ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is urging priests to sever ties with the Girl Scouts, saying the organization promotes values “incompatible” with Catholic teachings.
The open letter to priests, scout leaders and other Catholics was posted Thursday on the archdiocese website. It urges parishes that host Girl Scout meetings to consider alternative programs for girls that are more Catholic- or Christian-based.
“We must stop and ask ourselves — is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?” Carlson wrote.
The letter stops short of demanding an end to Girl Scout meetings at parishes, a common gathering site in the heavily Catholic St. Louis region. Brian Miller, executive director of the Catholic Youth Apostolate, said Friday that the letter is not meant to pressure priests into pushing out Girl Scouts.
“We’re asking parishes to evaluate and review what they can do to form the faith of young women,” Miller said.
Carlson’s letter said the archdiocese and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have been investigating concerns about the Girl Scouts of the USA and the parent organization, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, for several years.
Carlson worries that contraception and abortion rights are being promoted to Girl Scouts. The letter also said resources and social media “highlight and promote role models in conflict with Catholic values, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.” Steinem, 81, is a feminist, journalist and political activist. Friedan, who died in 2006 at age 85, was a feminist and writer.
“In addition, recent concerns about GSUSA and their position on and inclusion of transgender and homosexual issues are proving problematic,” Carlson wrote.
Girl Scouts of the USA said in a statement that it “looks forward to extending our longstanding relationship with faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church and Catholic communities, throughout the country. As the pre-eminent leadership development organization for girls of every faith and background, we remain committed to building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began investigating the Girl Scouts of the USA in 2012, not long after lawmakers in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the Scouts into question, and after the organization was berated in a series aired by a Catholic broadcast network.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis is particularly powerful in the region given that nearly a quarter of the area’s population — about 520,000 people — is Catholic. Its leaders have never been shy about addressing politically and socially sensitive matters. During the 2004 presidential campaign, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke made national news when he said he would deny communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry, citing his stance on abortion.
Carlson asked each pastor at parishes where Girl Scout meetings occur to meet with troop leaders to review concerns “and discuss implementing alternative options for the formation of our girls.” He said several alternative organizations with Catholic or Christian backgrounds can be offered.
His letter also hinted at increased scrutiny of the Boy Scouts of America.
“While the new BSA leadership policy currently offers some protections to religious organizations, I continue to wonder in which direction this once-trusted organization is now headed,” he wrote.
In December, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the nation’s second-largest Lutheran denomination, ended its official relationship with the Boy Scouts over the organization’s decision to allow openly gay Scout leaders.