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Brighton church disassociates itself from Boy Scouts

A Brighton church says it is severing its relationship with a local Boy Scout troop, citing concerns over a new merit badge.

In a communication to parishioners, St. Patrick Catholic Church Head Pastor, Father Mathias Thelen, said that based on guidance from the Lansing Diocese he would formally disassociate the parish and school from both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.

“The diocese sent out clear guidance to parishes on its recommendations regarding our relationship to the Boy Scouts given their legal trouble and the problematic positions they have taken which are incompatible with the Catholic faith,” said Fr. Thelen.

In that guidance, the diocese notes changes that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) made to their bylaws which “no longer explicitly protect a church’s right to withhold membership from youth members whose personal beliefs are in conflict with the chartered organization’s religious principles.”

On that point, the guidance points to the “Citizenship in Society” merit badge recently adopted by the BSA.

“This required merit badge for Eagle Scouts is an exploration of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” topics; its regular references to celebrating “individuality” and different “identities” contradict Catholic teaching on human sexuality,” states the guidance.

That badge was introduced in 2021 by BSA, which said it would provide “Scouts with opportunities to learn more about our world by encouraging them to explore information on diversity, equity, inclusion and ethical leadership — and to learn why these qualities are important in society and in Scouting.”

It was developed following a pilot program including 31 Scout Executives and more than 60 troops across different regions.

“Overwhelmingly, Scouts in the pilot say the merit badge is a positive experience,” said BSA. “Scouts were open to having conversations around their research and the answers, and they shared personal examples of encountering the concepts and ideals covered in the requirements.”

The guidance from the Diocese also cites the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy filing in February 2020, meant to end hundreds of lawsuits by men molested decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.

Last September, BSA’s $2.46 billion reorganization plan was approved, essentially ending the legal threat to the organization, and according to a December 30 report by Reuters “local councils, churches and other organizations that chartered scouting activities.”

Despite that, the Diocese still cited concern over potentially being sued among its criteria for disassociating.

“Given these legal issues concerning liability protection following the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy and the shifting moral values of the Boy Scouts of America, the Diocese of Lansing now recommends that parishes disassociate with the Boy Scouts,” stated the guidance. “Given that other scouting organizations, such as the Girls Scouts and perhaps others, have also begun promoting ideologies contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, pastors are also encouraged to reconsider any relationship with them.”

Tension between the church and BSA began to increase in 2013 when the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on Scouts being openly gay, followed in 2015 when the prohibition on gay troop leaders was ended. Then in 2017, BSA said it would allow transgender members. The Girl Scouts, meanwhile, have led the way on inclusion issues, releasing an official stance on LGBTQ equality in 2003.

Father Thelen then closed the communication by calling it a “sad situation”.

“It’s not the Church who has changed; it’s the Boy Scouts who have changed,” said Thelen. “This kind of clear moral guidance from the Diocese, while difficult for us to hear, is actually a gift. As a result, I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to formally disassociate our parish and school from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I know this might be difficult for some people, but I believe it to be the right choice for us and for our children.”

The only Boy Scout Troop associated with St. Patrick Catholic Church is Troop 347. A message has been sent to the Troop seeking comment.

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