Open homosexuality in Catholic Boy Scout troops? Don't count on it.
Next week, delegates from the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America will gather in Grapevine, Texas to vote on whether to change the long-standing membership policy against "open and avowed" homosexuality on the part of youth members of the Boy Scouts.
On Wednesday the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) released a statement about the upcoming vote that outlines some important principles for Catholic delegates to consider.
First is the principle that those inclined toward homosexuality must be treated with dignity and respect, a belief based on the fundamental doctrine that every person is made in the image and likeness of God.
The statement also cites the most authoritative source of Catholic teaching on the question of homosexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In paragraphs 2357-59, the Catechism explains that homosexual acts are objectively and intrinsically disordered and contrary to natural law, and cannot be approved under any circumstances. This is a truth, based in Sacred Scripture, that the Church has always declared.
The NCCS statement affirms that "the Church reserves the right to seek to place those who live by its teachings in leadership positions that serve our youth, as well as the right to continue to call our young people to live by the teachings of our faith and by moral truth which can be known by all."
Why speak of "leadership positions" when the resolution addresses only youth membership?
One reason is known well to those inside the organization. The Boy Scouts allow older youth members to apply for leadership positions with significant authority over younger members in the troop. The proposed membership change would authorize open and avowed homosexuality on the part of older teens in leadership posts.
The other reason is fast becoming known: While the terms of the resolution purport only to affect youth, the practical and legal result of a bifurcated membership policy would be a change in the policy on adult leaders as well.
Practically speaking, if the resolution passes, open homosexuality will be officially consistent with the Scouting code throughout a Scout's career until the moment he turns 18, when it suddenly becomes inconsistent with the code. Under the new policy, some action against the Scout will be required, but no troop leader would want to enforce such an irrational rule and few will. A de facto change in the rule for adults will occur almost immediately.
What's more, the new policy would forfeit the legal victory the Scouts won at the Supreme Court over a decade ago. When the organization was sued for unlawful discrimination because of its membership policy, the Court ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the policy is constitutional under the Boy Scouts' First Amendment speech and association rights. But if the Scouts' new "speech" is incoherent -- open homosexuality is consistent with the Scouting code except when it isn't -- there will be no legal basis left for courts to uphold the prohibitory portion of the policy.
The Scouts will be sued, they will lose, and it will be impossible for them to continue to prohibit open and avowed homosexuality on the part of adult leaders.
Finally, an important distinction has been lost in the current debate. The Boy Scouts' long-standing policy does not, by its terms or in practice, exclude people who experience same-sex attraction. Rather, the prohibition is on "open and avowed" homosexuality, and it is that prohibition which will be lifted if the resolution passes.
Boy Scout officials conducted a survey in recent months on whether to change the long-standing membership policy. The survey found that 72 percent of the chartering organizations oppose changing the policy. That corresponds almost exactly with the percentage of chartering organizations that are faith-based. And a great many of them are Catholic parishes.
How can Catholic churches sponsor troops with leaders who live in open and avowed opposition to the truths of the Catholic faith and the teachings of its Church? It is a question that all Catholic delegates must ponder before they vote in Grapevine next week.