BISMARCK – Bishop David Kagan says his directive that Roman Catholic churches in the Bismarck Diocese sever ties with the Boy Scouts of America is based solely on church teachings that are “incompatible” with the Scouts’ new policy allowing openly gay troop leaders.
In an interview Wednesday with Forum News Service, Kagan said he’s sorry that news of his decision has “gone global” since it was released publicly Monday, a week after the Scouts’ National Executive Board voted to lift its ban on openly gay leaders and staffers.
Kagan said his directive is being misrepresented and he’s being accused of forbidding Catholic children and adults from participating in the Boy Scouts, when that’s not the case.
“I can’t forbid people to belong to the Scouts, and I wouldn’t presume to do that,” he said. “But I can’t have the church on the one hand defend what the church teaches … but then give the appearance there’s a contradiction between what we teach and what we’re doing as far as lifestyle choices are concerned.”
Three Boy Scout troops and five Cub Scout packs in Bismarck, Mandan, Beulah and Williston are losing their chartered organization as a result of Kagan’s directive.
The Church of Corpus Christi in Bismarck has been a “great” chartered organization for Troop 89 for more than 35 years, providing meeting and storage space, Assistant Scoutmaster Kevin Strege said.
“We are sad to part with them, but we will find another option,” he said, adding, “They’re an organization that has to make decisions for themselves, and we respect that.”
In Beulah, St. Joseph Catholic Church had sponsored Troop 19 for only about a year, Scoutmaster Steve Pouliot said. The troop will still have its current gathering place at the Beulah Civic Center, and members plan to meet this week to discuss finding another chartered organization, he said.
“It’s harder in a smaller town compared to others, I would think, because there’s not as many organizations around,” he said.
Kagan said the issue has been on his mind since 2013, when the Scouts changed its standards to prohibit youth from being denied membership based solely on their sexual orientation or preference.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting weighed in at the time, stating, “Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.”
“I have nothing against the Boy Scouts,” Kagan said. “I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’m not telling any Catholic person they can’t belong to the Scouts and participate. But you see the difference between that, the church, and the Boy Scouts of America as another institution. That’s the only reason I made that decision.”
Kagan also clarified his statement Monday when he referred to how the Scouts still allowing chartered organizations to choose leaders based on their religious principles “will provide no protection” for parishes and schools that sponsor troops. Kagan said he didn’t want parishes facing legal challenges, like the one in New York that put pressure on the BSA to lift its ban.
“If someone were for whatever reason denied membership, or an adult volunteer was either denied membership or was asked to leave, there would be an immediate challenge, even though you could say it was based on our religious beliefs,” he said.
The national committee said in a June 27 statement that it appears the Scouts’ revised policy respects the right of Catholic-chartered organizations to choose leaders “whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching,” and that Catholic youths don’t want to leave Scouting.
“While this fluctuating situation will be increasingly challenging, we recognize the vital importance of providing a Catholic emphasis to Catholic Scouts and Scouters seeking ways to live out their ‘duty to God,’ ” it stated. “We also recognize the increasing need for the Catholic Church to offer Scouting as a program of youth ministry.”
Kagan said he has a responsibility to act in accordance with church teachings, “and some people just aren’t going to like that, and I’m sorry about that.” He said some people resigning from the Scouts over the change have thanked him for his decision.
“In a certain sense, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “I’m sorry if people have taken this the wrong way. They should read the catechism of the Catholic Church about this very issue and they would see what the church has always thought and done, and it’s not discriminatory. It’s not trying to alienate people.”
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org