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Incede Dignus

The Day the Heroes Died

Boy Scouts of America Swallows a Poison Pill

By Father Edward Horkan

There are two points that many people who want to make an accommodation with the new BSA policy are ignoring. First, there is a crucial distinction between sin in general and blameworthy sin, a distinction that people, including many Catholic teachers, do not seem to understand. In Latin, at least as used in the Thomistic tradition, the word peccatum means anything sinful, whether blameworthy or not, while the word culpum means specifically blameworthy sin. Thus, for example, if a child is raised among thieves, or even in company where people use irreverent language or have any other evil tendency, he will acquire habits that are sinful, even if he is not yet to blame for them.

In a similar manner, society creates sinful temptations even for the faithful; we may not be to blame for thoughts and desires that occur involuntarily as a result, but such thoughts and desires are still sinful. Likewise, original sin is not blameworthy to us, but it is still sinful and contrary to human perfection. And even after baptism, the disordered desires that come from concupiscence remain and are rightly called sinful, even if they are not currently blameworthy. With regard to sinful aspects of human nature, even if an individual is not to blame for them, they still do damage and one has the responsibility to struggle against them.

A homosexual orientation is in this category. It is a sinful desire (or intrinsically disordered, as the Catechism says), even if the individual is not to blame for having this orientation. The orientation still does damage and there is still a responsibility to struggle against it, as with all sinful desires. And there is blame if a person does not engage in that struggle, or any struggle against sinful desire. Thus it will not do to say that there is nothing sinful about the orientation. Rather there should be compassion for people who struggle against it and a willingness to help them overcome this disordered desire, as there is compassion for people overcoming any disability.

Second, because a homosexual orientation is disordered, there is a responsibility not to act on it in any way. Thus, a single man who is not under any vows nor preparing to be, may date women and, within reason and moderation, become romantically involved with them. By contrast, it is intrinsically disordered and thus sinful for a man to date, make romantic overtures, or be romantically involved with other men (or women with women for that matter), even if there is no sexual intercourse. In a similar way, it would be immoral for a married man, or a man under vows, to become romantically involved with a woman not his wife, even if he does not actually commit adultery.

The new BSA policy ignores these facts. It is apparently based upon the view that living out a homosexual desire, without actually engaging in intercourse, is acceptable to those under 18, but not for those 18 or above. The explanation that accompanies the new policy said that there should not be any problem because Boy Scout ethics forbids sexual activity among minors, and any open homosexuality for those 18 and above would be forbidden. Thus, their explanation of the policy insists that homosexual intercourse would still be forbidden across the board. But the policy would still allow Scouts under the age of 18 to engage openly on homosexual dating, romantic overtures, and the like. (After all, Scouts can date and be romantically involved with women, and the commentary says that the prohibitions are the same for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.) Furthermore, unlike the proposal floated in January, there would be no option for individual units to adopt a rule forbidding open homosexuality with respect to Scouts under 18. The result is a policy that is unacceptable in the Catholic Church, and for that matter, in any traditional Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith.

Another concern is that the new policy greatly increases the potential for sexual abuse. The potential for heterosexual abuse is very much limited by the fact that there are very few if any women, and no underage girls, are on campouts, summer camps and the like. (There are coed Explorer troops, but their members are over 18.) The potential for abuse is a concern, but is limited by policies that forbid dangerous situations between adults and the Scouts, e.g., adults being alone with boys. By contrast, many of the rules do not apply to boys being together; and in fact they do share the same tents and are often alone together. Under the new rules, a Scout could be openly homosexual and have romantic relationships with other boys, as long as they do not cross the line into sexual intercourse, and it is voluntary. However, given that older Scouts are leaders to younger Scouts, the line between voluntary and involuntary relationships may well become very hazy. And, once again, once one allows openly homosexual Scouts to be together and alone with other boys, it will be very difficult to police whether there is sexual conduct. By contrast, the current rules prohibit, not only anything that could be abuse, but even romantic overtures that are usually a prelude to them. That barrier is the only one that can easily by maintained; tearing it down will create a vastly more dangerous situation.

In addition, the distinction between Scouts under 18 and those over 18 is morally incoherent, for it is based upon the principle that homosexual desires are fine until the age of 18, but not afterward. It will also be completely impracticable to implement for at least three reasons. First, practically speaking, if openly homosexual boys are on a campout together, which includes living in the same tent and the like, it will be very difficult to keep them from ever engaging in sexual intercourse. (Could one imagine having teenage boys and girls living in the same tent and believe that there would be no unchastity?) Second, is the BSA seriously expecting troops to allow a Scout in the troop until he is 18, and then suddenly tell him that he cannot continue to participate? It would tear apart troops and be a public relations disaster. Third, legally, the new policy completely undermines the Boy Scout's ability to forbid openly homosexual leaders. For in the Dale v. Boy Scouts of America decision, the Supreme Court said that jurisdictions could not require BSA to accept open homosexuals because doing so would require them to violate a core belief of theirs, namely, that homosexuality is disordered. The new policy would undermine that belief and replace with the apparent belief that homosexuality is fine until 18, but not after then. Such a stance would be very difficult to defend in courts, which will very likely hold that the basis for the Dale decision no longer applies.

For all of these reasons, I do not think that the Catholic Church, or any authentically Christian, Jewish, or Muslim entity can feasibly continue to sponsor units under BSA. We are entirely capable of forming groups on our own. And, because a BSA troop or pack is a part of the chartering organization, if the troop or pack is dissolved, its property and records belong to the chartering organizations. Thus, if a Catholic pack or troop leaves BSA and joins another group, it cannot simply take all of the property and records with it and continue to do largely the same things it did before. It would have to use different books, badges, and the like. But these things can all be drawn up. What is more, being in BSA involves funding the national organization, not only with dues, but also with the purchase of Scouting items, such as uniforms, badges and the like. A former employee of the Scout Store in Annandale told me that BSA sells many of its items at 3 or 4 times the cost. That money, along with private donations, are used to support the Austin headquarters, which among other things, pays its top 13 executives a total of $6.5 million a year, with one of them receiving $987,000 in 2011. The expenses and efforts to start or expand a new organization would be offset by the fact that we would no longer have to pay for those expenses, but instead could support a much simpler and, to use part of the Boy Scout law, thrifty, organization.

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Incede Dignus

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