In 1909, a Chicago businessman named W.D. Boyce found himself lost one night, on a foggy street in London. A boy approached him, asked him where he was going, and guided him to his destination. Boyce was grateful, and offered his guide a tip. But the boy refused, saying that he was a Boy Scout, and he was doing his “daily good turn.”
Boyce was intrigued. He’d never heard of the Boy Scouts, and he asked the scout for more information. He later visited Lord Baden-Powell, a British general who had founded a movement of boys, called Scouting, just two years earlier.
One year later, in 1910, W.D. Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to teaching young men “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” In 1913, Juliette Gordon Lowe, a Georgia artist and philanthropist, founded the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, with just 18 members. Since that time, millions of American boys and girls have become scouts, including hundreds of priests and religious brothers and sisters.
For more than 100 years, scouting in America has formed men and women of character, helping each one, as the Boy Scout Oath says, “to do my duty to God and my country,” to “help other people at all times,” and to “keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
In recent years, unfortunately, both the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America, have begun to reflect the troubling errors of our culture about what it means to be men and women. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have decided to permit those with gender dysphoria—boys who think they are girls, and girls who think they are boys—to join their organizations based upon self-defined “gender identities.” Obviously, these decisions will gravely impact the moral and personal formation offered by Scouting movements.
At the same time, both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have assured the Diocese of Lincoln that troops chartered and sponsored by parishes are not obliged to endorse a false gender ideology, and that chartering organizations, such as parishes, can establish their own criteria for leadership and membership. Troops chartered by Catholic organizations in the Diocese of Lincoln will continue to require that leaders and members adhere to diocesan codes of conduct, and refrain from promoting or engaging in lifestyles contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
If Catholic-sponsored Scouting troops are to provide moral formation for boys and girls, they must do so in accord with the truth of the human person, regardless of the errors of our culture, or the errors of Scouting’s organizations.
If future Scouting policies make it impossible to continue sponsoring troops, regrettably, the parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln will withdraw their support. But, for the time being, we will continue to sponsor Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and, by our own policies, and our Catholic formation of Scouts and leaders, we will give witness to the truth of what it means to be created as men and women, in the image and likeness of God. Witnessing to truth, in the context of Scouting, will be our “daily good turn.”
At the same time, I encourage parents and parishes who prefer a more Christian approach to Scouting to consider alternative organizations: Trail Life, for boys, and the American Heritage Girls, for young women. These organizations, though smaller than Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, approach the mission and ideals of Scouting from a Christian perspective, fully committed to the dignity of the human person, and the nature of masculinity and femininity. I am privileged to serve as the Episcopal Moderator for the National Catholic Committee of American Heritage Girls (AHG), and have been involved with Trail Life’s leadership.
I am certain that some families may find this approach to Scouting to be a worthwhile and meaningful use of their time, and, if that is the case, I hope that parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln will consider sponsoring these organizations. For more information, please contact Father Matthew Zimmer, pastor of Ss. Joseph and Mary Parish in Valparaiso, who is the director of scouting for the Diocese of Lincoln.
The Scouting movement has done a great deal of good for boys and girls in our country. But, ultimately, the best school of leadership is the family. Scouting cannot substitute for parenting. Nothing can. Boys and girls with parents of character will become men and women of character. And boys and girls who participate in Scouting with their parents will have the best opportunity to grow in maturity, integrity, and virtue, just as W.D Boyce, Juliette Gordon Lowe, and Lord Baden-Powell had hoped.