Last week, the Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson, sent a letter to all those within his Archdiocese regarding the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) and its parent organization, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
This letter asked Catholics to re-evaluate their relationship with the organization. According to Carlson, the organization has a “troubling pattern of behavior’” that is “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.”
The Catholic church has worked with the GSUSA since 1914. Currently, the National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Camp Fire oversees training and religious recognition programs for leaders within the church as well as Catholic GSUSA leaders.
Carlson disbanded the Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts within his region and formed a Catholic Committee for Girls Formation, which would be unaffiliated with the Girl Scouts.
The initial relationship between the Catholic church and the GSUSA sprang from the church’s belief that the program would assist in the formation of well-rounded Catholic women.
Carlson, in his letter, called this into question, asking “are the Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job of forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?”
Carlson argues that Catholics should seek alternatives to Girl Scouts. He also asks pastors who allow troops to meet on church property to discuss their concerns with troop leadership.
More than 4,000 Girl Scouts meet in Catholic churches in the region. If a priest determines that the troop isn’t advancing the faith, he can oust it from the church, according to Gabe Jones, a spokesman for the St. Louis Archdiocese.
Some community members have stepped forward to offer alternative places for the troops to be housed.
Carlson raised several issues throughout his letter, many of which echo similar concerns by other Catholics. These concerns included promoting role models or organizations “in conflict with Catholic values”, the GSUSA’s inclusionary policy on transgender and non-heterosexual members, and WAGGGS’ promotion of contraception and abortion rights.
The GSUSA’s promotion of role models and organizations in “conflict with Catholic values” does not tell the complete story of why those individuals were chosen as role models. One role model alleged by Carlson to be pro-abortion is Betty Friedan. While she did argue for abortion choice, she also argued for gender equality in the workplace.
Amnesty International is noted for its fight for reproductive choice (i.e. access to contraceptives or abortions) and sexual rights, such as same-sex marriage and overall equality. But the organization also supports freedom of expression and increased corporate accountability, to name some of its other interests.
The GSUSA does not take a position on abortion or contraceptives, according to a spokeswoman. Its stated advocacy interests are healthy living such as freedom from bullying, economic opportunities for girls such as increased involvement in STEM fields, and global citizenship for girls.
As for the WAGGGS take on reproductive issues, GSUSA has repeatedly said it is a separate organization from the parent organization.
Carlson was misguided in his questioning of the Girl Scouts’ intent.
He questioned whether the Scouts were concerned with the total well-being of girls, and whether the organization is doing a good job in forming girls. The Girl Scouts’ policy has “always encouraged girls to take spiritual journeys via their faiths’ religious recognitions,” however, the organization is secular. It is concerned with “building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place,” according to its mission statement.
The Girl Scouts have always been concerned with making strong, well-rounded women, and have let religious organizations partner with them to address the spiritual aspect of a girl’s upbringing.
The rest of the world will not always align with Catholic values. Even Carlson recognized this in his letter, noting that the world is straying from Catholic values, especially those regarding contraception, same-sex attraction, transgendered individuals and abortion.
Just because the Girl Scouts stray from the Catholic worldview does not mean that they should be abandoned.
Ben Miller, leader of Youth Outreach for St. Louis Archdiocese, noted this, saying “while we’re not saying it’s the Girl Scouts’ job to teach the Catholic faith, when there are points that contradict the faith, that’s where we come into a problem,” he told NBC News. “Our motivation is concern for our youth.”
But leaders could use this as an opportunity to show the differences between their way and the opposition’s way. The Girl Scouts’ stated mission is to create leaders out of women. The church’s mission is to make spiritual leaders.
Surely these young girls are going to come across other examples of non-Catholic worldviews, whether in the classroom, news or friends. And the Girl Scouts are a non-partisan organization, who do not use their time to proselytize to young members about contraceptives. There is no danger of girls falling prey to learning about contraceptives from Catholic troop leaders.
Exposing girls to opposing views, and then explaining how and why the Catholic worldview is preferred could act to strengthen the belief in Catholic world views.
If Betty Friedan is a bad role model for her support of abortion, for example, Catholic leaders could highlight that while she tried for equality in the workplace, her support of abortion was misguided.
While the Catholic church could come up with a similar program to the Girl Scouts, why abandon one that already works? Abandoning the Girl Scouts will harm its members greatly.
While Carlson offered the help of the Catholic Youth Apostolate to those trying to move from the GSUSA to a church-sanctioned program, moving from a long-established program to something else would not be an easy transition, if troops decide to change programs at all. Troop leaders may decide to stay together, but may have to move off church premises, which would also cause issues for the girls.
The Catholic church is perfectly within its bounds to sever its relationship with the GSUSA. They signed no contract stipulating that the two should forever be partnered. But severing those ties is not necessary.
Instead, the differences between the organizations could be used as a teaching opportunity. The GSUSA program could be regarded as a way to grow girls into leaders, while the church focuses on spiritual aspects.