Ethics & Public Policy Center

Catholic Youth Ministry Under Fire Over Girl Scouts' Pro-Abortion Ties

Published in Words from Cana on November 20, 2011



The Girl Scouts “100th Anniversary” Convention in Houston this past weekend sparked a firestorm of protests from conservatives and pro-life advocates over the Girl Scouts' speakers: an A-list of entertainers, journalists, and philanthropists that included many champions of pro-abortion and LGBT causes.

The speaker lineup was but a symptom of a deeper pathology, according to current and former Girl Scouts. Behind the badges, slogans, and cookies is a deadly reality: the Girl Scouts' ongoing partnerships with U.S. and international advocates, like Planned Parenthood and affiliated organizations, which sell a distinctly un-holy vision of sexual empowerment secured by contraception and abortion.

Particularly troublesome is the Girl Scouts' relationship with WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, an international agitator for abortion, contraceptives, sexual diversity, and “comprehensive” sexuality education. WAGGGS delegates, for example, helped draft the controversial 2010 World Youth Conference NGO document demanding global support for “abortion” and “LGBTTIQ issues.”(See the excellent links at 100questionsforthegirlscouts.org, girlscoutswhynot.com and honestgirlscouts.com.)

It's a situation that's unconscionable for Catholics. And a growing number have left the Girl Scouts, embracing a mission to tell other families what they've uncovered.

Christy Volanski, a former Scout leader, and her daughters Tess and Sydney are prime examples. They left the Scouts in 2010 when they saw evidence—materials, resources, and partnerships—that their Girl Scout dues promoted an agenda of abortion, contraception, explicit sex education, and homosexuality. Their website, speaknowgirlscouts.com, tells their story and offers details, screen shots, and web links that lay the facts bare. “We felt so hurt and betrayed when we found out about this agenda…There is no reason for other families to…be deceived,” says Christy.

So where's the Catholic Church in all this?

Not where you'd expect.

It's quite literally in the Girl Scouts' camp. The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), the Church's representative and “advocate” for Catholic Girl Scouts, occupied Booth 932 in the Girl Scout Exhibit Hall in Houston. The NFCYM, which connects some 700,000 Catholic Scout members with the Church and provides Catholic materials for the Girl Scouts' religious recognition program, set up shop near the official Girl Scouts' booth and the large WAGGGS exhibit—a great space to “meet and greet” as they promoted their religious recognition materials.

Nary a public word about the Girl Scouts' links to groups promoting abortion, homosexuality, and sexual “rights” for teens. Or about the controversial speakers.

For parents like Christy Volanski, the NFCYM's cozy relationship with the Girl Scouts creates a smokescreen that obscures a disturbing reality. The NFCYM website and FAQs, along with the NFCYM-GSUSA position papers, gloss over the Girl Scouts' involvement with pro-abortion advocates, suggesting erroneously that parents need not worry. As a result, parents who do see problems with the Scouts find themselves stymied by pastors, bishops and laypeople who interpret NFCYM's relationship with the Scouts as unqualified approval.

Rochelle Focaracci, a former Scout leader from Georgia and the co-founder of girlscoutswhynot.com, believes that the NFCYM posture simply “confuses the youth they are there to protect.” Her Florida-based co-founder and sister, Lisa Larsson, puts the problem simply: “We need NFCYM to speak out, to acknowledge that there is a problem with the Girl Scouts.”

They're not holding their breath.

In spite of the documentation on websites like speaknowgirlscouts.com and 100questionsforthegirlscouts.org, the NFCYM and its Executive Director, Bob McCarty, have failed to acknowledge the extent of the Girl Scouts' problems—and they've failed at least in part because the NFCYM's fact-finding process is seriously flawed. Instead of insisting on rigorous, independent investigations of credible complaints, the NFCYM states in its position statement that questions will be resolved by “directly contacting GSUSA” for answers.

This first step, however, is typically the last, as the NFCYM seems willing to accept GSUSA answers as gospel truth without independent factual corroboration, parent interviews, or consultations with knowledgeable experts (including former Girl Scouts).

It makes no sense, says Rochelle, from girlscoutswhynot.com “If we had to investigate a robbery, we would not ask the robber if he robbed the bank.”

McCarty's July 2011 interview with Our Sunday Visitor added insult to injury for these Girl Scout activists. McCarty dismissed out of hand the possibility that the Girl Scouts might advocate or partner with pro-abortion groups. “Most of the concerns I hear from parents are about what they heard or saw written on blogs and websites engaging in misinformation. It's never anything they saw themselves.”

Perhaps McCarty needs to look more closely.

For example, the NFCYM FAQs flatly state that it's “not true” that national and local councils support Planned Parenthood. In an interview last week, McCarty referred often to the “position statement” in which GSUSA promised that no Girl Scout “monies” will flow to organizations like Planned Parenthood—as if written assurances settled the matter.

Even Girl Scout spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins (who deferred comments on these topics until later this week) has distinguished between partnerships by the national organization and those of local councils. “We have not and do not partner with Planned Parenthood on the nationa
l level,” she claimed. However, “local councils are free to partner with whomever they choose…”

And they do. For example, a quick web search yielded 2011 evidence of a Girl Scouts of NY PENN partnership with a Planned Parenthood initiative (with links to explicit websites) for the Scouts' body image project.

Susan Riedley, a current Girl Scout leader who created the site honestgirlscouts.com “challenges” McCarty to go directly to source materials—on her website and others—and “investigate the links for himself.”McCarty says he's “clicked around” a few times to address concerns but feels that the grievance procedure established with the GSUSA bears better results. He insists that, “We need to be in these conversations [with the Girl Scouts]…You can't even raise the questions if you are not in relationship with them.”

True enough, but the follow-up question is, “Then what?”

The point of raising questions with the Girl Scouts isn't to prompt technical compliance as they sanitize websites and books. Similarly, the narrow scope of the GSUSA-NFCYM position statement—whether the Girl Scouts directly fund or partner with Planned Parenthood, through dues versus cookie profits, locally or nationally, with parental permission or without, etc.—misses the point. And it deftly redirects attention away from the enmeshed relationship between abortion-promoting-WAGGGS and the Girl Scouts USA.

In my view, McCarty's failure to commission a thorough, independent review of the facts behind the Girl Scouts' affiliations—while taking the Girl Scouts' denials at face value—betrays the trust of Catholic youth and their parents.

While McCarty insists NFCYM must “stay in the conversation” with the GSUSA, concerned parents find themselves on the outside, rarely consulted and with little opportunity to present their evidence or see it taken seriously. And, they wonder, when does the desire to “stay in the conversation” morph into playing the willing dupe, providing “Catholic” cover for the Girl Scouts' complicity in feminist and liberal causes?

“Process” isn't the only reason why NFCYM needs a push to address the seriousness of the Girl Scouts' issues. McCarty also disagrees on the relative importance of certain Girl Scout affiliations, including the WAGGGS relationship. McCarty's current focus is not on the WAGGGS relationship, but on getting buy-in from the Girl Scouts for an approval process for materials, plus an initiative to establish relationships between diocesan youth ministers and local council leaders.

Reasonable goals, certainly. But they strike me as the scouting equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

He doesn't see it that way. McCarty believes that the WAGGGS influence is “fairly far removed from our kids” and “doesn't filter down.” As for the millions of dollars that flow into WAGGGS coffers from GSUSA? McCarty likens the WAGGGS dues (a head count based on a country's number of Girl Scouts) to the U.S. taxpayer's support for the United Nations.

The analogy limps. Girl Scouts' membership is voluntary. The Church doesn't have to sponsor troops. (In fact, there's even an excellent alternative that's exploding in popularity-the values-rich, American Heritage Girls.) And the Church's voluntary participation looks like an endorsement.

Jane Petry, a 67-year-old Girl Scout veteran, spent last weekend at the Houston convention distributing flyers highlighting the Planned Parenthood—GSUSA connection. To her, the money flow is a repugnant cooperation with moral evil. Volanski calls it “mind boggling” that, through GSUSA membership, “Catholic Girl Scouts are supporting this global agenda to bring sexual rights (including emergency contraception and abortion) to all young people.”

Volanski says WAGGGS' influence does have “a real impact on the local Catholic girl in a local troop in many different ways,” from the WAGGGS pin girls wear to express global sisterhood, to the problematic Journeys project books that routinely plug WAGGGS, to WAGGGS-related fundraising activities, to international visits to WAGGGS chalets, and to WAGGGS global advocacy.

Even so, McCarty doubts that the influence “is as pervasive as you think.” Besides, he maintains, “We can pretend that we can protect our kids from this stuff or we can prepare them…”

In spite of the disagreement between NFCYM and the Girl Scout activists over the significance of the Girl Scouts' issues, McCarty did intimate that while he's committed to dialogue, lack of “movement” by the Girl Scouts on these issues may trigger “decisions” in the future.

The Church has financial leverage, if it's willing to use it. McCarty estimates 700,000 Catholics are members of the GSUSA. At $12 per year, Catholic support delivers roughly $8.4 million to the Girl Scouts, not including funds earned by Catholic Girl Scouts' fundraising or cookie sales, or the millions of volunteer hours donated by Catholic adults.

How to move forward?

I strongly urge the NFCYM, or the USCCB in its oversight capacity, to create a focused working group with a mandate to assess the extent and impact of the Girl Scouts' connection to WAGGGS' and other groups.

That working group should include at least three leaders from the Girl Scouts watchdog websites. They know the issues, have spent hundreds of hours on their own time tracking down facts, and have been overlooked by the NFCYM for too long. If the NFCYM can spend hours in conversation with the Girl Scouts, it needs to engage these committed Catholic parents as a resource to be taken seriously.

The project should have a short deadline, delivering a report in advance of Bob McCarty's planned meeting Anna Maria Chavez, the new CEO of the Girl Scouts. (Reportedly Catholic, in 2009 Chavez spoke at a women's event co-sponsored by the local Planned Parenthood.)

Finally, the end game must be clearly defined, more than vague “movement.” GSUSA has stonewalled its critics by splitting hairs, arguing narrow points, with semantics about official or unofficial relationships with Planned Parenthood, national versus local level, parental permission or not, whether monies flow from membership dues, cookie sales, or other funds, etc.

In my view, either GSUSA severs its ties to WAGGGS and creates an explicit policy forbidding partnerships, affiliations, and resources from Planned Parenthood-li
ke organizations—or the Catholic Church should withdraw its sponsorship of all Girl Scouts troops (convert to American Heritage Girls) and recommend that individual Catholics withdraw from the Scouts as well.

It's time. Catholic families deserve clarity, delivered with courage.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

(Permission granted for reprints and republication, with attribution.)

Mary Rice Hasson is a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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