The decision by the Boy Scouts to include homosexual Scout members has opened a new front in the Catholic culture wars as increasing numbers of Catholic pastors are withdrawing their support for parish-based Boy Scout troops, while progressive Catholic organizations and newspapers are describing the pastors' decisions as "bigoted." This is not a small issue as Catholic churches sponsor about 10 percent of all Scout troops in the country. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops even has an official episcopal liaison to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.
The latest battle began when the Rev. Derek Lappe, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Bremerton, Wash., posted a letter to parishioners on the parish website May 26 that criticized the new Boy Scout policy of including openly gay Scouts. In his letter, Father Lappe advised parishioners of his intention to "part ways" with the Boy Scouts, saying that he did not believe it is "possible for us to live out and to teach the authentic truth about human sexuality within the confines of the Boy Scout's new policy."
Father Lappe is not the only pastor to withdraw support for parish-based Scout troops. The Rev. Brian Grady, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in the Diocese of Chicago, cut ties with the Scouts in his parish and wrote on his parish website that "the Scouts are condoning homosexuality, which the Church opposes." Also, the Rev. Richard Perozich of the Diocese of San Diego wrote that he "would not allow a child under my care to be near either another child or an adult who identifies with, encourages acceptance of, or practices homosexuality we have withdrawn financial aid but will support [the Scouts] with prayer."
In an angry response posted on May 31 on the website of the progressive organization, Catholics United, executive director James Salt called the decision "bigoted" and "bullying," and organized an online petition asking Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to "help bring healing to innocent kids and hurting souls who deserve better than bullying." Mr. Salt also attacked the Catholic Church itself as a "harbor for bigotry and shaming." He accompanied his online diatribe with a large picture of a Boy Scout with his mouth covered with tape and a caption stating, "Stop the anti-gay bigotry in parishes!"
Complicating the culture wars within the church is the fact that some Catholic lay leaders — with ties to the conference of bishops — stated publicly that the Boy Scouts' new policy is acceptable to the church. On June 6, the National Catholic Reporter noted that Edward Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, an organization of Catholic laity and clergy that has acted in an advisory role to the Boy Scouts of America and a liaison to the conference of bishops since 1934, took a "neutral stance" with regard to the change in policy. Mr. Martin wrote in a May 29 letter addressed to fellow Catholic Scouts that "[W]e should be encouraged that the change in Boy Scouts of America's youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching."
While Mr. Martin is correct that the church teaches that homosexual persons are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of our love and respect, the catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches that same-sex attraction in and of itself is disordered, and that engaging in homosexual behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of church. The celebration of a homosexual identity by uniformed Boy Scouts and their scoutmaster as they participated in the Utah Gay Pride parade in Salt Lake City earlier this month is likely a harbinger of what is to come for the Scouts — creating confusion for Catholic parish-based Scout troops and conflict within the church.
Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.