the Boy Scouts if membership standards change…
“As many as a quarter of the 273,000 Boy Scouts connected to Catholic-run troops could leave, some leaders estimate. Still, many Catholic parishes welcome the move to allow openly gay scouts into their troops.
“‘If it changes, that’s fine with us. In fact, I’m hoping they do change it,’ said Monsignor Donald Romito of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Irvine, Calif. ‘We’re welcoming to everybody, and everybody’s welcome to join the Scouts. It wouldn’t impact our relationship with the troop at all.'”
For its part, the BSA leadership is advocating strongly for the national council, which meets May 22-24, to allow gay scouts and has worked to address the concerns of Catholics and other faith-based participants:
“We believe that this policy remains true to the virtues, the core principles of scouting, not of any one religion, but of Scouting,” said BSA executive committee member Nathan Rosenberg, in a webcast urging support for the plan.”
Like one’s faith and one’s sexuality, involvement in scouting is a large influence on a young person’s identity. Catholics involved in scouting must encourage youth to openly embrace every part of who they are during formative years. It is time for Catholic leadership to echo Monsignor Romito’s call to welcome every youth who wishes to participate in BSA troops and end a discriminatory practice that forces scouts to remain closeted.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry