This morning’s Bismarck Tribune had a front page story about the Catholic bishop of Bismarck announcing that he would no longer allow Catholic churches in his diocese to sponsor Boy Scout troops. He said in the story that the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow gay Scout leaders “prompted him to decide that the diocese, its parishes and schools would end their relationship” with the Boy Scout troops, effective immediately.
Bismarck Bishop David Kagan has done a mean, spiteful thing. The Boy Scouts said that chartered organizations sponsoring Boy Scout troops can use their religious beliefs on sexuality to select leaders. In other words, they do not have to allow troops they sponsor to select gay Scoutmasters. That makes sense. Certainly the Boy Scout organization I know would not require anyone to violate his or her religious beliefs. If sponsoring organizations, like the Catholic Church, teach that homosexuality is wrong, then they should not have to violate that principle. And the Boy Scouts agreed with that, and said so.
Organizations which sponsor Boy Scout troops, one of which sponsored my Boy Scout troop when I was growing up, generally include churches, civic groups like the American Legion, and schools, which provide some financial help, meeting space and leadership to the volunteer Boy Scout organizations. In North Dakota, Catholic and Lutheran Churches have been leaders in sponsoring Scout troops.
In my hometown of Hettinger, when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, we had two Scout troops, one sponsored by the Catholic Church and one by the Lutheran Church. Your religious affiliation generally, but not always, dictated which troop you would join. My dad was Scoutmaster of Troop 34, sponsored by the Catholic Church, so I naturally joined that one.
Many of those affiliations persist today. The beauty of this arrangement is, religion generally doesn’t overlap into Scout activities. Scouts aren’t pestered about religion. They learn scouting. In Mandan, for example, the paper this morning pointed out that St. Joseph’s Catholic Church has sponsored a troop for more than 60 years.
Today, I am so angry at my bishop that I sent him a letter. I’ve never done anything like this before. But he needs to hear from Catholics, and today he heard from me. He further angered me this week when he had his priests read a letter from the pulpit last Sunday denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church has no dog in that fight. We don’t allow same-sex marriage, but we also should not be judging others who do. Lest we be judged.
So today I wrote to the Bishop. If you are a Catholic, and if you agree with me, I urge you to do the same. One of my friends has already done so. In short, he said “Who was it who said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Pope Francis.”
Here’s my letter. Father, forgive me, but I must speak out.
Dear Bishop Kagan,
I am a very sad Catholic today. Your stance on the Boy Scouts is intolerant and unbecoming of a Man of Christ.
I am particularly troubled by this sentence:
“While there are indications that the BSA has a religious organization exemption, which each local troop could invoke, that will provide no protection for any of our parishes and/or schools, which sponsor troops.”
Protection from what, Bishop Kagan? Protection from what?
I would like an answer to that question: Protection from what? What are you afraid of? I sense a deep, dark, absence of compassion and understanding, and more than a bit of ignorance on this issue. I know I must trust you to lead our diocese’s churches and its priests, but this statement gives me no confidence in your thinking process, which is critical to your ability to lead.
I grew up in Boy Scout Troop 34 in Hettinger, sponsored by my parish, Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The troop was started by my father, and he served as Scoutmaster for many years. My three brothers and I all were Scouts and mass servers, and we felt both were part of our growing up process. Actually, it would have been unthinkable for us to not do either of those things. I’m pretty sure I can speak for my father and my brothers in saying that your dictum is a huge mistake.
As Scouts we were brought up to follow the Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
And I tried my best to obey the Scout Law, which was which was to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (and I didn’t have to look those up–I still remember–that’s how important those things were to me).
I’m guessing you were not a Boy Scout, Bishop Kagan, or if you were, you have forgotten a lot of what you learned.
Last Sunday I listened to your equally intolerant letter on gay marriage, read to me by Father Chad Gion, and reacted much the same way as I am reacting today after reading the newspaper story. You, and we as Catholics, have no dog in the gay marriage fight. Gay men and women who choose to marry have no place in my thought process, or in my religious practices or beliefs. It is their business. Not mine. Not yours.
It seems to me you’ve picked two unnecessary fights this week, and I am terribly disappointed in you. That’s not leadership. That’s pandering.
I am so grateful I have a wonderful compassionate priest in Father Chad. I’ve not seen anyone in my 68 years as a Catholic who better expresses his love for Jesus, and why I should love him, as well as Father Chad does. He may agree with you on these stands, but he doesn’t wear them on his sleeve, and he doesn’t go out of his way to pick a fight. He’s the reason I continue to practice my faith, in spite of the fact I have an intolerant bishop.
I hope your days in our diocese are numbered. We need better leadership than you are displaying right now. And I am not just speaking for myself. I have many, many friends who want to see you go away and for the Holy Father to bring us new leadership. True leadership.