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Thoughts for Catholics impacted by the Boy Scouts of America membership policies

May 26, 2013

Two groups of Catholics are directly impacted by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to formally admit as scouts youth who profess a same-sex orientation, namely, Catholic sponsoring organizations and Catholic scouts and their families. As always (See Disclaimer no. 1 to the right), I speak only for myself in what follows.

Part One, whether Catholic organizations may sponsor Boy Scouts.

Preliminary points. First, the Church’s absolute rejection of homosexual acts and her description of same-sex attraction as objectively “disordered” (CCC 2357) is not subject to question among Catholics. Second, the Church calls on persons who experience same-sex attraction “to fulfill God’s will in their lives” (CCC 2358) and to practice chastity (CCC 2359) which, for them as for all unmarried persons, connotes complete continence (CCC 2349-2350). Third, the Church warns society to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” against those who experience same-sex attraction (CCC 2358).

Now, the policy adopted by the Boy Scouts states in pertinent part: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Immediate observations. First, the policy applies only to youth members (males aged 11 thru 17 and, I assume, single), not to adult leaders who, per the Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts v. Dale (2000)—a case that I think was decided correctly—are excluded based on a same-sex orientation. Second, on its face the policy applies only to membership in the Boy Scouts and not necessarily to participation in all Boy Scout activities; intentionally or not, this narrow phrasing seems to leave open some questions about how a membership policy might be applied to reasonable concerns over participation in certain activities. Third, nothing in the new policy or in Boy Scout literature endorses or advocates the gay life style; in fact all members are prohibited from using the Boy Scouts to promote “any social or political position or agenda”.

These three points being noted, the revised policy may be scrutinized from a Catholic point-of-view as follows.

(1) Granted that the non-discrimination principle outlined in CCC 2358 rings platitudinously (for “unjust discrimination” is never licit!), if the principle therein means anything—and I think it does—it means that the burden of proof lies on those who would discriminate against persons experiencing same-sex attraction to justify that discrimination.

Now in some respects discrimination (e.g., refusing to recognize “same-sex marriage” or prohibiting the admission of homosexuals to seminary) can and should be defended among Catholics. But, that same-sex attraction itself (which is the only factor addressed by the policy), should bar membership (which is the only application of the policy) in a secular organization seems difficult to argue; to propose further that maintaining such a bar is a litmus test for Catholic sponsorship of an organization seems even less tenable. Consider: same-sex attraction, standing alone, does not prohibit one from being a fully initiated Catholic. To argue, therefore, that, say, a Catholic parish must hold a sponsored organization to a higher membership standard than it holds itself to is at best anomalous.

(2) An official statement accompanying the new policy “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.” Such a statement, oft repeated, seems wholly in-line with sound Catholic teaching against sexual activity outside of marriage and stands in welcome contrast to the indifference toward premarital sex shown by some other youth organizations let alone to some group’s partnering with the likes of Planned Parenthood. Indeed, aside from youth programs expressly oriented toward chastity, I know of no other secular organization that so clearly declares all sexual conduct by its youth members to be contrary to its values as does the Boy Scouts.

In my opinion, these two points suffice to relieve Catholic organizations from concerns that their sponsorship of the Boy Scouts is, at least at present, incompatible with Church teaching on human sexuality.

Part Two, whether Catholic organizations or individuals may dissociate themselves from Boy Scouts without fear of giving bad example to others.

At one level, this one is easy: there is no obligation to sponsor or join Boy Scouts in the first place, so there is no objection to refraining from or cancelling sponsorship and/or membership in the Boy Scouts. But would such disassociation give “a sign” of unjust discrimination against homosexuals?

I think not.

My decade-long experience of Scouting (Eagle, 1975) was a healthy and entirely “sex-free” adventure. Part of the angst, even anger, that one sees in the wake of the recent Boy Scout decision is really, I suspect, distress over the fact that, now, the almost unique opportunity that the Boy Scouts offered—namely, space for boys to be boys (and not, as society increasingly treats them, as actual or prospective participants in sexually-tinged interactions)—seems compromised.

Scouting requires serious commitments of time, talent, and treasure. If Catholic sponsoring organizations and/or member families can’t conclude that the Boy Scouts are able (perhaps through no fault of their own) to deliver a youth program that actually operates within the parameters expressly (and I think defensibly) asserted by the Boy Scouts, then those Catholic organizations and families will likely decide that burdens of Boy Scout affiliation exceed the benefits.

But, unless and until that conclusion is demonstrated on the evidence (and not largely on predictions), and notwithstanding that some elements of the gay lobby are likely treating the Boy Scouts as pawns in their own wider projects, I think that Catholics may, and should, take the Boy Scouts at their word.

For now, at any rate.

Update, 28 May 2013: Some remarks a few days into this controversy.

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