Scouting and the Catholic Church
Table of Contents
In “Renewing the Vision,” the US Bishops’ framework for Youth Ministry, we read: “All ministry with adolescents must be directed toward presenting young people with the Good news of Jesus Christ and inviting and challenging them to become disciples” (page 10).
The Catholic Church has long partnered with scouting organizations to achieve this end. Though traditionally the scouting programs we have partnered with have been secular organizations, the Church has worked to foster relationships with these organizations and institute Catholic faith programs to be offered alongside these secular programs. Though the perception is often that these religious programs are offered through the particular scouting organization, the reality is that they are offered by Catholic organizations as supplemental to the scout program itself.
Scouting has been a valuable resource for teaching leadership skills and life skills for many of our youth. We have seen great fruits from our Catholic Scouting programs throughout the years. Unfortunately, concerns have been continuing to surface over the content within some of these programs, particularly within Girl Scouts. As our culture becomes increasingly secular, we need to look closely at any secular organizations with which we are partnering with and entrusting the formation of our youth. As parents and as Church, we have a sacred duty to help our children learn the faith and ultimately to help them get to heaven.
Due to these ongoing concerns, on 2/18/2016 Archbishop Carlson issued a letter of concern regarding Girl Scouts. You can read that letter here. In November 2014, the Catholic Youth Apostolate issued a similar letter. You can read that here. For a more concise summary of the Archbishop's letter, click here, or click the image on the right.
Below is a more detailed listing of the ongoing concerns with Girl Scouts and their international parent scouting organization, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Also available are resources for alternative programs and letters you can send to help Girl Scouts hear your voice on this important issue. Please know that we are here to serve the youth and youth leaders of the Archdiocese in any way that we can. Thank you for your commitment to aiding us in living our mission: To help all young people hear the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, to help them actively respond to the Gospel message and to enthusiastically participate in the mission of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Because we are concerned with the direction of the Girl Scout Program, it's important that we make our concerns heard with the leadership of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri and Girl Scouts USA. We encourage you to send a letter asking them to restore Girl Scouts to the trusted organization it once was. Below are form letters you can download and edit to help make your voice heard.
- Letter to Anna Marie Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts USA, AChavez@girlscouts.org: Letter-GSUSA.docx
- Letter to Bonnie Barczykowski, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, BBarczykowski@girlscoutsem.org: Letter-GSEM.docx
We know that there will continue to be many questions regarding these issues and the best way to form the youth of your parish. Know that the Catholic Youth Apostolate exists to serve you and help guide you through this process. If you need assistance or have questions, please contact:
Executive Director of the Catholic Youth Apostolate
Director of Youth Ministry
The relationship between Girl Scouts and WAGGGS
Girl Scouts USA is one of the founding members of WAGGGS. GSUSA is also the largest member organization of WAGGGS, contributing somewhere around 25% of the total population of the membership. As an organization, WAGGGS is well known to be an advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, even for youth. We often hear the term “reproductive rights" from these organizations, and it can be somewhat ambiguous; what these groups are really advocating for is access to abortion and birth control. WAGGGS delegates often include members of GSUSA. WAGGGS states on their website that they speak on "behalf of their nearly 10 million girl members". Certainly, WAGGS does not represent its Catholic girl members in this regard.
As the largest member of WAGGGS, we would ask GSUSA to use their lobbying power to put an end to this sad and misguided advocacy.
Transgender and Homosexual Concerns
Troops in Utah have recently been formed exclusively to reach out to transgendered youth. Internal policies in Girl Scouts has even suggested that some parents and troop leaders should not be informed if there is a transgender child in their troop. While we are firm in our conviction that all girls should have access to leadership and formational programs, we believe that the invitation of young boys living socially as girls into these programs is not healthy for the boy or the other girls in the troop.
Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri has posted a "statement of inclusivity" explaining their policy of how to welcome a transgender child into your troop.
While GSUSA claims they do not take a stance on these issues, it is clear that their actions would suggest otherwise. These progressive issues are becoming more and more central to the Girl Scout message. By promoting our local Girl Scout troops to our young women, we are helping them forming an allegiance to an organization that is becoming increasingly incompatible with Catholic values. As Girl Scouts continues to increase their presence on social media in an effort to reach young women, we are saddened that what our young women will often find is in conflict with our Catholic faith.
Girl Scouts has often found themselves in questionable partnerships and sponsorships. Many of these are related to organizations that advocate for birth control, sex education, and abortion access, even for minors. Such partnerships include relationships with Coalition for Adolescent Girls, stayteen.org, Amnesty International, Population Council, and many more. While GSUSA has stood by some of these partnerships, others have been have been suspended after complaints from concerned parents and partner organizations. While we are grateful that GSUSA has listened on certain occasions, one cannot help but wonder about the culture of an organization that repeatedly engages in such partnerships.
In their curriculum, Girl Scouts often highlights role models that are not consistent with Catholic values. They honor many pro-abortion politicians and activists, and they highlight organizations that advocate for reproductive rights, such as many of the organizations listed above. While there are many positive aspects to the Girl Scout curriculum, ensuring that our youth are not exposed to these questionable organizations and ideals requires a level of vigilance that is unfortunate.
Who is WAGGGS? What is their relationship with GSUSA?
WAGGGS is the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. WAGGGS represents 10 million members, the sum total of its 146 member organizations. GSUSA is the largest member organization of WAGGGS, with 1.9 million girl and 800,000 adult registered members.
What is the problem with this relationship?
WAGGGS holds positions on sexual and reproductive health rights that conflict with Church teaching. (See WAGGGS position statement on sexuality education among others).
WAGGGS frequently advocates for these positions on a global stage, in the name of its 10 million members. For example, WAGGGS is currently advocating that "any goal on health in the Post-2015 development agenda should include the specific needs of girls and young women with a particular emphasis on delivering confidential and nonjudgmental sexual and reproductive health information and services to all" (See pg. 18 of WAGGGS' The World We Want for Girls Beyond 2015). Once again, we see “reproductive” as code language; these groups are really advocating for access to abortion and birth control.
Girls Scouts of Eastern Missouri has said that individual girls are not members of WAGGGS, but current materials (right) consistently indicate otherwise.
GSUSA pays an unrestricted annual quota of approximately $1.5 million to WAGGGS based on the number of registered GSUSA members (The more Girl Scouts there are, the more money GSUSA pays to WAGGGS).
Can I be a Girl Scout and not worry about any of this?
As highlighted above, GSUSA and WAGGGS promote positions on sexuality that contradict Church teaching, and promote additional women and organizations to their members that hold public positions that conflict with Church teaching.
Each individual must act in accord with his or her own conscience. It is also our duty to form our consciences and learn the issues. When weighing this decision, parents must consider the messages their young women will be presented with not only by their local Girl Scout leaders, but also the messages that are being sent by GSUSA and WAGGGS.
Can I still do Girl Scouts in my parish?
While there is currently no prohibition on continuing your Girl Scout troop, we are asking scout leaders and parish leaders to seriously evaluate all elements of the program. Is the program fulfilling its duty to form our young women into Catholic women of God? Because of the aforementioned concerns, we suggest that you begin to look at the issues above and consider alternatives that can be implemented next school year.
What is a charter and why does it matter who holds it?
The Charter document is essentially the founding document for each individual troop. With Girl Scouts, the charter his held at the local council, Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. Any disputes over leadership, teaching, programs and so on, can be decided at that level. In Boy Scouts, the charter is held with the chartering organization, in most cases for Catholics, with the parish. This means the parish retains authority over the group and its leadership. Because the formation of our youth is important to us, we should be concerned over who is allowed to lead our troops.
A charter is granted by a national organization to a local organization (such as a parish) to establish its own affiliate of the national organization. Such an agreement specifies leadership from within the local organization and provides for an experience that adheres to its own policies and guidelines, as well as the national organization. Scouting organizations such as Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and American Heritage Girls (AHG) are structured this way, GSUSA is not. Local Girl Scout troops are set up through their local councils, which agree to adhere to the policies of GSUSA.
Can I still buy Girl Scout Cookies?
Each person must act in accord with their conscience. It is also our duty to form our consciences and learn the issues. Here are a few things to consider when making your decision:
There is a licensing fee attached to each box of Girl Scout cookies produced, paid to GSUSA. Licensing fees paid to GSUSA on all trademarked Girl Scout items (cookies, Girl Scout curriculum books and badges, ice creams, coffee creamers, etc.) amounts to millions of dollars every year. (See: Does any of the money from cookie sales go to Girl Scouts of the USA?) On average, only 10-20% of the total cookie revenue remains with the troop selling the cookies. (See: How can I be sure that Girl Scout Cookie Program revenue supports the local Girl Scouts in my community?)
We echoe the statement of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missourui, that it is important not to debate these issues with individual girls who are selling cookies. These conversations must "remain among adults".
Are we the only ones with these concerns?
There are numerous other originations that are researching and issuing letters of concern regarding Girl scouts. Below is a sampling of some of these organizations:
- The Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) investigated the Girl Scout organization and shared numerous ongoing concerns. The results are listed here.
- Additional individual dioceses are sharing concerns with their laity as well, including the Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS. Their concerns are listed here.
- Bishop James Johnston, formerly of the Diocese of Springfield Cape Girardeau issued a letter of concern that can be found here.
- Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs issued a statement regarding Girl Scouts this fall. It can be found here.
- Missouri Right to Life has researched the issue as well and published their concerns here.
- Several articles have been published in the National Catholic Register detailing ongoing and upcoming concerns with the Girl Scouts in regards to Pro-Life concerns, cookie sale concerns, and transgender concerns.
In addition to these, other organizations exist to research and raise concerns with Girl Scouts. These concerns can be found on the sites listed below.
Do you have the same concerns with Boy Scouts?
While we are disappointed in recent changes to the leadership policy of Boy Scouts of America, our concerns are not yet at the same level as the concerns we are presenting here in regards to Girl Scouts. As it stands now, the charter system in place with BSA allows each parish to have governing control over the leadership, curriculum and activities of the troop. This same control is not possible with the current Girl Scout charter system.
How difficult is it to switch programs?
While there will certainly be growing pains in switching organizations, many of the alternative organizations listed below have staff available to help you start new troops. The Catholic Youth Apostolate is also available to help you implement Catholic programs as part of your scouting troops.
As you look for alternative programs to minister to the youth of your parish, we ask you to discern and pray for what you can offer that will help them grow closer to Christ and continue to grow into the future leaders of our church and world. We must always keep in mind our admonition from St. Paul "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" Romans 12:2. If this discernment leads you to programs other than Girl Scouts, know that there are many options for you.
Christian alternative scouting programs
Organizations such as American Heritage Girls (Christian) and Little Flower Girls Club (Catholic) were founded with the intention of placing the scouting experience within a Christian context. Girls are still able to participate in many similar activities while also learning about their faith as a core element of the program. American Heritage Girls recently launched a National Catholic Committee and released a video on the Catholic Heritage experience. Learn more.
Providing many of the same Faith Programs outside the context of a formal scouting program
The Office of Youth Ministry makes all the religious awards (such as the Marian Award, American Saints series, etc…) that your child currently participates in the through Girl Scouts available to anyone, regardless of your participation in a scout organization. Please contact the Office of Youth Ministry to learn how to participate in these programs.
Utilize other forms of youth ministry
While scouting can be an effective form of youth formation, we realize it isn’t for everyone. The Office of Youth Ministry can help you find the right program for your parish and child. Programs such as Edge, Y-Disciple, LifeTeen, Endow, Theology of the Body for Teens and many more do a great job of teaching the faith while also providing a social outlet for youth.