The National Catholic Reporter’s columnist Father Peter Daly recently wrote a column praising this spring’s Boy Scouts of America decision to admit gay scouts. Writing as a pastor and a former Scout, Father Daly reminds readers of the pastoral dimension that must be attended to in discussing this issue.
He begins by noting that all of the hype about the new policy clouded the fact that Scout troops tend to be pretty ordinary groupings:
“If you come to one of their troop meetings on Sunday afternoons, you would think you had stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. The boys actually are what the Scout Law says: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (Well, truth be told, maybe they are not always clean. But they are boys, after all.)
“When our Boy Scouts meet in our parish hall, they carry in the American flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say the Scout Oath. Then they go to work on their projects. They go camping, get merit badges, build fires, tie knots, make balsa wood cars, and horse around; exactly the same as Scouts did when I was a Scout a half-century ago.”
And while much will be the same, there is one significant change that this policy makes:
“After the rule change, I sent our Scout leaders a letter saying there was no change in our relationship to Scouting and no change in the behavior we expected of Scouts. We still expected everyone to be chaste, boys and leaders.
“But one important thing has changed: Boys can now be honest about themselves to others without fear of reprisal by the Scout leaders.
“Let’s face it: There have always been gay Scouts. Just like there have always been gay men in the military and in the priesthood. In fact, we have always had some gay bishops, whether they want to admit it or not.
“What is different now for our boys is that they no longer have to be afraid. They do not have to be afraid of reprisals and bullying. They do not have to be afraid that if someone knows they are gay, they will be excluded or expelled.”
And he puts the whole controversy into perspective by reminding readers that when we discuss gay scouts, we are really discussing youth in a very fragile moment of their lives:
“Growing up is hard enough without an added layer of fear and discrimination.
“Gay boys are no different from any other boys. They are experiencing their maturation in fits and starts. They are discovering what it is to be a man. They are figuring out what it means to love. If the boy is a Catholic, he is also discovering what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That is hard for us all, whether we are hetero or homosexual, but there is an added a layer of difficulty for gay adolescents. I’ve witnessed this in my own ministry.
“Three times in my 27 years as a priest, I have had to sit across the room from young men who tried to commit suicide because they were gay. Three times, I have heard their anguish as they told me that their church regarded them as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and their love as seriously immoral. Three times I have had to hear them say that part of the reason for their despair was our preaching.”
And he has a sharp critique of those who oppose the new policy:
“Conservative Catholic theologians would no doubt demand that I condemn all homosexual acts as immoral. They would want pastors to insist that all gay boys must learn to carry their unique cross of perpetual life-long chastity, a burden we would never dream of imposing on heterosexuals. They would want me to say that all gay acts are evil and all inclinations are intrinsically disordered.
“Well, let them say it. Let them say it to those boys who tried to commit suicide. Let them say it to the frightened little Scout who is still figuring out himself.
“It is easy to be some ivory-tower theologian writing in the abstract. They are not speaking as pastors or parents or Scout leaders. There is truth in lived experience, too, just as much as in theories. That is real ‘ontological’ truth.”
Many thanks to Fr. Daly for bringing a much-needed pastoral sense to this whole debate about the Boy Scouts. Such sensibility is needed in more of our church discussions about LGBT issues.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry