Scouting in the balance

Archbishop Aquila

I was dismayed to learn this past January that the Boy Scouts of America decided to end their practice of more than 100 years that allowed only boys to be members. They did this by permitting transgender boys to join troops, that is, girls who struggle with gender dysphoria and are living as though they are boys.

When he founded the Boy Scouts in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell envisioned it as a way of forming boys into men. He also readily acknowledged that the boys in the troop help form each other under the direction of the leader. “Scouting,” he said, “is a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man.”

The Boy Scouts of America also recently decided to allow boys and leaders with same-sex attraction as members. These decisions are social experiments that are rationalized away without accounting for the impact on the clear majority of boys who do not have gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction. Indeed, it is not hard to see that there will be lasting consequences for current and future generations of American boys as they try to understand their own sexuality in their formative years.

These decisions have been part of the Boy Scouts’ slow retreat in the face of the secular culture’s advancement of an LGBTQ agenda. At the same time, the Boy Scouts have insisted that they will allow Church-sponsored troops to only accept boys, to continue to run troops in accord with the faith, and to defend these scout units in any resulting lawsuits.

In response, churches who charter scouting groups have been faced with the difficult decision of whether to continue to be affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Some dioceses have decided to disaffiliate completely, while others think that, at least in the case of the Boy Scouts, adequate protections exist for affiliation to continue.

Many have asked what I have decided to do in the Archdiocese of Denver, since these decisions are contrary to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Before I answer that question, there are two points I want to make. First, discussions about sexual attraction, orientation, and lifestyle choices have no place in scouting. These are issues that parents need to address, both through their own example and by teaching their children. Second, the Church is absolutely committed to the dignity of the human person, the understanding of man and woman as made for each other, the virtue of chastity and the protection of children, especially from different forms of abuse, which includes enabling and/or encouraging gender dysphoria.

I have been contemplating the jarring words of Jesus about leading the innocent into sin. The Lord tells us in the Gospel of Luke, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Lk. 17:1-2). We must be very careful about the example and witness we give to others, especially children. To expose them to immorality and/or material inappropriate for their level of maturity, without the full knowledge and consent of parents, is scandalous to them and wrong for us. Doing so also contradicts two of the principles of the Scout Oath – doing our “duty to God” and remaining “morally straight.”

Despite these recent decisions, I also realize that the core elements of Boy Scouting remain praiseworthy and that hundreds of men and boys in the Archdiocese have been positively impacted by their Boy Scout formation.

While it would simplify matters to ask all scouting groups sponsored by parishes to disaffiliate from their respective national organizations, I decided to consult with those who lead many of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops of the Archdiocese. Following that discussion, I decided that such a decision could produce unfortunate consequences and fall short of presenting the courageous witness Christ calls us to give.

For over 100 years the Boy Scouts have provided meaningful formation that, to quote a scout master whom I recently met with, “transforms doofuses into leaders.” This formation is not limited to Catholic boys only. The troops and packs sponsored by our parishes are open to non-Catholic boys and leaders who desire to be part of the scouts and are not opposed to the Catholic character of the group. In effect, these troops and packs are not only forming Catholics, promoting virtue, but they are also sharing the Gospel with others, i.e., evangelizing. Further, I believe that disaffiliation, while it makes a strong statement, would make a winner out of the secular culture and its agenda, and losers out of the Boy Scouts and the Church.

While I fear that the Boy Scouts may make another decision that will necessitate disaffiliation, I am not going to move in that direction at this time. Instead, I am calling for all scouting groups sponsored by our parishes, including the Girl Scouts, to reinforce their commitment to forming boys and girls into virtuous Christian young adults.

Ultimately, the decision for a parish to charter or affiliate with a scouting organization falls under the authority of the pastor, who must weigh the risks this could present to his parish. I ask for all those involved in Catholic scouting to respect the decisions made by their pastors.

For those groups that are supported by pastors and who continue to be affiliated in the Archdiocese of Denver, I am establishing the following requirements:

• To present the best witness to scouts and anyone encountered in scouting activities, all leaders must adhere to the Code of Conduct of the Archdiocese of Denver, specifically:

o Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work.

o Refrain from approving, promoting or engaging in any conduct or lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.

o Promote the dignity of the human person and expressions of human sexuality that accord with the natural law, and therefore with Catholic teaching.

• To promote the best possible environment for their formation, all scouts must:

o Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work.

o Refrain from conduct or living a lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.

o Respect their own personal dignity and that of others.

It is my earnest desire that this decision will facilitate the promotion of all that is good and virtuous in scouting. Additionally, all of us need to pray for the strengthening of the moral foundations of our society, especially those institutions that provide formation to youth.

Finally, for those who are seeking acceptable alternatives to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts that capture the essence of scouting, I would like to suggest some organizations that currently are not problematic. They are: American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires, Trail Life USA, and Fraternus. Information on these groups can be obtained from Michelle Peters in the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry office by calling 303-715-3252.

COMING UP: How deacons give life to the Church

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The calling and ministries of the diaconate are as varied as the men who serve in it. For Deacon Don Tracy, the call to the diaconate was a long one, and his first years as a deacon didn’t match his expectations.

“Feeling unsettled with a restless heart for many years, I did not understand at the time that I was experiencing the first stirrings of my call to the diaconate by the Holy Spirit. As I searched to find the peace that was missing in my life, I went down several false paths, believing that a career change to one of the service-oriented professions would give me the tranquility I desired,” Deacon Tracy said.

“I eventually discerned that I should not change careers…but those feelings came to a head when I joined a men’s group called ‘That Man Is You.’ I felt as if I were being turned inside out and sought the help of deacons for guidance. With their assistance, I began to discern that my restless heart came from God calling me to the diaconate,” he added.

But shortly after becoming a deacon, his first ministry became caring for his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his ordination.

“For the next two years, my life was far different than the deacon brothers I was ordained with who were beginning ministries in their parishes and for the people of the archdiocese,” Deacon Tracy said. “Instead, my ministry as a husband and deacon was to care for my wife through what seemed like countless medical appointments and hospital stays. And when my dear wife entered her final weeks on earth last year, I did everything I could think of to help her get to heaven.”

His ministry to his wife as she passed from this world to the next profoundly changed his life — now, he hopes to begin a ministry to those who are struggling through illness or are grieving the loss of loved ones.

Deacon Tracy’s ministry to his wife in the first two years of his diaconate was just one way he was personally called to serve; many deacons, in addition to assisting the pastors in their parish, do much more than we realize.

On average, the 207 deacons spend 60 hours a week serving, between their normal jobs, family obligations, and ministries, according to Deacon Joseph Donohoe, director of deacon personnel at the Archdiocese of Denver.

Deacons assist the priest by ministering baptisms, witnessing marriages, performing funerals and burial services, distributing Holy Communion and preaching homilies.

Outside of this, they also assist in teaching RCIA, baptism preparation, marriage preparation, Bible studies, funerals, retreats, parish missions, visiting prisons and juvenile detention centers, bringing communion to sick patients in hospitals or hospice, visiting the elderly, working with immigrants and working in homeless shelters.

“We’re active in [sacraments], but we also have an obligation as deacons to respond to the archbishop in areas of ministries outside of the parish,” Deacon Donohoe said. “And this is in addition to their secular work and family obligations. So they’re very dedicated, and they do this for love of God. They’re not paid, their obligation is to the archbishop and the Church.”

Deacon Kevin Heckman of Blessed Sacrament Parish spends much of his ministry in Children’s Hospital. After getting a job there in 2009, he introduced himself to the hospital chaplain and asked if there was anyone doing Catholic ministry or communion service, and the chaplain “jumped at it.”

“I developed a relationship with the chaplains and got called to visit patients and bring communion to people. I’ve done about 50 emergency baptisms and praying with families. It’s been really rewarding, and I know that I have a special call to hospital ministry,” Deacon Heckman said.

Deacon Heckman has had the privilege of praying with a mother and her stillborn baby — just one of many experiences that he “won’t ever forget” in his service as a deacon.

Quite frankly, I am in awe of the deacons in the diocese, they are so dedicated to their ministry, and each time I talk to one of them, I get inspired and filled with awe over some of the things they do.”

So what does the call to the vocation of the diaconate look like?

It’s different for everyone, Deacon Donohoe said.

“Some guys get beat over the head. Others are less clear, it’s really just a continuous conversation with God, wanting to do his will. And if his will calls them to the laying on of hands by the archbishop, then he allows God to lead him in that direction,” Deacon Donohoe said.

If a man feels what he suspects may be a call to the diaconate, the process of discernment is years-long, similar to that of a priestly or religious vocation.

“They need to be called by God, and they need to be called by the Church. So it’s a four year process, from the time of the applications to the time they’re ordained, and it’s a discernment process,” Deacon Donohoe said. “There’s an intense amount of prayer involved, as well as a looking into their soul and spirit to discover what God is calling them to. Sometimes God is just calling them to the formation, and not ordination, and many times, they are called to ordination. It’s really a powerful experience.”

The stories of Deacon Tracy and Deacon Heckman are just a few of many men who are offering their lives to Christ through their vocation as a deacon.

“Quite frankly, I am in awe of the deacons in the diocese, they are so dedicated to their ministry, and each time I talk to one of them, I get inspired and filled with awe over some of the things they do,” Deacon Donohoe said. “They all have these stories that are just tremendous, because they’re all in prayer. They all want to listen, and they want to love God and the people of God.”

Not only are these men faithful to God’s will and serving his people, their families are tremendous witnesses to the world as well.

“Deacons in this diocese are tremendously dedicated to their ministry and to their family and they set a very positive example to the secular world in witnessing the true presence of Jesus Christ and the Church to a world in need of [him], including their marriages,” said Deacon Donohoe. “It’s not just the deacons, it’s their families. Their families give up much for their husbands and dads to be deacons, but they also do that for love of God.”

For more information about the deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver, visit archden.org/office-diaconate.