Last year, when the Boy Scouts of America were considering changing their admission policy to allow openly homosexual members, Fr. John De Celles, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church in Springfield, Virginia, made it very clear to his parish that such a change would impact the BSA’s relationship with the parish, where they had an active troop.
This change in policy is greatly disappointing: another huge loss for common sense, morality, Christianity and America. And although the proposed BSA policy change would allow troops like the one at St. Raymond’s to determine its own policy in this regard, Scout troops do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction and cooperation with other troops locally, statewide and nationally. On a practical level that means, for example, that since not all troops would keep the ban in place, our own local/parish policy would be useless any time our boys took part in any of the many activities open to other troops.
But there is more to this than the “practical.” What does it say when a group dedicated to forming men to fulfill their “duty to God and country” and to be “morally straight” doesn’t understand one of the most basic concepts of morality and human nature? What does it say when a group for years strenuously fights the forces of immorality, and then one day simply capitulates? What does it say that we continue as members of this group?
The modus operandi is clear. If they win this victory at BSA, they will not stop there. Why should they? The next step will be to use this victory to attack the local chartering organizations, like the troop at St. Raymond’s.
Well, as for me, as pastor and the one responsible for the troop, who signs the charter agreement every year, if this change is made I will not let our parish be associated with this group or provide the opportunity for my spiritual children to be.
So if this policy change goes through, St. Raymond’s will severe its relationship with BSA. No more compromising with the devil.
When the change eventually came in May, Fr. De Celles made no announcement. The months wore on, until finally the end of the year loomed. At last, Fr. De Celles could wait no longer, and addressed the issue head on:
Before that May decision I had publicly stated that this change would cause me to end St. Raymond’s relationship with BSA. Since then, however, I have remained largely silent, responding to Bishop Loverde’s request that pastors refrain from any action until he gave us his formal guidance. Unfortunately, other important matters have understandably delayed the Bishop in issuing this guidance, and my long silence caused some confusion among St. Raymond’s scouting families. Ultimately, as more and more families made plans to join other packs and troops, I felt compelled to speak more frankly to the parents about my intentions, but always with the proviso: “depending on what the Bishop says.”
But time has run out on me: the charter for both St. Raymond’s Cub Scout Pack 683 and the Boy Scout Troop 683 will expire on December 31, and the Pack and Troop will be dissolved.
To be clear, it was my decision not to renew the charters. Few decisions in my priesthood have been so heart wrenching as this. BSA has provided boys many rich opportunities for personal growth for over a hundred years—in particular for our boys these last few years. But this new policy changes everything.
I in no way condemn or hold any ill will towards those who disagree with me—either other pastors, parents or scout leaders. While this deals with objective truths, it comes down to a prudential judgment. I respect those who disagree with my prudential judgment, and I particularly respect parents for doing what they think best for their children, but I could not respect myself if I did not do what I thought was right for my flock.
Father instead chose to welcome Trail Life USA, an alternative to the Boy Scouts who make their beliefs and values very clear. Unlike the BSA, Trail Life does not accept members who are openly homosexual. And as their statement about purity attests, they believe that marriage is “a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.” By any standard, this change at St. Raymond’s from hosting a Boy Scout troop to a new partnership with Trail Life seems an eminently reasonable one that should be made by any responsible pastor of souls.
But religious liberty is merely an obstacle to be trampled underfoot by those aggressively pushing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Robert McCartney, a columnist for the Washington Post, has decided that it’s his mission to take Fr. De Celles to task. And he’s using the words of Pope Francis — like many promoting the gay agenda — as a rhetorical cudgel against Catholics faithful to Church teaching on homosexuality:
Pope Francis says gay people “shouldn’t be marginalized,” but a Northern Virginia Roman Catholic priest has taken the opposite approach regarding the Boy Scouts.
Father John De Celles of St. Raymond of Peñafort in Springfield kicked out his church’s Boy Scout troop and Cub Scout pack in December because the national scouting organization dared to open its doors to openly gay youths.
St. Raymond will instead sponsor units of a new organization — Trail Life USA. It’s just like the Boy Scouts, except that it officially embraces “a Christian worldview” and discriminates against boys who refuse to hide their homosexuality.
De Celles’s decision comes as no surprise to anyone who’s read his diatribes against gay behavior, liberal activists and similar targets in his weekly columns available on the church’s Web site.
Happily, De Celles is in the minority. Despite alarmists’ warnings that a change regarding gays might cripple the Boy Scouts, the impact so far has been small in the Washington region and less than feared in the rest of the country. De Celles, who declined to be interviewed, heads the only Roman Catholic parish in the close-in Northern Virginia suburbs to refuse to renew its charter with the Boy Scouts because of the decision on gays, according to information provided by the Arlington diocese.
That’s a big relief to the local Boy Scout council. It feared it might lose many more Catholic church sponsors in Northern Virginia, after Arlington Archbishop Paul Loverde said in May that the admission of gay youths was “highly disappointing.”
I occasionally attend Mass at St. Raymond’s, and I’ve found it to be an active and thriving parish with an elegant new church building in a neo-classical style. Fr. De Celles himself has a strong reputation for Catholic orthodoxy, but despite his willingness to give voice to the hard truths, he’s nothing if not kind and diplomatic in his presentation.
As I watch this unfold, I worry. I am concerned that Fr. De Celles, who is standing alone within the diocese at the present moment, will remain alone in facing his detractors. I do not know if the diocese or Bishop Loverde will come to Fr. De Celles’s defense. I hope that they will. But if I’m reading the signs correctly, such a defense may not be forthcoming:
Loverde has refrained from further criticism while monitoring the new policy’s effects. On Feb. 8, he presided over the annual “Scout Mass” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
Loverde might have been influenced by the more conciliatory attitude taken by other American Catholic leaders. In particular, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting issued a 40-point fact sheet in November that defended the Boy Scouts’ decision as consistent with Catholic teaching.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Washington Archdiocese, which includes the District and Maryland suburbs, also has backed the Scouts.
“The U.S. bishops have been fairly clear that what the Boy Scouts have done is within church teaching, which says that you don’t discriminate against anyone for sexual orientation,” said Robert McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
He said the pope’s statements also have prompted “a difference in tone” regarding gays.
What is a Catholic priest to do? The primacy of conscience has become an issue of much discussion during the current papacy, so it would seem that a pastor following his own, presumably well-formed conscience, would be on safe ground. But the political winds in the world today are dangerous to the barque of Peter, and it is difficult to know when a priest standing for Catholic teaching will receive the support he needs when facing opposition for nothing more than being faithful to his vocation.
As I wrote last year when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, we are perilously close to a time where simply enforcing the Church’s teachings on homosexual relationships at the parish level could be considered a “hate crime”. The stage for such a classification has been set. McCartney’s column embodies the very thinking that will lead us there:
[I]t’s not as bad as some forecasts had anticipated. A task force report was prepared in April before the membership change was made. It predicted that allowing individual troops to admit gays as both youths and adult leaders would lead to a membership drop of more than 10 percent.
I wish I could say all this means that the controversy is effectively over. It isn’t.
Last year’s decision only went half way, because the Boy Scouts still ban openly gay people from serving as adult leaders. So the whole issue will be joined again, as activists rightly pressure the organization to end discrimination at all levels.
I hope and expect that those with narrow-minded views will be the ones who end up “marginalized.”
He hopes that those with “narrow-minded views” will be “marginalized.” Considering what a dirty word “marginalization” is to people with McCartney’s views, it isn’t a stretch to surmise that this is essentially a code word for “persecution”. The same people who condemn Christians as “bigots” for their religious views on homosexual relationships have no qualms turning their own bigotry against us. They want to silence dissent. They want to crush opposition to their agenda. In their view, we should not only not be allowed to practice our beliefs, but we should be penalized and ostracized for remaining faithful to our consciences and our God.
People who think this way are incredibly dangerous to our Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion and speech. They don’t have any interest in true liberty. They only desire license. And they’ll attack anyone who gets in their way.