June 02, 2011

The good about Girl Scouting, and a caution

By Bishop James D. Conley *
For many Catholics, Scouting is one of the best memories of childhood — and for good reason. It’s a time of fun, friendship and adventure. That was certainly my own Boy Scout experience.

At its best, Scouting forms the young person in a spirit of service. It creates a sense of duty to the wider community.  It also builds character and cultivates civic virtue.

So it’s no surprise that many Catholic parishes sponsor Boy and Girl Scout troops. And they’ve done so, with great results, for decades. Plus, when it comes to the Girl Scouts, who can argue with the best cookies in the world?

Over the past year though, a growing number of Catholic parents and youth ministers have shared a concern with me. And it deserves some discussion.

Their unease involves the Girl Scouts, and especially the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

Youth ministers are quick to note that Scouting’s structure allows for a lot of autonomy. Girls make up local troops. Troops make up councils. And nationwide councils make up Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA).

GSUSA and a few other large organizations make up WAGGGS. Each local council or troop determines what’s appropriate for its specific needs. Each troop leader decides what members see.

Nonetheless, what happens at the international and national levels of Scouting has an important trickle-down effect. This is exactly why “pro-choice” organizations have worked to develop connections with the Scouting movement.

Parents would be wise to spend some serious time browsing the WAGGGS (www.wagggsworld.org) and GSUSA websites, following the links they find there, and examining for themselves how these organizations deal with sexuality, “choice” and reproductive issues. It may be a sobering experience.

As one youth minister recently wrote:

“It’s hard to imagine that a girl who remains involved with Girl Scouts into young adulthood won’t eventually learn of the connections her organization has with ‘pro-choice’, pro-contraception and ‘reproductive freedom’ groups.

Having been influenced by GSUSA, she’ll be more receptive to this agenda. And if she was introduced to GSUSA through her parents and her local parish, then that will inevitably create contradictions between her Catholic faith and her Scouting experience.”

The many good things offered by Girl Scouting in Colorado deserve praise from the Catholic community. Scouting and the Church have always had, and hopefully will continue to have for many years, a very positive relationship.

But parents, as the primary educators of their children, have every right to insist that their beliefs, especially their moral and religious beliefs, be respected — not undermined — by the organizations to which they entrust their children.

Parents need to remain alert to the content of their daughters’ activities. And Catholics involved in the Girl Scouting movement should make it clear to leadership that Scouting is only a means to an end — the proper formation of young character.

It’s not an end in itself; and should Scouting ever fail in that proper formation, other groups can be found or formed to take its place.

Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.
The Most Rev. James D. Conley served as the auxiliary Bishop for the Denver Archdiocese from April of 2008 until November of 2012, and during this time also served as Apostolic Administrator for Denver from September 2011 until July 2012. Bishop Conley is currently the Bishop of the Lincoln diocese.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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