On February 18, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis issued a letter of concern to parishes throughout the archdiocese outright telling pastors that it would be a REALLY good idea to “rethink” the relationship with the Girl Scouts of America. The archbishop is most concerned that the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, and their parent group, Girl Scouts USA, and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), are offering programs that teach young girls violations of the Catholic faith. Specifically (quoting the letter):
1. WAGGGS’ continued promotion of contraception and “abortion rights” on behalf of its girl members, the majority of whom are minors
2. Financial contributions from GSUSA to WAGGGS, based on number of registered GSUSA members
3. GSUSA resources and social media highlight and promote role models in conflict with Catholic values, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.
4. Organizations that GSUSA promotes and partners with are conflict with Catholic values, such as Amnesty International, Coalition for Adolescent Girls, OxFam and more. This is especially troubling in regards to sex education and advocacy for “reproductive rights” (i.e. abortion and contraceptive access, even for minors)
These are concerns that not just Catholics have about the Girl Scouts, but many people who believe in the sanctity of life and who abhor the hijacking of young people by liberals running organizations that seek to have a hand in the mental growth formation of children.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson at his installation as Archbishop of St. Louis, June 10, 2009.
Archbishop Carlson made it clear in his letter that this was not a sudden decision or recommendation, and that it has been made after dialogue and outreach with the Girl Scouts was done. What seems to be the issue that drove the final nail into the coffin of officially sanctioned Archdiocese-Girl Scout relations was the GSUSA published position on including transgender and homosexual lifestyles. (In Catholic teaching, being homosexual or otherwise sexually disordered is not sinful in and of itself. Acting on it, however, is.)
Because the chartering organization is the Girl Scouts, and not the Catholic Church, there is no official way for the Church to control the message, even if the leaders in the parishes are doing their best to shield the girls from unwholesome ideas and messaging. Carlson did thank the leaders for these efforts, and praised these women for their bravery in the face of a culture increasingly hostile to the Catholic way of life, but now asks pastors to seriously reconsider allowing the troops access to the schools, and parish grounds, as well as considering scouting alternatives with a decidedly Christian bent to offer through the parishes.
Our primary obligation is to help our girls grow as women of God. Several alternative organizations exist, many of which have a Catholic or Christian background. … I ask that you carefully study each organization and strongly consider offering one of these programs your parish instead of Girl Scouts.
This decision and letter, naturally, has been met with “disappointment” from the leadership of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, many of whom are devout Catholics. Their position is that Carlson, and the Church, are threatened by the women in leadership messaging. (Have these women ever met nuns? Talk about leaders.) That, of course, misses the point of Carlson’s recommendations to the pastors of the archdiocese. This is about a moral worldview, not women in leadership.
As for the all important question of cookie sales, Carlson stopped short of recommending the faithful simply not purchase any. He specifically says that that decision is up to each individual and their conscience, as does membership in the organization, and, not mentioned, but definitely to be considered, the annual personal items drive that happens every April and collects hundreds of thousands of items like toothbrushes, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, and toilet paper for people who truly do need them. (This one is doable as it benefits the Girl Scouts only in publicity and helps a lot of people.)
Carlson also expressed concern at a different level with the Boy Scouts of America, and will doubtless keep an eye on the transition of that organization as one that forms boys into productive young men into something far less honorable. In the meantime, the Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts has been disbanded in St. Louis and a Catholic Committee for Girls Formation has been instituted.
This move has been met with some rancor and quite a bit of spirited discussion on social media. It is, however, the sign of a prelate who takes his job seriously who makes such a decision despite a century long relationship.
Full disclosure: as a young Catholic in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a girl scout for a few years, the system here is quite well developed and there are three quite nice camps that operate all summer for Girl Scouts. To give the reader an idea of this writer’s experiences there, she gave up the Girl Scouts for Lent one year and never went back. She also was a member of the Cathdral Choir the day Archbishop Carlson was installed.