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: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!