Under Pressure, Boy Scouts May Ease No-Gays Policy

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According to Roger S. Oldham, a spokesman for the executive committee, Page then wrote to the Scouts “expressing his tremendous dismay at the decision.”

“They had been working for months on this proposal and just days before they informed us,” Oldham said in a telephone interview. “We would anticipate that there would be a very significant backlash to this as churches re-evaluate whether scouting comports with.”

If the Scouts proceed with the change, Oldham said, SBC leaders were likely to issue a statement “expressing disappointed and encouraging our churches to support alternative boys organizations.”

Neither the Catholic Church nor the Mormons’ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued official statements as to how they would respond.

Said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The bishops hope the Boy Scouts will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded and under which they have served youth well.”

Were the change adopted, said BSA spokesman Smith, “there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation.”

“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” he said. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

The announcement came shortly after new data showed that membership in the Cub Scouts — the BSA’s biggest division — dropped sharply last year and was down nearly 30 percent over the past 14 years.

According to figures provided by the organization, Cub Scout ranks dwindled by 3.4 percent, from 1,583,166 in 2011 to 1,528,673 in 2012. That’s down from 2.17 million in 1998.

The BSA’s overall “traditional youth membership” — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers — totaled 2,658,794 in 2012, compared to more than 4 million in peak years of the past.

The Boy Scouts attribute the decline largely to broad social changes, including the allure of video games and the proliferation of youth sports leagues and other options for after-school activities.

However, critics of the Scouts suggest that its recruitment efforts have been hampered by high-profile controversies — notably the court-ordered release of files dealing with sex abuse allegations and persistent protests over the no-gays policy.

The Scouts have been buffeted in recent years by multiple court cases related to past allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders, including those chronicled in long-confidential records that are widely known as the “perversion files.”

Through various cases, the Scouts have been forced to reveal files dating from the 1960s to 1991. They detailed numerous cases where abuse claims were made and Boy Scout officials never alerted authorities and sometimes actively sought to protect the accused.

The BSA has apologized for past lapses and cover-ups and has stressed the steps taken to improve youth protection policy. Since 2010, for example, it has mandated that any suspected abuse be reported to police.

(Photo: AP)

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