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The Catholic Church and the Girl Scouts: A scandalous mess

Mary Hasson

Sometimes even the Washington Post gets it right.

Last week the pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, made national news. He banned the Girl Scouts from his parish because of the Girl Scouts’ connections to pro-abortion groups, including the international scouting group, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

A Washington Post writer, who called the parish decision “extreme,” rode to the Scouts’ defense, arguing that the “Girl Scouts say explicitly, repeatedly, at the neighborhood, regional and national level, that they have no stance on birth control or abortion.”

Now that’s not the part the Post got right. The Post columnist is dead wrong on the underlying facts because, while it’s true that the Scouts say they take no official position on birth control and abortion, it’s what they do that’s a problem.

Numerous sources -- including former Girl Scouts, Scout leaders, and pro-life leaders -- have documented hundreds of examples of the Girl Scouts promoting pro-abortion and LGBT resources, recommending sexually explicit books and movies, highlighting pro-abortion leaders and lesbians as role models, partnering with LGBT and pro-abortion activist groups, including Planned Parenthood, and referring girls to pro-abortion organizations to learn about “advocacy” (a pet word in the new Girl Scouts).

Consider: New York’s Real Life, Real Talk sex education program, “initiated by Planned Parenthood,” partners with the NYPENN Girl Scouts; The Girl Scouts’ curriculum (Journey books) promotes the Scouts’ “sisterhood” with pro-abortion WAGGGS (WAGGGS CEO Mary McPhail led the radical, pro-abortion European Women’s Lobby before joining WAGGGS, and a 2010 International Planned Parenthood Federation report, p. 13, credits Planned Parenthood’s “close relationship” with WAGGGS for Planned Parenthood’s success in promoting sex and abortion to youth). In Chicago this July, GSUSA will co-host the Girls’ World Forum 2012 with WAGGGS, to “develop action steps” supporting the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG #5 supports abortion and adolescent sex). See more here.

The Girl Scouts (GSUSA) has yet to refute even one piece of documented evidence.

They can’t.

And the Scouts’ general denials highlight the contradiction between what they say and what they do. The bottom line: the Girl Scouts seem to have a truth-in-labeling problem. Parents—and sponsoring churches like St. Timothy--are right to protest the deception and pull their girls out of the organization.

So what, then, did the Washington Post columnist “get right”?

The Post columnist inadvertently shone the spotlight on why the Catholic Church has a Girl Scout problem: the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM).

According to the Post, “Another defender of the scouts is the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, a group that ought to have some credibility with Catholics. It’s an official church organization and has been actively investigating — and mostly refuting — the accusations for several years…The federation’s Web site devotes a page to knocking down rumors. Girl Scouts support Planned Parenthood? ‘Not true,’ the federation says.”

Thank you for shining that light on the NFCYM, Mr. Columnist.

But let’s get the facts straight. First, the NFCYM does not have a track record of “investigating” the Girl Scouts’ problematic ties and activities; it has a track record of whitewashing them. Second, resources promoted on the NFCYM’s website and in the NFCYM Executive Director’s book on Catholic youth advocacy suggest that the NFCYM has little “credibility” to speak to the Church on these issues.

First, the NFCYM track record. When parishes, dioceses, and parents want to know if the Girl Scouts support contraception, teen sex, or abortion (or partner with organizations that do), they ask the NFCYM, or its subsidiary, the National Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts and Camp Fire. Although the NFCYM has never conducted or commissioned a rigorous, independent investigation of the Scouts, it reflexively picks up its Girl Scout megaphone and shouts, “Not true!” It reports Girl Scouts’ denials as fact.

In its 2011 “Position Statement” on the Girl Scouts, the NFCYM declared itself “satisfied” with GSUSA denials. Further, the NFCYM decided that the Scouts’ “official statement clarifying their relationship with WAGGGS and Planned Parenthood…and emphasiz[ing] the primacy of parents’” authority on sexual topics sufficed to end the discussion. The NFCYM “investigated” no further than the words on the Girl Scouts’ printed page.

No sense checking the facts. (Scouts’ honor, right?)

Not one of the Google-topping websites created by former Girl Scouts, concerned parents, and troop leaders to document the Girl Scouts’ problems has received any inquiries or corrections from Bob McCarty, NFCYM’s Executive Director, or from the Scouts. Ever. Will McCarty specify which of their links, statements, or page scans are “not true?” Does anyone at NFCYM even realize how much evidence contradicts the Girl Scouts’ denials? Does NFCYM recognize the ideology driving the Scouts’ leadership?

The deep documentation on the whistleblowers’ websites is a damning indictment of the Girl Scouts. It’s also a damning indictment of the NFCYM—for its failure to investigate allegations about the Scouts.

Perhaps the NFCYM won’t address the facts because it thinks they don’t really matter. In my second interview with Bob McCarty (November 2011), I asked him about the Girl Scouts’ relationship with pro-abortion WAGGGS: the Girl Scouts fund WAGGGS (over a million dollars annually); the GSUSA website and materials routinely promote WAGGGS; Scouts typically wear a WAGGGS pin, signifying their sisterhood; and the Girl Scouts promote WAGGGS’ international “cabanas” and advocacy training programs as the ultimate destination for senior Girl Scouts. Bob was untroubled, dismissing those points because, “Catholic youth ministry is not in relationship with WAGGGS.”

It’s as if NFCYM’s priority is the paper trail that gets the Scouts off the hook and keeps the bishops out of their hair. One former Girl Scout mom wonders, “Why so little concern for the girls?” Girls who, for example, might innocently read the Girl Scout-recommended book, the Gate to Women’s Country, with its explicit descriptions of brutal sex and distorted relationships. Or who might be invited to attend a WAGGGS abortion-advocacy event as the culmination of their Girl Scout training.

In the Washington Post article, McCarty minimizes parents’ concerns about the relationships between the Girl Scouts and WAGGGS, Planned Parenthood, or other pro-abortion groups. “It’s the whole thing of guilt by association,” McCarty says. “Does one policy with which you can’t agree prevent you from being involved in broader coalitions?”

Yes, Bob, at times it should. I suggest that an organization’s pro-abortion stance is not just “one policy with which you can’t agree.” Respect for life---from conception to natural death--is so fundamental to the Catholic view of the human person and to Catholic moral principles that an organization that advocates against that principle should be disqualified from sponsorship by a Catholic parish—and from running character-shaping activities for Catholic girls.

The NFCYM disagrees. Which brings me to my second point: the NFCYM and its Executive Director, Bob McCarty, have little credibility to judge whether the Girl Scouts’ resources, relationships, and role-models offend Catholic standards. The NFCYM website and McCarty’s book contain similar problems.

McCarty’s book, Be a Champion of Youth: Standing With, By, and For Young People (co-authored with his wife, Maggie Wilson McCarty), draws on his NFCYM experience to promote “youth advocacy.” But Bob’s book relies on and recommends an organization that he says, “(P)rovides information on peer education, youth development, and youth-adult partnerships. It also provides excellent resources for actively involving young people in their own learning.”

The organization: the pro-abortion Advocates for Youth, formerly known as the Center for Population Options.

In contrast to McCarty’s sanitized description, Advocates for Youth admits it “champions” the right of “young people [to] make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health…boldly advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health.” Remember McCarty’s praise for the way Advocates for Youth “actively involve(s) young people in their own learning”? Their method: to train young people as peer educators, “helping” peers with concerns about “sexual orientation, gender identity, or sexual health,” and as “Youth Activists,” advocating for sex and abortion, unfettered by parents’ rules or religious beliefs.

Advocates for Youth, in case you don’t know, is the enemy. They actively oppose the Church on every sexual issue in the public arena, including abstinence education, same-sex relations, contraception, and abortion.

Let’s be clear: I am not saying McCarty is personally pro-abortion. But he doesn’t seem to think an organization’s policy on sex and abortion matters much, as long as there’s something arguably good about them.

In this case, McCarty likes the Advocates for Youth model of youth advocacy -- that’s a problem in itself. Both McCarty and Advocates for Youth ascribe to the “youth-adult partnership” model of youth advocacy that rejects the “myth of adult wisdom.” They don’t believe that “adults know what is best” or that young people need protecting. (See McCarty, p. 33) That’s baloney. The ‘learn-by-doing’ model has built-in limitations, particularly in the sexual and moral arenas. And the benefit of “youth advocacy” depends entirely on the values being advocated.

Besides Advocates for Youth, McCarty’s book recommends other gems like the pro-abortion Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and the Youth Activism Project (which trains youth as mini-community organizers, agitating for things like Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Laws, an example McCarty notes with approval in his book).

The NFCYM website is more of the same. On the NFCYM’s “Healthy Adolescent Development” page, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry tops the list of “Key Resource Organizations.” The Academy promotes “comprehensive sexual education,” including school-based distribution of contraceptives, and opposes parental notification requirements in sexual and reproductive matters, including abortion. Further, the Academy supports same-sex marriage and adoption and affirms the adolescent’s ‘right’ to decide sexual orientation or gender identity without interference (like from parents). This is an organization parents should trust for guidance on “healthy adolescent development”?

The NFCYM website also recommends the Faith Trust Institute as a resource on preventing sexual abuse. The Faith Trust Institute is a Pope-bashing website run by a female, pro-abortion minister who signed a statement condemning the murder of late-term abortionist George Tiller, mourning the “untold number of women and families who have been deprived of his compassionate care.”

I could go on.

But here’s the point. The Girl Scouts have a demonstrable credibility problem. They have not been forthright with Catholics and other folks who support traditional sexual morality.

The Catholic Church needs to insist that if the Scouts want to recruit young Catholics, seek sponsorship from Catholic parishes, and sell cookies to parishioners, then the Scouts must make radical changes, including severing ties with WAGGGS and other pro-abortion, pro-teen sex, and LGBT activist groups. They must clean up offensive materials and quit elevating lesbians, gays, and pro-abortion activists as role models and convention speakers. Finally, they must champion a return to character, based on virtues and objective morality.

And the NFCYM? McCarty states that, “the only way you can advocate for the church’s position is to be engaged in the dialogue.” I submit that the NFCYM and Bob McCarty are the wrong folks to “dialogue” with the Girl Scouts on these issues.

Under McCarty’s leadership, the NFCYM’s premise seems to be that because Catholics are involved in the Girl Scouts already—as Scouts, leaders, and supporting parishes--the end goal is to stay in that relationship. So he elevates the cause of “dialogue” over fidelity to Catholic moral teaching.

But I think Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley gets it right. He writes, “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.”

I think that time has come.

And I salute the Pastor of St. Timothy’s in Chantilly, Virginia, for his courage to do the right thing.

NOTE: Prior to the publication of this article, the author contacted NFCYM head Bob McCarty numerous times by phone and email.  He elected not to respond in any substantive way.

Topics: Current Events , Girl Scouts , Young Women

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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