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7/18/2013 9:01:00 AM
Local Scout leaders discuss new policy on gay Scouts
Scouting remains popular in Diocese
Scouting in the Albany Diocese has stayed consistent over the past decade, with about 60 Catholic organizations sponsoring Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs.

This fall, about 140 boys will attend the Diocese's 63rd annual retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, where they receive religious emblems after completing projects centered on the seven sacraments, Church ministries, vocations, sharing the faith and serving the community.

Many parishes also send Scouts to camps and hikes and participate in "Scout Sunday" in February, when Scouts wear their uniforms to Masses and are recognized.

The Diocese sends boys and adult leaders to the St. George Trek, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting's Catholic leadership program for older youth, held this month in Albuquerque, N.M.

"It's just 200 miles of rugged wilderness that challenges the boys and challenges their faith, and they come back better for it," said Deacon Peter Quinn, diocesan chaplain for Scouting.

This year, 15-year-old William Skelly of Burnt Hills was selected to represent the Diocese on the St. George Trek. An assistant senior patrol leader of Troop 34, sponsored by St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Niskayuna, he has earned the rank of Life Scout. William is a parishioner of St. Joseph's Church in Scotia, where he has served on the pastoral council and as an altar server and a peer leader for retreats.

Deacon Quinn said the values that Scouting promotes - "friendship, love, obedience to God [and] obedience to one's church" - are enhanced when the program is sponsored by Catholic organizations like parishes, Knights of Columbus councils or youth groups.

"We build upon the foundation that Scouts build," he said. "We teach the Scout what faith is and how important it is to his life."

In return, sponsorship "brings community together, and that is what a parish should be," Deacon Quinn said. "It brings the kids into the Church and grounds them to their home parish."

It also benefits churches in more practical ways, since Scouts often focus community service projects on their places of worship.

At Sacred Heart parish in Sidney, for example, the 55 boys in the parish's troop and pack have run games and a haunted house at the community's fall festival, cleaned up the parking lot and served on the altar. The 58 Scouts at St. Mary's Church in Galway, a mission of St. Mary's parish in Ballston Spa, collect food for the needy and rake leaves. Eagle Scouts there designed and built a spare room for storage at the parish and made brick flower beds and a memorial garden on the church grounds.

Troop 71 Scouts at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Delmar have built tables for the parish food pantry, refinished the stage at the parish school and rebuilt a storage area over the garage. Kevin Murray, the troop's committee chair, said the Boy Scouts of America's character promotion and leadership skills development result in a "win-win all around" when combined with faith.

Deacon Quinn agreed: "I see these kids who come out of Scouting [and] they're different," he said. "They have life skills. They know how to work with people."

Faith-based organizations make up about 70 percent of all BSA charters, according to the organization's website. The Catholic Church is the third largest faith-based chartered organization behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the United Methodist Church.


Catholic-sponsored Scouting organizations in the Albany Diocese seem unaffected by the Boy Scouts of America's recent policy welcoming gay Scouts.

Diocesan leaders say they are following the example of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which responded to the news in May with neutrality, explaining that despite some concerns, the policy is not inconsistent with Church teachings.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." At the same time, Church teachings prohibit sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage.

The Boy Scouts of America did not change its policy that homosexual adults may not serve as Scout leaders.

Each diocesan bishop can decide whether to accept the Scouts' new policy; the Albany Scouting committee consulted Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

"He is going along with the bishops" and the national committee, said Deacon Peter Quinn, the diocesan chaplain of Scouting, who serves at Immaculate Conception parish in New Lebanon.

"It's in our policy that we don't discriminate against persons of different sexuality," Deacon Quinn continued. "As long as the Scout does not have his own personal agenda, [there's] no problem. We don't want to make this the main issue in Scouting. We want them to respect God, enjoy the great outdoors and get to be a kid."

Bishops and Scout leaders nationwide have been asked to review Church teachings so they understand the resolution before it goes into effect in January.

Rev. Kenneth Doyle, diocesan chancellor for public information, noted the BSA had stated that "any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youths of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

Deacon Quinn suspects local policies won't change, but he said there's been some concern on the national level about outside groups possibly trying to promote homosexuality within Scouting. "It's going to be a difficult year. We have to see how it goes."

Paul Bargher, committee chair for Boy Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 88 at Sacred Heart parish in Sidney, said he hasn't "heard any opposition at all" from the parish or the diocesan committee on Scouting, for which he also serves as chair.

One individual asked him if gays would be allowed into the annual diocesan retreat, where religious awards are distributed to Scouts, he said, but "if there is [other resistance], I don't know if we'd know about it."

Mr. Bargher admitted the policy "wouldn't have been anything that I would have voted for. [But] I'll respect that. I don't feel that it really goes against Church teaching, so it's something I can live with."

Parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar have similarly stayed quiet on the issue, according to Kevin Murray, committee chair of the parish-sponsored Troop 71. But he does worry about reports of religious organizations withdrawing sponsorship in other parts of the country - as well as repercussions for national fundraising, which was already in flux after a 2000 Supreme Court decision upheld the Boy Scouts' constitutional right to exclude gay members.

"There is, to some extent, a ripple effect on any Scouting unit," Mr. Murray said.

Parents and committee members of Troop and Pack 4005 at St. Mary's Church in Galway, a mission of St. Mary's parish in Ballston Spa, have not had any discussions related to the news.

"Everybody has their own opinion," said Margaret Griffin, committee chair. She worries more about protecting Scouts from pedophiles than whether a Scout might be gay.

Mrs. Griffin said policies will have to be reviewed on an as-needed basis. If a Scout divulges he's gay, for instance, he might be assigned his own camping tent.

"It's a hard issue," she said. "The safety of the kids is number one."

Ron Derway is a member of the diocesan committee on Scouting and the chair of the Catholic committee of the Scouting district covering Warren, Washington and Southern Essex counties. He said the issue comes down to "the red states and the blue states.

"We're pretty lenient around here," Mr. Derway said. He and many colleagues have even expressed disappointment that the resolution "discriminated against adult [gay] leaders. The day [Scouts] turn 18, they're no good anymore," he said.

"We don't ask what [our leaders'] choices in life are," Mr. Derway said. "If they act out, then they're gone, just like if they do drugs. We're tolerant, but not to the point of abuse. If you cross that line, you've got to take action.

"We're there for the Scouts," he continued. "We're there for the kids. And that's what you have to keep in mind."

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