Archdiocese addresses concerns with Girl Scouts
Several reblossoming issues surrounding Girl Scouts and its connections to Planned Parenthood, among other concerns, have prompted archdiocesan officials to meet with local Girl Scout representatives.
Last month, Auxiliary Bishop Edward Rice and Ann Lederman, director of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Scouting, Msgr. John Borcic, executive director of the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate, and Father Tom Pastorius, Girl Scouts chaplain, met with Donna Martin, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, which serves nearly 55,000 girls in St. Louis City and 28 surrounding counties. The Feb. 23 meeting was the latest in a series of ongoing discussions the archdiocese has had with the local council.
In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, nearly all of the 106 parish elementary schools have several Girl Scout troops, according to Lederman. Each year, the Office of Catholic Scouting reaches more than 5,000 girls through its faith-formation awards programs and retreats.
While the archdiocese still has some unanswered questions regarding funding and content related to the operation of Girl Scouts at a national and international level, Bishop Rice told the Review he was pleased with the local council's long history of not partnering with Planned Parenthood.
"The Archdiocese of St. Louis, along with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the U.S. bishops, will continue to stay educated on the issues and will work toward promoting opportunities that will affect change," said Bishop Rice. "We want Catholic parents to know that we're taking this seriously, and hopefully, through our ongoing conversation with all involved, we can find some resolution. Our desire is to continue our longstanding relationship with Girl Scouts and to continue to minister and educate Girl Scouts in leadership skills and faith formation."
At their meeting, Martin of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri reiterated that the local council does not collaborate or partner with Planned Parenthood and has no plans to do so in the future. It also takes no position on abortion or birth control, a stance also held by the national Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA).
"We believe religious opinions and practices are best decided between girls, their families and faith communities," said Martin. "We encourage girls to discuss these matters with their parents and religious advisors."
Last month, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, a national organization of Catholic diocesan youth ministry offices, announced that it is working with the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth to address the concerns surrounding Girl Scouts. The Committee on the Laity is expected to meet sometime this month to work toward a resolution.
What are the issues?
There are four primary issues that concern activities at the national level (GSUSA) and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), an international organization of which GSUSA is a member. The controversy surrounding these issues has been well-documented over the last several years and has prompted a heated discussion among people within the Catholic community and other faith denominations.
• Connections to Planned Parenthood: In 2004, former GSUSA CEO Kathy Cloninger appeared on NBC's "Today" show, during which she acknowledged that Girl Scouts maintains relationships with organizations including Planned Parenthood. What's changed is a recent statement, made last month, from GSUSA that said the organization "does not have a relationship or partnership with Planned Parenthood and does not plan to create one."
There also have been reports of local councils elsewhere in the United States (Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri is not one of them) that have had connections with Planned Parenthood. That is largely in part because each council, while chartered by the national GSUSA, operates independently from one another, said Lederman of the Office of Catholic Scouting.
Martin said that the decisions surrounding affiliation with Planned Parenthood are locally founded. "There are relationships that have existed in the past that have been severed with good reason, over time. There's been a total change of curriculum and strategy."
• The money trail: From dues to cookie sales, parents want to know where the girls' money is being used. Exactly where that money is used remains a major concern for the archdiocese, said Bishop Rice.
According to Martin, the $12 membership fee from each Girl Scout goes to the GSUSA, which supports program development efforts and other services to the local councils.
A recent GSUSA statement noted that "no money from girls' dues goes to WAGGGS," which has a history of promoting abortion, contraceptives and sexual diversity, among other issues on an international level. However, GSUSA does provide investment earnings to WAGGGS.
"The truth is (GSUSA) does pay (investment earnings) to WAGGGS to create a global world in which all girls have opportunities," said Martin.
WAGGGS, she added, is the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world and supports girls and young women to develop their full potential as responsible citizens of the world. It focuses on leadership development and active citizenship delivered through global education and community and advocacy programs.
As for Girl Scout cookies, all proceeds from the sales stay with the local council, said Martin. There remains a question of what happens to a portion of the money that goes toward licensing fees to the two cookie bakers under contract with GSUSA, ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. Those licensing fees go directly to GSUSA, said Martin.
• Journeys books: GSUSA publishes a leadership curriculum called Journeys. Some of the materials previously associated with Journeys had links to websites and content that was of a questionable nature and not age appropriate. That changed in the last year, however.
GSUSA, under the direction of new CEO Anna Maria Chavez, has submitted all materials related to Journeys through a full review, said Martin. There also is a new trust statement placed in all materials to "express to parents that part of their responsibility is to watch over what their girls are exploring," said Martin. "What's important is there's been a tremendous effort of a full review of all materials."
• Expression of faith: "We have not taken God out of the promise," stressed Martin.
There has been a misperception that faith is no longer allowed in Girl Scouts, according to Ann Lederman of the Catholic Scouting Office. Girl Scout policy allows for the expression of individual faiths. For example, in the Girl Scout Promise, troops are welcome to use the appropriate word to represent their particular faith. So Catholic troops, therefore, have the ability to use the word God in the promise.
Many faith communities also have faith-specific formation awards programs, such as what is offered through the Catholic Scouting Office. The programs explore topics including the Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit, the importance of family values from a Catholic perspective and an appreciation of the role faith plays in their daily lives. The programs are not provided by Girl Scouts, but for girls in Girl Scouting, said Lederman.
In the fall of 2011, GSUSA, along with several religious institutions, developed an introduction to faith program called "My Promise, My Faith," as stepping stones to connects Scouts with their own faith community.
"Girl Scouts have a long tradition of recognizing and encouraging girls to earn the religious recognitions of their own faith," said Martin. "'My Promise, My Faith' complements the existing religious recognitions and allows all girls to further strengthen the connection between their faith and Girl Scouts."
A girl does this by examining the Girl Scout Law and directly tying it to tenets of her faith. It is suggested that girls earn "My Promise, My Faith" awards either in conjunction with or upon completion of religious recognitions. If a faith denomination does not have a religious recognition, "My Promise, My Faith" awards can be earned.
The local council also is forming a religious relationship committee in order to communicate and collaborate with various faith communities in a more effective manner, said Martin.
The structure of Girl Scouts is slightly different from other youth-based organizations in that local troops have autonomy in the programming and content that is presented to its members.
Girls are encouraged to become stronger members of their faith through Girl Scouting and can participate in the religious recognition program appropriate to their faith, according to Martin. However, that program also can complement the Girl Scout program experience for those girls who also participate in the faith-based religious recognition programs, but does not replace it simply because a troop is all of one faith, she added.
That kind of autonomy allows troop leaders to maintain "total control" over what the girls participate in, said Martin of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri.
Because the Journeys materials, for example, are topic based, there are alternative ways to approach the materials to make them "more relevant to their troop," said Martin. "It is girl-led, so girls can choose what they want to do. The leader helps facilitate that."
Fran Boyer, troop coordinator at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in south St. Louis and leader of Ambassadors Troop 2049 (high school juniors and seniors), said she's never felt pressured to present materials to her girls that would compromise their Catholic faith and values.
"I've never felt like I could not be a Catholic Girl Scout troop," said Boyer, who has been a troop leader since 1996. "We have been given the opportunity through religious (faith formation) awards to tap into our faith."
Boyer acknowledged that the concerns with content and funding at the national and international level is a concern for her, adding that she's stayed connected with the issue for the past five years, sharing updates with her parish's troops. However, she said that by simply pulling out of Girl Scouts, "you're just contributing to the problem. Scouting builds such character, such leadership in these girls."
"It's easy for people to say, just pull out when faced with challenges. But we believe that we can make a difference and that our actions will effect change," said Lederman. "We have been seeing changes, so we remain hopeful. Change takes time and it takes all of us, doing our part, working together to make a difference."
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