I am an Eagle Scout. I am a Vigil Honor Member of Scouting's National Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow. Scouting in many ways took care of me as a boy, and formed me into a man. As I grew, I eventually worked on summer camp staff at the local council's camp for 5 summers (the pay wasn't great), and also served on staff at the National Scout Jamboree (the pay was non-existent). While there were not a few occasions of getting into mischief along the way, nevertheless, I was formed in my conscience in a manner that reinforced Catholic beliefs, and also made relationships with my peers and elders that have lasted me a lifetime.
Since I have been working for the Church for the better part of a decade, my active involvement in Scouting has diminished, but I still keep in touch with old friends - if any of them needed me for any reason, I would not hesitate to drop what I was doing for them, and I know they would do the same for me. I would go so far as to say that the moral lessons, leadership skills, and the bonds of fraternity which I obtained through Scouting had a direct influence on my decision to serve the Church through pursuing an academic career in theology. Further, I know many Catholic Scouter priests who would say the same about their own experience as a boy, growing up in an environment which encouraged adventure and contemplation in the confines of the safe environment of the Scouting unit, and eventually led to their discernment of their call to the priesthood.
As a result of the decisions made by the National Scouting Office over the past two years, I have closely followed the developments in the Scouting policy towards the participation of those persons with homosexual tendencies, and reached out to friends who work within the professional structures that support Scouting in order to hear a bit more of the story.
Two years ago, the Scouting policy was changed in order that youths with homosexual inclinations might not be discriminated against, while at the same time reiterating the constant position of Scouting that sexual acts should only take place within the context of married relationships. At the time, there was a large outcry and a reaction from conservative Catholics which led to the establishment of various organizations that sought to duplicate Scouting in an explicitly Catholic context.
More recently, with the change in policy toward leaders, there has been not a little bit of a reaction from Catholics - most notably, the decision of the Bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck to discontinue the relationship of the diocese with all of the scout troops and packs which it sponsored. With all due respect to His Excellency, I would like to emphasize the word "reaction" in the decision to abandon the diocese's relationship with the Scouting movement.
The reason I think that these reactions are - at this present time - unwarranted is because I think they are founded upon a fundamental misunderstanding of how Scouting is organized. While it is true that there is a national organization that sets policies and guidelines for how the local organizations are to operate, Scouting is fundamentally based upon the principle of subsidiarity. Put more plainly, Scouting does not exist without chartered organizations to charter local units.
Chartered organizations in the BSA have, and have always had, the responsibility of selecting and approving the leaders who would be working with the youth in a manner which is consistent with the values of the chartering organization. This makes sense, because whether the chartered organization is a parish or community organization, most of the members of the local scout troop come from within the chartering organization. The District, Council, Regional, and National Scouting organizations fundamentally work to serve what is happening in the local scout troop, through which 99% of a scout's exposure to Scouting occurs, as is delineated in the Annual Charter Agreement.
The safeguard of the Chartered Organization for the Boy Scouts of America is and will remain a bulwark against unwelcome outside influence, whether that is ethical or political, in the devious battle that is happening in America. Naturally, the progressive movement has a heavily vested interest in gaining influence through the youth movements. While the Girl Scouts have been in bed with the likes of Planned Parenthood for decades, the Boy Scouts have tended toward being more conservative.
This brings us to the difficult political situation in our climate today. Though I can't agree with the decisions of the Scouting organization regarding adults with homosexual inclinations, I do have sympathy for their position regarding troubled youth - what better place to help them develop a healthy respect for themselves and grow into men who are able to function well in spite of their deviant inclinations? Is this not the opportunity to provide a young boy with the love that is so evidently lacking in his home environment?
Nevertheless, Scouting is not a religious organization, and is not protected in the same way (however little) that the Catholic Church might be protected in the public discourse. I think that the decision by the National organization was ultimately a political one, an attempt to find a middle way. At the same time, they have reiterated the autonomy of the Chartered Organization as possessing the real power to carry out the policy in accordance with their own beliefs and to choose the best leaders to create a safe environment for the youths in their care.
And so we come to the question of political prudence of how we as the Catholic Church should best interact in a pluralistic environment. Some have decided isolation is the best course, and have opted to set up alternatives to Scouting. I think this is imprudent, first of all, because of my experience with small and poor, but well-meaning Catholic initiatives, which lack real professional leadership and ultimately abuse their volunteers by stretching them too thin or asking too much of them to the point where the bad outweighs the good that is trying to be accomplished. Second, because the Tribes of St. Edward, or whatever, do not have the tradition and the respect in the public sphere which the Boy Scouts of America hold. As a small example, when an Eagle Scout enlists into military service, they are given a bump in rate to an E-3 from day one, which gives a great start to a future military career. Surely, the Tribes of St. Edward don't have the ability to influence the life of a lay man in his career living in the world in the manner that the Boy Scouts do.
More importantly, I think that members of the Church are being naive in taking a stand with the actions of the Boy Scouts. We aren't forming alternative little league organizations, or telling our Catholic state representatives to resign, or insisting that our public school teachers fall on their swords - why should we abandon the most influential youth movement in the world, and leave it to the mechanations of this world?
This is not to say that remaining with the Scouts is for the faint of heart. We need men who are prudent, just, temperate, and above all, men with fortitude to continue working with Catholic Scout Troops in order to weather the storm that is to come. Practically speaking, we should not be abandoning the local scout troops, but reinforcing them with greater support and oversight, both at the Diocesan and Bishop's Conference level. At this defining moment in American history, we don't need people to abandon our youth, but rather, we need lay men, priests, and bishops to double-down in their efforts. This will be hard work, but if in the process the opportunity can be provided to adequately form boys into men of virtue and fear of the Lord, then surely it is worth it.