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Catholic leaders urge support for Boy Scouts after shift on gays

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Boy Scout Memorial in Penn Quarter - Washington, D.C. photo courtesy Ted Eytan via Flickr (

(RNS) The U.S. Catholic Church’s top liaison to the Boy Scouts of America is telling Catholic Scout leaders and troop sponsors that the BSA’s new policy welcoming gay Scouts “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching” and they should continue to support scouting programs.

boy scout

Boy Scout Memorial in Penn Quarter – Washington, D.C. photo courtesy Ted Eytan via Flickr (

“Scouting is still the best youth-serving program available to all youth,” Edward P. Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, wrote in a May 29 letter addressed to “fellow Catholic Scouters.”

“We should be encouraged that the change in BSA’s youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching,” Martin said, asking that “Catholic Scouters and chartered organization heads not rush to judgment.”

Martin said that despite some concerns, the NCCS had taken a neutral stance on a resolution adopted on May 23 by the BSA’s National Council.

In balloting that was seen as a potential watershed in the culture wars, more than 60 percent of the 1,400 members of the BSA council voted to allow gay Scouts while still barring gay men from being Scout leaders. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.

Martin said that in the week following the vote, he and his colleagues consulted with the BSA, with other faith-based Scouting groups and with Catholic experts, and weighed feedback on social media before declaring themselves satisfied that the new policy would not conflict with Catholic teaching.

One of the experts Martin cited was Edward Peters, a canon lawyer popular with church conservatives who wrote that while he disliked the new policy it was not contrary to church doctrine.

Martin noted that Scouting policies still bar sexual activity of any kind, and that the Boy Scouts are still a religiously oriented group that prohibits members from promoting “any social or political position or agenda.” He also noted that many young Catholics themselves do not want to leave the Boy Scouts.

Martin’s comments will come as a relief to the BSA, because religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations and many fear the new policy could split American scouting. The Roman Catholic Church, which is the BSA’s third-largest sponsor, accounts for about 10 percent of the national total of 2.6 million Scouts. Mormons are the top sponsors, followed by United Methodists.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the Mormons – has already signaled that it does not object to the new policy and United Methodist Scouting officials said they would continue to support the BSA. On the other side, Southern Baptists and other evangelical and conservative Christian groups have raised strong objections to the move and some have said they will explore alternatives to the Boy Scouts.

Martin’s letter may also be important in heading off a potential split within the Catholic Church over the new BSA policy.

Following the vote, a number of Catholics said the church should sever its ties with the BSA and launch alternative scouting groups. The Sunday after the BSA decision, the Rev. Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton, Wash., announced that he was closing the parish’s scouting program in a lengthy broadside that called gays “loser men” and listed widely discredited reasons why some men are gay.

But most Catholics appear to be supportive of the move, and church leaders seem willing to find an accommodation given that Scouting is such a popular way of keeping boys connected to church.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., who is the hierarchy’s official adviser to the NCCS, attended the May 23 meeting of the BSA and said afterward that while he was “not particularly encouraged” by the vote “we can live with it.”

Since most boys are going to stay no matter what happens, Guglielmone told the National Catholic Register, “We have a real obligation to stay in dialogue and to stay connected to the program.”

But he warned the BSA that “if it gets to the point where some of our basic issues are threatened – such as being able to pick leaders for Catholic chartered groups or in diminishing the role of religion and God – then we will have to re-evaluate our participation in the program at that time.”

Each bishop can decide whether the new membership policy is acceptable. Guglielmone has written to every U.S. bishop, and Martin said the NCCS would develop a plan to ensure “a consistent message is delivered to dioceses, parishes, Catholic Scouters and the media” on the church’s views about allowing gay Scouts.


Photo courtesy Ted Eytan via Flickr

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • I am not defending Lappe, but I don’t think he was calling gays “loser men,” he was calling their fathers this. Because the purported research he cited correlates male homosexuality with divorce of the parents; alienation from a hostile, distant, violent or alcoholic father; the father did not encourage same-sex identification like “rough and tumble play,” “team sports,” and “hand/eye coordination.”

  • Hi. One note: I did not express “like” or “dislike” for the new BSA policy. I simply assessed it in terms of Catholic moral norms, and concluded that it passed muster. Best, edp.

  • I guess it’s okay to NOT raise your kids Catholic either cause the Vatican said so! Bet it passes God’s moral norms too, Ed! Keep it up you sons of perdition who serve your father the devil– instead of taking out the male sexual predators masquerading as priests in the Catholic Church, you FATHERS, for MONEY prop them up! Hope you enjoy hell!

  • Stop holding back. Tell us how you really feel. It’s not good to keep pent up feelings.

  • These confused kids need positive role models. Hopefully by not throwing them to the wolves they will learn that their sexual attractions are not thieridentity and that there is a better way to deal with them than surrendering to them and living sinfully. The more Godly people these kids are around the better.

  • Nowhere does Fr. Lappe call homosexuals “loser men.” This is at best a failure of reading comprehension on the author’s part, at worst, a tendentious lie.

  • Staying connected to the Scouts in order to provide good role models for them, and keeping a Catholic connection is NOT the same as leaving our boys in Scouting. Ed Peters’ article acknowledged as much. For us parents, the primary task is to protect our children and raise them in the faith. This move by the Scouts, while it technically acceptable by the standards of Catholic teaching, marks a sea change in Scouting and its purpose and mission. Homosexual Scouts were not excluded before now: no one in Scouts ever asked my boys if they were gay. You have to ask yourself, why was so much pressure suddenly brought – within and from outside Scouts- to make this change? And, what will be the results, for all intents and purposes?

  • This incident is one of the best examples showing the so-Catholic bishops are as Catholics as my shoes when comes to upholding the eternal moral doctrine of the Church. Only the Traditionalists are still Catholic. The official Church on its way to full apostasy.

  • BSA acceptance of homosexual boys and even BSA acceptance of homosexual adults is not the real goal. BSA acceptance of oral sex, anal sex and other homosexual conduct as natural moral acts under the Scout Oath and Law is the real goal. Roger T Yokubaitis Houston, Texas Eagle Scout 1960 Order of the Arrow Vigil Honor 1962

  • The BSA did expel members if their sexual orientation as gay were known. No, they didn’t go asking every member if he were gay, but if leaders became aware a member was gay (newspaper, rumors leading to a direct question, self-announcement, etc.), then the rules required the member be expelled. There are two ways to have an anti-gay policy – one is to question each member, another is to expel members when their gay orientation becomes known. The BSA used the later method, but know it has rejected both.

  • I don’t understand how Roman Catholic doctrine is compatible with openly gay boy scouts. Would someone enlighten me? It seems that if Church “leaders” are rushing out to embrace the change then it is just more evidence of the weak-kneed confused belief system in the Church that has resulted in massive numbers of Catholics leaving the Church and not supporting or contributing to it.

  • When the bishops of the Church abandon the Faith, to whom are we laymen to turn?

    Perhaps God has abandoned us. If so, it is our duty as Catholics to cling to the Church’s teachings and accept the persecution from Caesar, and from our own bishops in silence as a reparation for our sins and the sins of our society.

    The Church teaches and has always taught that homosexuality, which we once called by the honest name sodomy, is a filthy, mortal sin. It remains such, even if all the bishops and even the pope disagree, May God forgive you and all those in the Church whom have turned their backs on the clear moral teaching of the Church regarding homosexuality.

  • Amen to Frank’s comments! As the mother of a man with SSA….he was in the BSA and his dad was with him on camping trips, etc. just because his dad enjoyed being with him! This was a boy….he had male role models at this time of his life….he did things that were challenging to him as a male. Again, Amen! to y our comments Frank….are others so blind they do not see this??????

  • Ed,
    When you read in the next few years about all the scouts abused by these evil young people, know that you are fully responsible. There is no middle ground with this issue. The bishops are traitors to Scripture. No true cleric could support such a position. The corruption of the Catholic church goes on.

  • While many devout Catholics, BSA leaders, and members will disagree with the revised BSA policy, the BSA remains an outstanding organization dedicated to providing educational, leadership, personal, and spiritual growth opportunities for youth worldwide. I believe this is at the heart of the decision by the NCCS to allow continued participation and sponsorship of the BSA despite the inherent conflict between the new policy and Catholic catechism, for no better framework exists today than the BSA to help establish sound moral values, encourage spiritual introspection, and guide youth toward a firmer understanding of, and commitment to, their duty to God, their obligation to themselves to remain Morally Straight, and to uphold their personal Honor as a member of the BSA.

  • It seems that if the Catholic Church takes positions or supports viewpoints that are contrary to its basic tenets and beliefs then it runs the risk of not being taken seriously or believed by anybody. The future of the Church seems, unfortunately, comparable to a toothless, clawless, old senile lion lying in the dust waiting to give up its spirit.

  • In all religions, the motivation to change originates at the bottom rather than the top of the hierarchy. When religions split, the top never thinks it’s a good idea. The splits originate at the bottom. The catholic bishops and all the other religions (except maybe baptists) are scrambling to try to get in the lead on this gay boy scout issue.
    We have a nice window here on how religions evolve, following the masses.

  • Personally, I am disappointed in the BSA’s political acquiescence in this area. However, all those who are questioning the Catholic Church’s policy in this area really need to study the Catechism. Paragraphs 2357-2359 are specifically about homosexuality. Here are some excerpts “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered…Under no circumstances can they be approved…The number of men & women who have deepseated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…they [the people, NOT homosexual acts] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives…Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom…they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” So yes, the new policy–in accepting boys who may identify with same-sex attraction–is in full harmony with Church teaching in theory. HOWEVER, I am concerned with how this will pan out in practice. The boys just entering Boy Scouts are still in 5th grade if they enter right out of Webelos, much too young to be subjected to older Scouts (their troop leaders, etc) who have identified with SSA and have not exactly reached Christian perfection as models of chastity…as a parent of young boys, this is my concern. It is difficult, though, since IF one of my sons were to identify with SSA at some point, it would be nice to know there were still moral societies of which he could take part and have good role models. This is where the adult leadership needs to be extra vigilant in making mature decisions, and stopping any/all “sexual” talk that may arise in the ranks, be it hetero or homosexual. There is simply no room in Scouts for that, even if it is “normal” guy talk.

  • We all know where this is heading. The BSA is supposedly going to let an avowed and proud homosexual scout remain in the organization until he is 18 and then kick him out if he applies to continue as a scout leader. This will be found unconstitutional by the courts and the BSA knows it. That means the eventual forced acceptance of homosexual scout leaders. What will the Catholic Church bishops say then – especially after their own huge scandal of priestly sexual abuse. They seem to forget that over 80% of the abuse victims were post-pubescent males, exactly the same age as boy scouts. In truth, this wasn’t a pedophile scandal. It was a homosexual scandal and the Church knows it but seems to be willing to allow this to happen all over again with the scouts. After all, church teaching seems to suggest that we give an avowed homosexual scout leader the benefit of the doubt that he is and will remain sexually chaste around the boys – right? Just like they gave all of their homosexual priests the benefit of the doubt that they would remain celibate. That reasoning cost the Church 100’s of victims and millions of dollars.
    Is that a chance scouting parents want to take with their sons? God help them.

  • This is exceptionally irresponsible, and I will be writing to the head of the NCCS. A canon lawyer is NOT an authority on the teaching of the Catholic Church, and in fact the BSA policy reflect only the secular world. The Catholic Church does NOT approve of labeling of a person with same sex attraction. The comments by these to men only reflect the admission policy, but the policy is written by men who have ordered thinking and they do not understand the mind of a gay man.

  • A better framework IS being developed for a Catholic Only Scouting program. Check it out at This will be an excellent alternative to boys and their fathers who want to partake in outdoor camping and survival skills with a focus on fathers stepping up and leading their sons in their formation.

  • At least in my experience in scouting, we never had boys turn 18 and go directly to being leaders. With one exception all the scout leaders I had were married men, in their late 20s or older, and the one unmarried scout leader I had was not a teenager either.

    The Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of the boy scouts excluding homosexuals as leaders. Anyway, the boy scouts allow sexually active men (at least when married) as leaders, but specifically teach against any sexual activity by boys.

  • There is no evidence that blocking a Scout’s advancement to Eagle upon “discovering” the kid is homosexual, did anything to help the kid, or Scouting.

    Lots of evidence such a witch hunt mentality hurt Scouting recruitment.

    No organization should be booting out teenagers who claim to be gay, for that alone; no organization should be querying kids under the age 14 (or maybe 18) about their orientation. That includes churches, IMHO.

  • How can Catholics adhere to the Scout Oath when homosexuality is, FOR CERTAIN, stated to be a sin in the Bible and considered to be an abomination to God. The Catholic Church can no longer profess to be righteous. The Catholic church is definitely sstraying away from Christianity in terms of its purity toward God’s word.

  • Gibson you are a liar. Nowhere does this holy priest state that men suffering from same sex attraction are losers. Also, the list of possible reasons for homosexuality he gives are NOT discredited by authentic researchers and doctors, but only by miscreants such as yourself who want only to normalize homosexuality and homosexual acts.

  • Do you really think “adult leadership” is present at each and every chat or conversation? Get real. This is a satanic path the BSA and the so called representatives of the church are taking.

  • All people (including gay people) should be able to do boy scouts. This is an unacceptable law that should be change asap (stat however you say it).

    P.S. I am not trying to offend people

  • John, out of all the comments I read, you said it best. Heaven forbid BSA ever allows homosexual leaders. It will be the end of BSA; at least a moral one.

  • Why is it not surprising that the catholic leadership is not opposed to homosexuals mentoring young boys? A certain church scandal comes to mind……