If the Girl Scouts Investigated the Bishops…

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is going to investigate Girl Scouts USA because of concern over some of the Scouts’ program materials and some organizational ties, such as—cue ominous music—the Sierra Club and Doctors Without Borders!

But what if Girl Scouts USA were to turn the tables and scrutinize the bishops’ group overseeing the investigation: the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth?

After all, that committee includes the Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone, Bishop of Oakland, who publicly bemoaned the fact that former Harvard president Lawrence Summers was excoriated for suggesting that women tend to have less aptitude for science and math. “Why,” asked Cordileone, “didn’t he have a right to say something which is a perfectly legitimate observation?”

(An aside: Is there anyone who seriously thinks Lawrence Summers had no legal right to say what he said? Isn’t the issue that a whole lot of people thought he was, you know, wrong; and, further, that being that glaringly wrong in public carries the consequence of strong disagreement and professional ramifications? But hey, while we’re on the subject of people having or not having the legal right to do and say things that other people strongly disagree with: It may interest you to know that Cordileone was also one of the major driving forces behind Prop. 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage.)

Also on the committee is Most Rev. George Rassas. In 2008, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, said in a deposition that Rassas had “withheld information about abuse allegations.”

These are two of the people who will be seeing whether Girl Scouts USA meets the appropriate standards for a Catholic organizational partner. In light of this, why not ask whether the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth meet Girl Scouts USA’s standards, rather than just the other way around?

Girl Scouts USA has, after all, developed significant programming to encourage girls to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The website even calls girls “natural scientists”! Moreover, when faced with abuse disclosures from scouts, Girl Scout volunteers are instructed to “tell her you believe her” and “report the suspected abuse to the local agency designated to investigate such cases.” As such, the actions of Bishop Cordileone and (if Cardinal George is correct) Bishop Rassas suggest that they may not share these Girl Scouts values. I suspect those are values that many of the Girl Scouts’ constituents probably also hold dear.

Of course, I doubt Girl Scouts USA will point this out. Perhaps they rightly perceive what I should probably also do a better job taking to heart: that it’s not very charitable to judge a whole group by the few cherrypicked things you most object to (polite cough). At the same time, just like a church has the prerogative not to partner with a group that violates its religious convictions—understanding that that they may thereby compromise their reach—neither is an organization that works for girls’ empowerment under an obligation to compromise its core values. Should they wish to do so, Girl Scouts USA is in a position to claim the moral high ground here.

sarah.morice.brubaker@ptstulsa.edu'

Sarah Morice-Brubaker is an assistant professor of theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK. In addition to writing for RD, she’s also written for The Christian Century, Dialogic Magazine, and Faith and Leadership. She has a chapter in the forthcoming edited volume from Ashgate, Placing Nature on the Borders of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics.