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Bishop advises cautious optimism for a Catholic future in Boy Scouts

A leading bishop in Catholic scouting says Catholics should continue to be involved in the Boy Scouts and work to ensure good youth outreach and consistency with Church teaching in response to a national policy change that allows gay leaders.

“We’re willing to see how this policy can work and how we can remain consistent with our Catholic teaching and continue to charter troops with the Boy Scouts of America. We think we can do that,” Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston told CNA July 28.

Bishop Guglielmone is a former chaplain for Catholic scouts worldwide, and an executive board member of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. The committee advises the Boy Scouts of America and works to strengthen the relationship between the Church and the scouting organization.

“Perhaps our approach as a Church should be one [of] cautious optimism, hoping that we will be able to use the programs of the Boy Scouts of America for our youth ministry, but that we would be able to do so in a way that is consistent with the teachings of the Church,” the bishop explained.

The Boy Scouts of America on July 27 approved a rule that no adult employee applicants or non-unit-serving volunteer who otherwise meets the organization’s requirements “may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.” The resolution says sexual relations between adults should be “moral, honorable, committed and respectful.”

The resolution also recognizes the right for each chartering organization to select its leaders, and bars local councils from denying a charter to a unit that is following its religious beliefs.

The scouting leadership cited several reasons to change the policy barring openly homosexual leaders and volunteers. These reasons included continued legal and political pressures, social changes, and a lack of agreement within the Boy Scouts.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting said July 27 that it is “not entirely clear” how the new policy will work in practice, but that the policy appears to respect the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations.

The committee expressed “strong concern” about the resolution’s practical implications, and whether the concept of sexual orientation will be “correctly understood and applied” in reference to sexual inclination, and not conduct.

The committee also voiced concern that the resolution “does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and wife in marriage.”

The committee encouraged a continued Catholic presence in scouting.

“If you are like us, you joined scouting to make a difference in the lives of others. Our youth don’t want to leave scouting. Catholic scouters like you are still very much needed,” it said.

Bishop Guglielmone similarly advocated Catholic participation in the Boy Scouts.

He said Catholic-chartered scouting units are “the only way we can have a direct influence” on Catholic youth involved in scouting.

At the same time, the bishop acknowledged there is no way Catholics can control the material in Boy Scout programs, merit badge material, and its Boys’ Life magazine.

“According to the discussions that we’ve had with the Boy Scouts of America, we’re looking to leave the areas of sexuality, sexual conduct, et cetera, in the hands of parents and churches,” he stated.

“We’re just going to have to see how that all plays out. Certainly, we hope that that’s exactly what they will do.”

Bishop Guglielmone voiced hope that as the Boy Scouts deal with such issues they will act in a way consistent with Catholic teaching. If the scouting organization does not, he said, then Catholics will have to address such situations.

Critics of the new policy include Richard John Matthews, a former general counsel for the Boy Scouts of America who is now general counsel for Trail Life USA, an alternative scouting organization formed after previous policy changes.

Matthews, writing in a July 22 memorandum, said that it was “only a matter of time” until the Boy Scouts of America incorporate LGBT approaches. He said the change creates “numerous legal ramifications” that would put religious-chartered troops and the churches which host them at risk of losing anti-discrimination lawsuits.

Bishop Guglielmone said he did not have the legal expertise to evaluate religious freedom concerns over whether Catholic-chartered groups will have constitutional legal protections from lawsuits and government action.

“I’m going to have to leave that to the experts both in the BSA, and certainly dioceses are going to have to do this with their own legal counsels,” he said. He thought that individual dioceses and churches will have to review the legal questions.

“We are hopeful that this can work,” he said.

At the same time, the bishop recognized that religious liberty has become a major issue in the U.S.

“Who’s to tell where all of this can go? Not only this issue, but look at all of the issues we are dealing with as a Church with regard to religious liberty.”

The group Scouts for Equality, which backed legal challenges to the previous Boy Scouts policy, said July 27 they have reservations “about individual units discriminating against gay adults.”

The Boy Scouts of America referred to a memo from the Hughes, Hubbard & Reed law firm that said that church-sponsored troops face a low risk of a lawsuit from homosexual activists seeking admission against church standards.

Boy Scout units which are not chartered by religious organizations could not exclude homosexuals from leadership, the law firm’s legal memo said. However, the Boy Scouts have pledged to support troops chartered by religious organizations.

According to Bishop Guglielmone, the policy change does not mean that leaders and volunteers in non-church chartered scout organizations and activities will be openly affirming same-sex relationships and behavior.

“According to Boy Scout policy, this may be the way they live their lives but they certainly shouldn’t be affirming these relationships and promoting the approach to these relationships,” the bishop said. “That would be contrary to Boy Scout policy. To have a same-sex attraction and to do what one is doing in one’s private life is one thing. But if they are promoting it or affirming it, that is contrary to what the policy states.”

The bishop also responded to the idea that the policy change could increase the risk of sexual abuse.

“I certainly can’t predict the future on this,” he said. However, he praised the Boy Scouts’ and the Church’s efforts to prevent sex abuse. The scouts’ child protection policies are “stellar,” he said. “I would trust very much the child protection situation.”

He also commented on concerns that an adult’s sexual attraction itself is a risk for abuse. He added: “because someone may have a same-sex attraction does not necessarily mean that the person would be a predator.”

There were about 2.4 million Boy Scouts members in 2014, though membership has been in decline. About 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are run by religiously-affiliated organizations, some of which do not reject homosexual behavior as immoral.

An earlier Boy Scouts of America policy change, which allowed the admission of homosexual scouts, contributed to the 2013 founding of the Troops of Saint George, a Catholic alternative scouting organization.


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