Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, himself a former boy scout, has reluctantly told his North Dakota diocese to disaffiliate from the Boy Scouts of America due to the legal risks and the moral confusion its new leadership policy could cause for Catholics.
"I'm very disappointed with this whole turn of events. I just can't express that adequately enough," Bishop Kagan told CNA Aug. 6.

He said the Boy Scouts' new policy risks lawsuits for church-sponsored troops that attempt to hold their leaders and volunteers to moral standards.

"I can't say it's a probability, but it's a distinct possibility. It's a reality we have to face," he said.

Troops sponsored by a parish or a parish school would have to expect Catholic moral standards of leaders and volunteers. Those who disagree with those standards might object.

"Then we'll be embroiled again in something else," the bishop said.

"I had to ask myself 'do I want to put our pastors, our parishes, our schools or diocese through something like that?' I don't think anyone wants that."

In July the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would adopt a non-discrimination policy allowing homosexuals to be scout leaders and volunteers. While the latest decision promised that churches with objections to homosexual behavior could set their own standards for affiliated organizations, the future of the organization is not clear.

Bishop Kagan announced the disaffiliation in an Aug. 3 letter to the Catholics of the Diocese of Bismarck. He said that while the Boy Scouts of America appears to have a religious exemption that each local troop could invoke, in his view that will provide "no protection" for any of the diocese's parishes and schools that sponsor troops.

He said the diocese, its parishes, schools and other institutions are now formally disaffiliated from the Boy Scouts of America.

"I regret my decision but, in conscience as the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Bismarck, I cannot permit our Catholic institutions to accept and participate directly or indirectly in any organization, which has policies and methods, which contradict the authoritative moral teachings of the Catholic Church."

Bishop Kagan said he understood why the Boy Scouts of America made its decision.

"Knowing how our judicial system is tracking these days, the Boy Scouts of America would have no chance defending their legitimate protocols in a civil court," he told CNA.

At the same time, he also lamented the goals of some who advocated the policy change.

"It's about a particular ideological movement," he said. In a certain sense, the bishop continued, this movement's advocates "want to redefine what is acceptable and unacceptable in society, and impose their version of acceptability on the rest of society. That's never worked."

He said the Church is clear to distinguish sexual orientation from the immorality of acting on that orientation. However given national trends in the courts against religious liberty, it is not clear to him whether the Boy Scouts of America or outside groups will continue to respect that distinction.

He said the scouts' new policy will "at the least cause more confusion among Catholic people," and among non-Catholics who regard the Church highly.

From the Catholic perspective, "it places before the Church an unnecessary and an unwelcome and an unwanted problem."

"I resent having to be put in this position, because I myself, as a young boy, was both a cub scout and a boy scout until I went to seminary. I found it to be very good and very useful."

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, a leading member of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, had recommended "cautious optimism" towards the policy change.

However, Bishop Kagan said he started to be cautious about the future of the Boy Scouts after its leadership in 2013 decided to allow openly homosexual scout members.

Bishop Kagan could not find a reason for himself, personally, to be optimistic: "Realistically, looking to the future, what would give me reason to continue, to at least be guardedly optimistic? Personally, I couldn't come up with something."

The bishop emphasized that his decision did not say Catholic boys can't be boy scouts, or that adults can't continue to be scout leaders.

"Having been a scout myself, I think it's very good to help young boys, young men, learn to socialize appropriately with others. You have some very devoted, very exemplary Catholic men as leaders who provide good role models. It makes a contribution."

The legal implications of the policy have not been tested.

The Boy Scouts of America have said religious freedom protections will hold up in court for church-sponsored troops with moral objections to sexual immorality. That position drew criticism from Richard John Matthews, a former Boy Scouts of America general counsel who is now general counsel for a competing scouting group Trail Life USA. In a July 22 legal memorandum, he said the policy change creates "numerous legal ramifications" for both the national scouting organization and for religious organizations that charter local troops.

LGBT activist groups have objected that the new policy does not go far enough. Scouts for Equality, which pushed for changes in the policy, has voiced concern about individual units "discriminating." On its website's "Next Step" section, the group solicits members who want to help make scouting "more inclusive" because "LGBT adults can still be discriminated against at the troop level."

Bishop Kagan recommended alternatives to the Boy Scouts, enumerating the Federation of North American Explorers, the Columbian Squires, and Trail Life USA. He also recommended alternatives to the Girl Scouts, listing American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers' Girls Clubs, and the Federation of North American Explorers.

His letter connected the Boy Scouts' decision to the June Supreme Court decision which required that same-sex couples be granted civil marriages. The decision, the bishop said, is having "real and unwelcome consequences in many areas of our daily lives and I expect that it will only get worse."