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Bishop cuts ties with Boy Scouts over gay leaders

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BISMARCK, ND, August 5, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- As faith organizations across the United States grapple with the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly homosexual Scout leaders, one Catholic bishop is drawing a clear line in the sand.

Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota, said he regretted having to make the decision, yet, “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 pulled all diocesan organizations from the Boy Scouts August 3, saying in a statement that the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow openly gay adults into leadership positions had been expected, and that the religious exemption in the Scouts’ resolution fell short in providing the needed protection for Catholic entities that sponsor troops.

“While there are indications that the BSA has a religious organization exception, which each local troop could invoke, that will provide no protection for any of our parishes and/or schools, which sponsor troops,” Bishop Kagan said. “Thus, effective immediately, the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Bismarck and each and every one of its parishes, schools and other institutions, is formally disaffiliated with and from the Boy Scouts of America.” 

The Boy Scouts decision

The Boy Scouts announced July 27 that its National Executive Board had removed the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees effective immediately. There was no mention in the Boy Scouts’ announcement of protection for religious groups from being compelled to accept a homosexual leader, rather it said individual troops can still choose their own leaders and that religiously-affiliated troops can apply their beliefs as criteria for leader selection.

The controversial move follows its contentious 2013 decision to lift its ban on homosexual members after years of pressure from homosexual advocates and corporate sponsors. That policy went into effect in 2014.

Bishop David Kagan: "I cannot permit our Catholic institutions to accept and participate directly or indirectly in any organization … which contradict the authoritative moral teachings of the Catholic Church."

The removal of the ban met with significant opposition from religious groups and scouts who wanted the organization to uphold the values that had defined the organization for more than 100 years. The Boy Scout Oath states among other things that scouts will serve God and remain morally upright.

Catholic scouting committee has ‘strong concern’ but wants to keep troops

Bishop Kagan went further than many other bishops and the national Catholic scouting organization, which is clinging to the assurance that Catholic organizations can continue to choose their own leaders.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), which advises the Boy Scouts and works to foster a relationship between the Scouts and the Catholic Church in the U.S., and also works with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on scouting, called on Catholic chartered groups not to leave the Boy Scouts but also indicated “strong concern about the practical implications” of lifting the ban.

In a letter to members the day the ban was lifted, the NCCS said, “It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching.

Charleston Bishop Robert Guglielmone, who sits on the NCCS executive board, expressed “cautious optimism” for the continued use of Boy Scout programs in Catholic youth ministry.

“We’re willing to see how this policy can work and how we can remain consistent with our Catholic teaching and continue to charter troops with the Boy Scouts of America,” the bishop said in a Catholic News agency report. “We think we can do that.” 

According to discussions between the NCCS and the Scouts, the bishop said, issues of sexuality and sexual conduct should be left in the hands of parents and churches.

“We’re just going to have to see how that all plays out,” said Bishop Guglielmone. “Certainly, we hope that that’s exactly what they will do.”

Most dioceses have yet to comment on the Boy Scouts’ decision, but both the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, and the Archdiocese of New Orleans have said they will maintain their Catholic-chartered troops and continue to choose leaders who abide by the Church’s teachings.

Fargo Bishop John Folda thanked the Boy Scouts’ Executive Board in a statement last week for specifying that religious organizations could continue to choose leaders based on religious values.

The bishop instructed leadership in the 13 Catholic-chartered troops in the Fargo Diocese to "continue to act in accordance with the Church's teaching and select volunteers based on character and conduct consistent with those teachings.” He also commended the Boy Scouts of America for respecting and recognizing "the Constitutional right to religious freedom afforded to our parishes and other Catholic entities."

Other faith-based troops grapple with new Scouts policies

More than 70 percent of the greater than 100,000 chartered Boy Scout units are faith-based, according to the Scouts, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) makes up nearly 40,000 of those units. The Catholic Church has just over 8,000 chartered units.

The Mormon Church initially remained hopeful that its relationship with the Scouts would remain, however just two weeks prior to the Scouts’ lifting its ban on gay leaders, the church said: “As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs.  Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.”

The Mormon Church issued a statement the day the ban on homosexual leaders was lifted saying the church was “deeply troubled,” and that “the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America,” and also that the “the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined” when the church resumes its regular meetings this month.

Scouting alternatives

Bismarck Bishop Kagan listed several appropriate alternatives to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for Catholics in his diocese.

“I list here for your consideration acceptable alternatives for our Catholic children and youth, should you wish to offer this in your parish and/or school,” the bishop wrote. “There are two very good alternatives to the Girl Scouts of America. They are: American Heritage Girlswhich has a National Catholic Committee; Little Flowers’ Girls Clubsand Federation of North American Explorers. There are three alternatives to the Boy Scouts of America, which are acceptable. They are:  Federation of North American Explorers; Columbian Squiresand Trail Life USA, which has a National Catholic Committee in Front Royal, VA.”

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