A veteran Boy Scout leader who is a partnered gay man has been rejected by a Catholic parish in Kentucky, the first reported Catholic rejection of a gay leader after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decided to allow local troops to accept openly gay men as leaders.
In 2012, Greg Bourke was forced resign his leadership position with Troop 325 based at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Louisville, when he came out publicly as a gay man. He reapplied for the position following the BSA’s July decision to let local troops accept gay leaders. Fr. Scott Wimsatt, pastor, rejected Bourke’s application.
Bourke and his husband Michael DeLeon, who have been together for 33 years and are raising two adopted children, were two of the seventeen plaintiffs whose cases were combined together to become the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found a constitutional right for lesbian and gay couples to marry.
Earlier in the week, the Archdiocese of Louisville, headed by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (who also serves as United States Conference of Catholic Bishops president), released a letter requiring Scout leaders to adhere to the bishops’ teaching on sexuality.
The rejection is obviously painful for Bourke, who is Catholic and a noted LGBT advocate in Kentucky reported The Advocate. Of Fr. Wimsatt’s decision, Bourke said on Facebook:
“My heart is broken that my church would now present the barrier to my returning to my Boy Scout unit.”
Bourke is the first gay Scout leader to be rejected by Catholic troops, but he may not be the last given the rising trend in recent years of LGBT church workers and volunteers being expelled.
Elsewhere, ties are being severed between Scouting groups in their entirety and Catholic parishes which have sponsored them, sometimes for decades.
Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota, ordered all Catholic parishes to cut ties with the Boy Scouts of America, notifying parishioners in a letter that the split was effective immediately. Kagan said church institutions could not associate with organizations which “contradict the authoritative moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Kagan tied his decision to marriage equality’s expansion, distrustful that legal protections already in place would keep parishes from facing lawsuits if they expelled a gay leader. In frank language, Kagan told the Grand Forks Herald:
“I’m sorry if people have taken this the wrong way. They should read the catechism of the Catholic Church about this very issue and they would see what the church has always thought and done, and it’s not discriminatory. It’s not trying to alienate people.”
Yet, Kagan’s decision is quite alienating and prioritizes the church’s ability to discriminate against LGBT people above the well being of the diocese’s Catholics or those involved with scouting.
Thankfully, Northern Lights Council spokesperson Cory Wrolstad said all eight troops expelled from Catholic parishes have a “good chance” of finding sponsorship from other faith communities, reported Crux.
Fellow North Dakotan Bishop John Folda instructed the Diocese of Fargo’s 13 Catholic-chartered troops to “select volunteers based on character and conduct consistent with those teachings.” A spokesperson would not clarify whether gay leaders would be allowed under this policy, reported the Jamestown Sun, though Folda expressed hopes that scouting remain a “viable option.”
In New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond offered a statement similar to that of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, encouraging Catholic-sponsored troops to keep functioning while ensuring leaders are “role models in loving our Catholic faith.”
In one respect, bishops’ statements about finding proper role models to be Scout leaders should certainly allow for openly gay men to be selected, especially as many are faith-filled and living lives of commitment and sacrifice. Yet, given the climate in the U.S. church in which LGBT people are being fired from church employment, the prospect for Catholic gay Scout leaders is slim.
If bishops don’t allow gay men as leaders, the future of Catholic scouting is in question, as New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo predicted two weeks ago in a Bondings 2.0 blog post:
“. . . [W]hat will happen to Catholic scouting if gay men–single or married–are not accepted as leaders in their local troops? As most troop leaders are parents of scouts, what will happen when a scout’s gay dad is not allowed to be a leader? In both these cases, I predict that parents and youth will vote with their feet and join another troop which does not discriminate.
“We already saw something like this in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming scouts. When one pastor in Illinois tried to separate the parish’s troop from the BSA, the parishioners and scouting parents strongly protested.”
Church leaders owe it to parishioners and Scouts to be honest and clear on whether openly gay leaders will be allowed. If they choose not to be inclusive, the future of Catholic scouting in question, which would be a great loss to the church, to Scouting, and to youth.
Perhaps the best option now is to follow Jesus’ lead and welcome all.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry