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Hunt writes: "Emboldened by the Vatican's hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA."

A Girl Scout cadet with Troop 4458 adjusts her sash during an awards ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 04/03/12. (photo: Lisa Johnston/St. Louis Review)
A Girl Scout cadet with Troop 4458 adjusts her sash during an awards ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 04/03/12. (photo: Lisa Johnston/St. Louis Review)

Catholic Bishops Go After Girl Scouts

By Mary E. Hunt, Religion Dispatches

05 June 12


Bishops search for condoms in cookie boxes.

he United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is having a Saturday Night Live moment. Emboldened by the Vatican's hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA. Which would be comical - first the nuns, now the Girl Scouts - if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging, especially to the bishops.

The tactics against the girls and the women are taken from one playbook, the goal of intimidation is the same, and the pushback in both cases is distracting from more pressing problems at hand. Still, you wonder who does their public relations, as the bishops are now about as popular as a recession.

The apparent goal of this exercise of "investigating" gender female persons is to set up and enforce a male-defined model of girlhood/womanhood. A Vatican-, or in this case, USCCB-launched investigation is what Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, calls the equivalent of a grand jury investigation. There is the presumption that something is wrong, not something right, that there is guilt to be uncovered, not virtue to be unleashed. What is wrong seems to be women and girls thinking for themselves and acting for the common good.

What boggles the mind is why the Roman Catholic Church would be so presumptuous as to investigate what does not belong to it. Granted, some Scout troops meet at Catholic churches, but that does not make them Catholic entities any more than the Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets in the same basement. In the case of the Scouts, the supposed connections with groups that support reproductive justice are, for the most part, links to websites where girls can find further information on issues, hardly a ringing endorsement of the groups' missions. Sex education is not an integral part of scouting; that is something left to families. What is really at issue here is that women and girls involved in the Girl Scouts do not ask permission of ecclesial men to live as responsible citizens of a global world.

Girl Scouts USA belongs to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, about ten million strong in 145 countries. In a July 2012 conference in Chicago, WAGGGS will discuss the UN Millennium Development Goals. Those include the elimination of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, environmental sustainability, and the development of a global partnership for development, a blueprint for just living in the 21st century. The Episcopal Church USA adopted a resolution at its 74th General Convention to support the goals. Perhaps they will be investigated next.

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is hardly leaving the Girl Scouts quaking in their boots. Their reasoned and patient replies to accusations that they shouldn't have to answer demonstrate their mission: "Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place." Would that the bishops follow suit.

Several parallels with the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious lay bare the playbook here. The LCWR "doctrinal investigation" was Rome-based, undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Girl Scout "investigation" is U.S.-based sleuthing led by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth chaired by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. Both cases are based on longterm reporting by conservative Catholics, both lay and clerical, of the groups' supposed sins. This is a cottage industry that includes the Eternal Word Television Network and random ecclesial busy bodies who apparently report to Rome and to the USCCB on a regular basis.

What mystifies me is that with all of the economic, racial, and war-related issues at hand the bishops still choose to take on these girls and women. Gone are the days when governments, businesses, and armies worried much about what the bishops had to say. Here are the days when disgraced bishops are deposed and indicted for the sexual crimes and cover-ups that have come to define contemporary Catholicism. By contrast, nuns and Girl Scouts are powerful symbols and equally powerful advocates for justice and peace. So in a sense the bishops have really taken on those who are shaping the culture.

The bishops fretted in both cases about sex and gender, especially reproductive justice. The straw that broke the camel's back for the nuns was the support some of them showed for a more inclusive health care policy. For the Scouts, it was the organization's public acceptance of a transgender child into a Colorado troop. Underneath those decisions lurks the fact that nuns, not bishops, were seen as normatively Catholic, and even though a quarter of all Girl Scouts are Catholic, they didn't consult the bishops before doing the right thing. Who would, given the men's handling of abuse cases?

In each instance, the Roman Catholic Church is backing a concrete alternative. For the LCWR, the kowtowing Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious is already canonically chartered and accepting members. For those who find the Girl Scouts too rich for their blood, there are the multi-religious American Heritage Girls and the Little Flowers Girls' Club already in place. These groups function much like the Girl Scouts and Brownies they seek to replace but with far more explicit conservative ideology.

Curiously, for a church that tends to keep pubescent people in single-sex groups, another alternative is Venturing, a youth development program sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America for girls and boys age 14-21. The Boy Scouts are an avowedly anti-gay group that demands faith in God, not in just any higher power. The Girl Scouts modified their pledge several years ago to accommodate growing religious pluralism.

The investigations are meant in large part to intimidate since they really don't have much of a direct impact. Intimidation happens in small ways - a few nuns self-censor, the leaders of the Girl Scouts redact a few publications. But just as most nuns are going about their business undaunted, the Girl Scouts will gather 100,000+ strong for "Girl Scouts Rock the Mall" in Washington DC on the 9th of June. They hope to set a world record for the biggest sing-along in history. Their new theme song says it all: "Girl Scout ignite a dream, ignite your hope, ignite the world on fire." Now that ought to be enough to make the bishops tremble in unison. The contrast between the girls and "the big boys" will be vivid that day.

My favorite local troop just got back from a horseback-riding overnight. They have cleaned up a local park and planted trees near the Chesapeake Bay. They took in a women's basketball game and donned period costumes to guide visitors at a C and O Canal park. For the international Girl Scout Thinking Day, when troops learn about girls in other countries, this group studied Liberia where Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 with Tawakul Karman of Yemen. They are preparing to be good citizens and leaders of a globalized world that the bishops can scarcely imagine.

The crowd on the Mall in Washington will be festive on this the 100th anniversary of the group's founding by Juliette Gordon Low. They have reason to celebrate. Just as women's religious congregations have empowered countless women, the Girl Scouts, founded by a woman whose estranged husband left the bulk of his estate to his mistress, have instilled "courage, confidence and character" in millions of girls. God knows they need it in the current culture where women's well being is threatened on many sides.

I expect to see some nuns, former nuns, and friends of nuns on the Mall that day when I lift my voice as a former Girl Scout. History will record that in 2012 the Girl Scouts and nuns were living values the bishops could only mouth while they searched in vain for condoms in the cookie boxes. your social media marketing partner


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+78 # michelle 2012-06-05 17:51
Girl Scouts! What next, resurrect the Inquisition and demand it becomes a branch of government? The Catholic Bishops are out of control. Time to put the church in its place and out of our secular lives.
+11 # John Locke 2012-06-06 08:02
I think they are after women of all ages because gay men generally don't like women, and what do you call a bunch of men who wear dresses?

No offense meant to the gay and transgendered community, they are honest, the offense is meant to a church that is full of pedophiles that hide their proclivity in the dark, and a church that assists them in their sick activities, by turning a blind eye to what frequently happens between priests, bishops and innocent little boys.

How can anyone respect this joke of a religious organization?
+18 # CL38 2012-06-05 23:02
If right wing money steals the Presidency and further empowers the lunacy that passes for religious faith, I fully expect the Church to resume witch burning for independent, intelligent, autonomous women.

I want to know when the non-profit status of the catholic church will be revoked, due to the continual religious political campaigning that has gone on for decades? This is clearly a blatant violation of the separation of church and state.
+16 # Doubter 2012-06-05 23:10
These "dirty black buzzards," as my mother called them when she chased them out of the hospital room where she lay dying (her Catholic friend had brought two of them in to "save" her) only have authority because they are still permitted to brainwash impressionable infant minds and are able to throw the monetary weight of their ill gotten gains around. It is long past the time these Medieval Relics should have been relegated to the dustbin of history where ALL religious institutions belong.
They represent a tremendous waste of people's resources and an enormous drag on human evolution.
+3 # Rick Levy 2012-06-05 23:33
We know how The priests "investigates" children. They will probably co-opt the GS pledge as follows:

"On my honor I will do my best
to help a girl scout get undressed."
+18 # Majikman 2012-06-05 23:38
Still think there's no war on women?
+15 # Yakpsyche 2012-06-05 23:42
This is part of a larger unfortunate wave of male-based societal meanness, in reaction to the emerging empowerment of females in the world at large. In general males are threatened by females having power and they react by overcompensatin g.
+18 # Secular Humanist 2012-06-06 00:01
The best response the Girl Scouts could give to the Bishop's queries would be simply this:

"The Girl Scouts of the USA is an independent, secular, and pluralistic organization accountable through its Board of Directors to the girls we serve and their families. We have examined our rosters and records and we have been unable to identify any members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops either among this population nor potentially eligible to join. Consequently, as we are not to our knowledge now impacting, nor have we in the past in any way impacted your organization, we respectfully decline to respond regarding matters that do not concern you.

In the event the makeup of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops changes to include girls or the parent of girls who are members or eligible to become members of the Girl Scouts, we will be happy to revisit this issue.

With the greatest regard and affection,

The Girl Scouts of the USA"
+10 # chuckvw 2012-06-06 00:35
These clowns have tax exempt status... Where's Henry VIII when you need him?
+16 # Richard1908 2012-06-06 02:13
Separation of Church and State seems to be diminishing in the United States of America. The Church seems to be assuming an intrusive, unhealthy role in politics, health and women's issues, education and other things where it has no place outside of the pulpit. The Church should tend to the spiritual needs of its believers, and keep out of their secular lives as well as those of everyone else.
+14 # Njarmin 2012-06-06 03:53
Women and girls need to stop contributing money to the Catholic church while, at the same time, making their objections to the bishops behavior clear via the media. Bad press and decreased contributions may get the attention of these greedy, old men in fancy dresses.
+18 # RMDC 2012-06-06 04:40
You would think that the Catholic Bishops would have more to do. I remember way back i the 80s when some bishops and priests in Latin American tried to re-define sin in terms of poverty, exploitation of labor, military and police violence, and dictatorship. The mission of the church was supposed to combat sin. They were led by Gustavo Gutierrez and the movement was called "Liberation Theology."

The mission of then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope) was to exterminate Liberation Theology. He called it communism infecting catholicism. Ratzinger launched a campaign of murder, intimidation, and repression of priests and supporters of liberation theology.

For more than 40 years, he as been dragging the catholic church back into the middle ages. It was for the first half of the 20th century a good church, supporting the rights of the poor and working people against the billionaire capitalists.

Now it attacks the girl scouts. What's next?
+4 # dick 2012-06-06 05:12
The Vatican wants a cut of the action on GS Cookies, via the old "protection" racket. They need the $$ for more splendor in their diggs & to settle lawsuits, pay hush $$. But they have a dilemma: whom do you go after once you've done the nuns & Girl Scout? Images of Satan in apple pies?
+5 # Texan 4 Peace 2012-06-06 10:37
My guess would be public schools/
+1 # midtwnscott 2012-06-06 06:48
This is going to far. Mind your own effing business and stay out of what is none of your concern.
+5 # Peacedragon 2012-06-06 07:00
Those bishops are a bunch of men who think they can run the world. Best to ignore them.
+6 # Urbancurmudgeon 2012-06-06 07:15
Why is anyone surprised by this. The Roman Catholic church like all religions is all about power. No one needs a religion to worship God.. Religions form because men want power and that they can acquire it from those needy beings who want someone or something to blame for the things that go wrong in their lives. The strong and the greedy see that and take advantage by forming a religion.
+9 # freeportguy 2012-06-06 07:22
Repression has never been a successful strategy, no matter how better and strong it makes ruling people feel.

People such as Catholic clergymen with repressed sexuality are not exactly the right people to handle other people's sexuality.
+15 # Hank 2012-06-06 08:00
If the church wants to move into secular areas, perhaps it is time to revoke their tax exempt status.
+7 # chemtex 2012-06-06 09:04
The Cardinals are still crazy after all these years....... I left the church back in 1969 when the Cardinals decided that they, a group of octagenarian bachelors, were the ultimate resource on family planning.

My catecism said, "God made me to know, love and serve him in this world." It made no mention of Cardinals or their knowledge. It didn't say that I should consult the Cardinals at every turn to decide what to do. Kindness, honesty and hardwork would satisfy God, but not the Cardinals.

I leave the Cardinals to their own little world at the Vatican. From all the recently gleaned information about the Vatican inhabitants, they should have their hands full getting their own world back in shape so they can spend their time knowing, loving and serving God in this world.
+2 # humanmancalvin 2012-06-06 09:42
Well now, Girl Scouts are generally not the chosen prey for the protected sexually abusive priests. So insulting them doesn't affect the pool of potential altar boys.
+5 # reiverpacific 2012-06-06 10:24
My late aunt (a Lesbian) was a popular and beloved girl-scout Z(Called Girl Guides there) leader in Scotland for many years and she must be revolving in he ashes container at this.
I lasted six months in the boy scouts as it seemed like an outdated bulwark upholding the archaic jingoism during the death throes of the British "Empah" (al la Baden-Powell) and have chucked the Catholic Church out of my life (in spite of some good experiences and examples in some humble, poor out of the way places) as working against the teaching of Christ and the example of Mary and like most big churches, have become wholly power-drunk, male-dominated and are breeding grounds for planetary overpopulation -like the Mormons.
+7 # jwb110 2012-06-06 10:44
I am sick to death of the Papists interfering in America.
+5 # MylesJ 2012-06-06 11:30
Better not tell Rome about the Explorer Scouts, they would have apoplexy
+3 # Wally 2012-06-06 23:07
The elephant in the room is that the nuns are sitting on millions of dollars of property & that they are an elderly population. If the church is able to close down these orders, they will be able to add to the empire.

Who knows what the Girl Scouts might have that the church wants?
+2 # Trueblue Democrat 2012-06-07 10:46
Girl Scouts sell cookies.

But Catholic bishops and priests prefer to get their cookies with boys.
+2 # megastew 2012-06-07 16:50
A wise man once said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Even two thousand years ago, Jesus saw the Vatican coming.
+2 # tomo 2012-06-08 00:07
Considering the criminal record the Catholic Church has amassed over the past half-century, one would think they would just shut up on matters of sex and gender for about a thousand years.
0 # CoolConservative 2012-08-20 06:23
I am wondering if any of you are raising a daughter these days? When I was a Girl Scout leader, I was pretty upset when my daughter and I were cornered by a Camp Director (an open lesbian) and she asked me for marital advice (or she was flirting with me) at a camp. Thank God the Catholic Bishops are doing their job by protecting our Catholic girls from an organization that is bent on indoctrinating our daughters to accept the gay lifestyle and to be gay. I am sorry, but I have read their books, have seen what they have become and have ran the other way. They have a big problem right now because they started putting their left wing slanted garbage in the girl's Journey books. So, yes, there is a conservative choice in scouting now other than the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts hate this. They no longer have the market cornered. American Heritage Girls is the best place to send girls for Christian Conservatives.

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