Girl Scouts under scrutiny from Catholic bishops
Conservative criticism of alleged Girl Scouts policy on sexuality, birth control, and abortion pulls the organization back into the culture wars with an investigation by Catholic bishops. It's not the first time the girls have been caught in political crossfire.
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The inquiry coincides with a broader effort by the bishops to analyze church ties with outside groups. Rhoades' committee plans to consult with Girl Scouts leaders and with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, which has been liaising with the Scouts for two years about various complaints.Skip to next paragraph
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The federation's executive director, Bob McCarty, praised the Girl Scouts for willingness to change some program content.
"I don't think any of this material was intentionally mean-spirited," Mr. McCarty said. "I think a lot of it was lack of attention."
However, McCarty expressed doubt that the Girl Scouts' most vehement critics would be satisfied regardless of what steps are taken.
"It's easier to step back and throw verbal bombs," he said. "It takes a lot more energy to work for change."
Mary Rice Hasson, a visiting fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, accuses McCarty of "whitewashing" Girl Scout programs and policies that struck some Catholics as counter to church teaching.
"They just repeated the Girl Scouts' denials," Ms. Hasson said. "Families' concerns were minimized or ignored."
Hasson is pleased that the bishops are launching their own inquiry but is skeptical that further rifts can be avoided.
"A collision course is probably a good description of where things are headed," she said. "The leadership of the Girl Scouts is reflexively liberal. Their board is dominated by people whose views are antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
One of the long-running concerns is the Girl Scouts' membership in the 145-nation World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
The association, known as WAGGGS, is on record as saying girls and young women "need an environment where they can freely and openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality." It also has called for increased access to condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Some critics want the Girl Scouts of the USA to pull out of the world group; the scouts aren't budging.
"Our world is becoming smaller and our young people need to have those opportunities to engage with their peers from around the world," said the Girl Scouts' CEO, Anna Maria Chavez. "But simply being a member does not mean that we will always take the same positions or endorse the same programs as WAGGGS."
To the Girl Scouts, some of the attacks seem to be a form of guilt by association. Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn't contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.
One repeated complaint, revived in February by the Catholic broadcasting network EWTN, involves an International Planned Parenthood brochure made available to girls attending a Girl Scout workshop at a 2010 United Nations event. The brochure — "Healthy, Happy and Hot" — advised young people with HIV on how to safely lead active sex lives.
The Girl Scouts say they had had no advance knowledge of the brochure and played no role in distributing it.