Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s recent decision to transition the archdiocesan scouting relationship from Girl Scouts to American Heritage Girls, a Christian scouting organization, has led to a rather odd hysteria, with some speculating that the church’s real objective in Naumann’s decision is to “thwart women” and keep them “subservient to men.”
Despite these exaggerated claims, as an educated professional Catholic woman who also had a great experience with Girl Scouts, I applaud him.
My memories of childhood in Kansas City revolve around being a Girl Scout through my parish, and the experience was an extraordinarily positive part of my formation as a young girl. Badge work. Selling cookies (eating cookies!). Service projects. Summer camp at Camp Timberlake. Taking a trip to Washington, D.C., in eighth grade — a capstone experience of years devoted to “serving God, my country and living by the Girl Scout law.”
Our troop’s Scout leader was a mother whose kindness, work ethic, commitment to service and good judgment provided a beautiful example to us young girls of authentic femininity.
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And now I have a 6-year-old daughter, and I want her to have these same healthy experiences and constructive formation. I want her to have opportunities to work together with other girls, building self-confidence and empathy. I want her to learn how to be respectful of the environment, resourceful and self-reliant. I want her to observe strong, smart, independent adult women who use their talents to serve others. I want to spark her curiosity about activities like aviation, emergency preparedness, geology, photography, archery and even the domestic arts.
But I was reluctant for my daughter to become a Girl Scout. Why? Because I want her to experience these things within a vision that promotes authentic equality for women and respects their unique gifts and dignity, rather than within the framework of a tired strain of feminism — one that unfortunately has been embraced by the Girl Scouts — with a male-centric view of women that links their happiness to contraception and abortion.
There are surely great local troops and amazing women in Girl Scout leadership here in Kansas City, yet there are also numerous documented instances in which Girl Scouts (whether local councils or national and international organizations) have been involved with promoting contraception, abortion, explicit sex education and sexual “rights” for young girls — through speakers and promotion of role models who support these causes and through partnership with groups like Planned Parenthood.
Groups like American Heritage Girls have flourished because of women like me, who loved scouting, but have concerns about this vision and direction of the Girl Scouts. So I am glad that after years of dialogue and careful study, Naumann responded to the concerns of women and mothers throughout the archdiocese and made what is really a rather unremarkable decision to “partner with youth organizations that share our values and vision for youth ministry.”
It’s unremarkable because good leaders do this every day. They collaborate with groups that best complement their organization’s mission and purpose, and they listen carefully to the concerns of their constituents.
An explicitly Christian scouting group, like American Heritage Girls, is simply a better fit for the Catholic Church. AHG promotes character, independence, life skills and virtue without the added baggage of an agenda that, in my view and the view of the Catholic Church, harms women.
I am grateful that my daughter has the option to participate in scouting under leadership that reflects the values of our family and of our faith.
Elizabeth Kirk is a Kansas City native and mother of an American Heritage Girl Pathfinder.