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Incede Dignus

The Real Meaning of the New BSA Policy

Why Perception Matters

By Father Edward Horkan

The crucial issue with regard to whether Catholic parishes and other organizations should continue to sponsor BSA troop is what exactly the new policy allows. The text of the new policy is, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." The explanation that precedes this policy goes on to say, "Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

In principle, the policy could be read in one of two fashions. First, one could read the policy to mean that, if a boy has homosexual desires, but struggles against them and does not act upon them in any way, he should still be allowed in a troop. The second way of reading it is that a Scout may be proud of their homosexual attraction, have homosexual romantic attachments and engage in homosexual dating and romantic expressions (e.g., kissing, love letters, etc.) as long as they do not go so far as sexual intercourse.

There has been an attempt on the part of many people, in Catholic and other religious organizations, to read the new BSA policy in the first fashion, and thus as consistent with Catholic and general Christian principles. Thus, for example, in his article supporting continued involvement with Boy Scouts, Dr. Edward Peters, assumed that the policy allows membership only for boys who have those desires, not to those who act upon them.

However, as this essay will explain, such an interpretation is a completely inaccurate read on what has happened. It is quite clear that BSA is allowing Boy Scouts to engage in homosexual activity, as long as it stops short of actual sexual intercourse. Such a stance is wholly inconsistent with Catholic, and for that matter all traditional Christian, Jewish Muslim or other religious ethics, and thus makes it unfeasible to continue sponsorship of Catholic troops.

To begin with, the BSA statement that accompanied the resolution passed in May plainly refers to the resolution as a "policy change." As if to emphasize that fact, it also says that the policy for adults "remains in place." If the new policy means only that Scouts with homosexual desires can still be in Scouting, but not that they can engage in homosexual actions, then there would have been no need for a policy change. Virtually everyone understood before this whole debate that a Scout would not be expelled merely for having such desires and perhaps sharing that information with someone else. In fact, as Dr. Peters accurately says in his essay, if that had been the policy, it would have contradicted Catholic teaching.

The fact is, however, that the only times boys were expelled for "coming out of the closet" were when they made it clear that they were proud of their orientation and/or intended to act upon it. If some troops somewhere were reading the policy more strictly, a simple clarification would have been sufficient. Such as clarification would not have angered any Catholics or other people of faith, for it would have been consistent with our principles. Nor would it have been considered a victory by gay rights groups and their supporters, for such groups are not happy with the Catholic teaching that people with a homosexual orientation should be respected, as are people with any psychological infirmity, but actions based are disordered. The fact that virtually everyone considers this new policy to be a triumph for the gay rights movement (although for now a partial one because it does not apply to adults) indicates that the general public knows full well that it allows homosexual actions that are short of actual intercourse.

Furthermore, as the resolution makes clear, the older and more strict policy remains in place with regard to adults. If the new policy allows only boys who have a homosexual orientation, but who do not act upon it in Scouting, that must mean that adults who have a homosexual orientation cannot be in Scouting even if they understand it is disordered and do not act on it. I would certainly caution against a man with a homosexual or bisexual orientation to be on a campout with boys. But if such a person, or a woman with a lesbian or bisexual orientation, were nevertheless chaste, if they understood that they must not act upon such an orientation in any way, then they would be allowed to help out in other ways, e.g., with administrative roles, or overall instruction in company with others.

However, if: (1) the new BSA policy allow youths in Scouting who have such desires, but only if they do not act upon them; and (2) the policy with regard to adults is stricter that the one with regard to youths, as BSA says it is, then it necessarily follows that even completely pure adults with a homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation could not help out with Scouting. That would certainly be much stricter than what is currently understood, and I very much doubt that that is what the BSA leadership intends.

The resolution and the so-called assurances that the BSA has published also indicate that the organization considers the homosexual orientation and heterosexual orientation, for it applies the same rules to them. In particular, the only limitations that BSA places with regard to romantic or sexual conduct is that "sexual conduct by any Scout, heterosexual or homosexual, is contrary to the virtues of Scouting and is reflective of the beliefs of most of our major religious chartered organizations. While, if this resolution is passed, no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of stating their sexual orientation alone, Scouting expects appropriate behavior from all members, which includes sexual conduct, regardless of sexual orientation." See Points of Clarification at No. 2. Likewise, the preamble to the resolution states generally, "any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

The rules here are exactly the same for heterosexual and homosexual orientation, forbidding "sexual conduct" and vaguely expecting "appropriate behavior." The sexual conduct forbidden to youths (and I hope unmarried people) cannot include dating and modest romantic overtures, for heterosexual boys are permitted to engage in them with regard to girls. And there are no other rules applicable to boys with a homosexual orientation; thus the documents themselves indicate that such behavior is allowed between boys and other boys.

In addition, the very survey the BSA leadership took indicates that the adults involved in Boy Scouting understood the old policy to allow boys in Scouting who had a homosexual or bisexual orientation, but who were not proud of it and who did not act upon it in any way. For, according to the executive summary that BSA published with the proposal for a policy change, "While the adults in the Scout community strongly support the current membership policy, they are less likely to agree with removing a Scout solely on the basis of sexual orientation as opposed to behavior" (emphasis added.)

That very result, which BSA itself noted but ignored, implies that: (1) the adults strongly support the current policy; and (2) the adults do not in general want to exclude a Scout based upon orientation as opposed to behavior. Thus, the adults understood the current policy before the change as not excluding Scouts based upon orientation alone that did not result in behavior. Thus, they would understand the current policy change as allowing homosexual behavior that is short of actual sexual intercourse.

If there is such a widespread misunderstanding of this new policy, if it is not new at all, but only clarifies that desires alone, if they are not a source of pride or homosexual actions, do not exclude one from Boy Scouts, then, surely the BSA leadership would be anxious to correct such an error, which is threatening a schism in Scouting. The fact that they have not done so makes it plain that the new policy is much broader, that it does in fact allow a Scout to be proud of a homosexual orientation and act upon it short of sexual intercourse. Perhaps one can give them a short time to issue such a clarification.

Given the fact that, in the absence of such a clarification, we must get moving on forming an alternative group, I would give BSA a month at the most to issue a public, clear and unequivocal statement. The statement would have to say unambiguously and unequivically that the only effect of the resolution adopted in May is to allow in Scouting boys who have a homosexual orientation, but who struggle against it and do not act in any way upon it, and that any boy who describes pride at such an orientation or acts with romantic interest upon another boy cannot be in Scouting.

Alas, the chances of BSA issuing such a statement, which would make the whole controversy leading to the May vote moot, is vanishingly slight. And without such a statement, the current policy clearly indicates that Boy Scouts may engage in romantic interests with other boys, a result that in turn makes BSA policy contrary to that of the Catholic Church.

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Incede Dignus

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