Girl Scouts in troubling 'conflict' with Catholic values, leader says

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A Girl Scout loses her balance in her camp chair around a pretend campfire as U.S. President Barack Obama and the first lady welcome the scouts to a camp-out on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington June 30, 2015. A group of 50 fourth-grade Girl Scouts spent the night in camping tents on the lawn, a celebration of the scouting movement and the National Park Service centennial. | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

ST. LOUIS (Christian Examiner) – The archbishop of St. Louis has instructed Catholic parishes in the diocese to evaluate whether or not the Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) are in "conflict with Catholic values."

In a letter last Thursday (Feb. 18), Archbishop Robert Carlson claims the organization – founded in 1912 – is exhibiting "a troubling pattern of behavior and it is clear to me that as they move in the ways of the world it is becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values."

"We must stop and ask ourselves — is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?"

Carlson said the archdiocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had been investigating the GSUSA for several years, believing that they had drifted too far away from accepted Catholic social positions to be of further use for the instruction of young Catholic girls. He claimed the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) promoted contraception as a means of birth control and "reproductive rights" for those who were legally minors.

He also wrote that the Girl Scouts continued to maintain association with female leaders – such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan – who promote values inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Steinem is a noted feminist. Friedan is author of the Feminine Mystique and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).

"In addition, recent concerns about GSUSA and their position on and inclusion of transgender and homosexual issues are proving problematic," Carlson wrote. "Our culture is becoming increasingly intolerant of a Catholic worldview regarding these issues. While Catholics are called to treat all people with compassion and mercy, we must at the same time be mindful of whom we allow to teach and form our youth and the messages they present."

Carlson acknowledged in the letter that the Girl Scouts are a secular organization with no direct link to the Catholic Church, and they, he said, are "not obliged to uphold the teachings of our faith."

However, he added, the group's "troubling pattern of behavior" and its leftward drift are making it "increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values."

In addition to lamenting the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles by Girl Scout leaders, Carlson also expressed regret the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had made similar moves by adopting policies first to allow gay scouts to participate, and last year lifting the ban on gay adult scout leaders. The Catholic Church reportedly decided to allow BSA programs in its parishes to continue since the BSA's new rules on adult leaders left the hiring of adult leaders with the churches which chartered the scouting units.

As for the Girl Scouts, Carslon said he takes the situation seriously.

"Therefore, I am asking each pastor that allows Girl Scout troops to meet on parish property to conduct a meeting with troop leadership to review these concerns and discuss implementing alternative options for the formation of our girls. Our primary obligation is to help our girls grow as women of God," Carlson wrote.

Carlson then wrote that he was disbanding the Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts and forming a new committee to help build character and moral clarity among young Catholic women – the Catholic Committee for Girls Formation.

Gabe Jones, spokesman for the archdiocese, later said that if a Catholic priest decides his parish is better served by disassociating it from the Girl Scouts, he has the authority to make a change and provide alternative avenues of service and learning for the girls.

On Feb. 19, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri's CEO Bonnie Barczykowski issued a formal response to the archbishop's letter.

"Although we are a secular organization, we greatly value our long-standing partnerships with religious organizations across many faiths," Barczykowski wrote. "We provide the opportunities for girls to build leadership skills that when combined with their faith formation develop them into strong women, who will lead in their homes, communities, our country and our world."

On the Girl Scouts website, the group denied any claim that it had a direct affiliation or partnership with any abortion provider, such as Planned Parenthood. It also denied an organic connection between it and the WAGGGS. It did, however, claim that the Girl Scouts (USA) is an "inclusive organization," or one accepting of lesbian leaders and scouts.

The website also contained two form letter responses to the archbishop's letter, one for a local scout leader and another for a "supporter" of the Girl Scouts. The letters are available for download and only require the sender to fill in their name and address.

Like the BSA, the Girl Scouts continue to hemorrhage memberships. In its 2010 annual report, it listed a total membership of 3.18 million (2.33 million were scouts; the remainder were adult leaders). In its 2014 annual report, that number had dropped to 2.8 million.

Current figures provided on the organization's website indicate further decline in 2015. The Girl Scouts now claim only 2.7 million members.