Kansas archdiocese severs ties with Girl Scouts and urges end to cookie sales

Saying that Girl Scouts is “no longer a compatible partner in helping us form young women with the virtues and values of the Gospel,” the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is severing ties with the organization and switching its support to a Christian-based scouting program.

“I have asked the pastors of the Archdiocese to begin the process of transitioning away from the hosting of parish Girl Scout troops and toward the chartering of American Heritage Girls troops,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said in a statement released Monday.

“Pastors were given the choice of making this transition quickly, or to, over the next several years, ‘graduate’ the scouts currently in the program. Regardless of whether they chose the immediate or phased transition, parishes should be in the process of forming American Heritage Girl troops, at least for their kindergartners, this fall.”

American Heritage Girls, founded in 1995, has become an option for those who say Girl Scouts has become too liberal and has relationships with organizations that support abortion rights and do not share traditional family values — allegations the Girl Scouts deny.

Naumann also called for an end to Girl Scout cookie sales in the archdiocese.

“No Girl Scout cookie sales should occur in Catholic Schools or on parish property after the 2016-2017 school year,” he said in a letter to priests in January.

The action has angered some Girl Scout leaders and parents in the archdiocese, who say Girl Scouts is a respected program that helps raise strong girls who become good stewards. They call the move punitive and unfair and say it treats girls in their troops like second-class citizens.

“This is frustrating; parents are very irritated,” said Maria Walters, a former Girl Scout leader in the archdiocese and mother of two Girl Scouts. “I feel we should all be together as one in the community. This does nothing but divide us.

“I don’t know why you would take an organization out of a school when it provides an option for girls to feel like they’re part of a group.”

Walters said her parish has had a Girl Scout troop for at least 25 years.

“They’ve done a father-daughter dance that has been a huge success,” she said. “And they do service projects at Children’s Mercy, animal shelters, battered women’s shelters, the Ronald McDonald House and projects around the parish.”

Walters said the troop used to have about 100 members but now has around 75.

“We have lost some to American Heritage Girls,” she said. “We are still allowed to meet here, but I don’t know for how long. It’s frustrating when you have American Heritage Girls and Boys Scouts in the school newsletter, but no Girl Scouts. We are not allowed to recruit on campus, so we’re going to have to use Facebook and other technology to reach out to people.”

Deacon Dana Nearmyer, the archdiocese’s director of evangelization, told The Star that careful thought went into the decision.

“Several years ago, a number of Catholic school moms called us up and said, ‘We’d like to have a Christian program for our after-school girls’ program,’ ” he said. “So we did a bunch of research and tried to find the best mission fit for us, and American Heritage Girls seemed like that was going to be the best fit.”

Nearmyer said priests in the archdiocese have been offered two options.

“One is that they can do an immediate shift to American Heritage Girls, and some of the leadership did that,” he said. “The other is that next year’s kindergartners that sign up for after-school girls programs through their schools will join American Heritage Girls.”

That way, he said, the Girl Scouts would be phased out over several years.

“We’re trying to make it as pastoral and gradual as we can,” Nearmyer said. “There’s no malice at all.”

He said the transition would be put in motion by the start of school this fall.

American Heritage Girls, based in Cincinnati, is described as “a Christ-centered character development program for girls ages 5 to 18.”

“We use the methods of scouting to achieve our mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country,” said Patti Garibay, national executive director and founder.

Garibay said she started the organization 22 years ago as “a little club” for her daughter.

“I never really anticipated it being anything like this,” she said. “I think God had a bigger plan. We’re just happy to serve and to help girls navigate.”

Now, she said, American Heritage Girls has 1,005 troops and more than 47,000 members. There are troops in every state in the country and some foreign countries, she said.

Garibay said 25 percent of the membership is Catholic, with American Heritage Girls troops in more than half the dioceses in the United States.

“We offer life skill enhancement, leadership opportunities, have a very strong belief in service, and we also do a lot around faith,” she said. “And I believe that might be one of the reasons why the archdiocese in Kansas and some of the others like what we’re doing.”

The organization also was attractive to the archdiocese because of its opposition to abortion. Some of the troops have participated in protests and prayer vigils outside clinics that perform abortions.

Nearmyer said the first two parishes in the archdiocese to adopt the American Heritage Girls program were Holy Trinity in Lenexa and Cure of Ars in Leawood. St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood and Church of the Ascension in Overland Park also have American Heritage Girls troops, he said.

The response, he said, has been positive.

Some Girl Scout leaders disagreed, saying they were never consulted about the decision and that some of their girls had been bullied because they were involved in Scouts.

Nearmyer said that so far about 150 to 200 girls in the archdiocese have joined American Heritage Girls.

“But we’re kind of ramping up to try to support folks as it comes online,” he said, “because those numbers will swell.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has studied the issue in recent years and said it held a lengthy dialogue with the Girl Scouts. It developed a resource guide for Catholics and concluded that the question of whether the church should sever its ties to Girl Scouts must be answered at the local level.

“Diocesan bishops have the final authority over what is appropriate for Catholic scouting in their dioceses,” the bishops’ conference said.

Last year, Archbishop Robert Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis urged priests to drop Girl Scouts, saying the organization was “exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior” and was “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.”

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has no policy regarding Girl Scouts, said spokesman Jack Smith.

But in 2015, Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. — at the time head of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau — expressed concerns about Girl Scouts in a letter to priests, school officials and parishioners.

Johnston commended the service of Girl Scout troop leaders, but added that Girl Scouts “is a secular organization, and does not fully promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Because many Catholics had asked for other options, Johnston said, he was recommending American Heritage Girls.

In his statement issued Monday, Naumann said the decision to cut ties with Girl Scouts was not an easy one. Over many years, he said, the archdiocese has spent hundreds of hours researching concerns regarding the policies of both the international and national Girl Scouting organizations.

“Eventually, it came down to this,” Naumann said. “Our greatest responsibility as a church is to the children and young people in our care. ... It is essential that all youth programs at our parishes affirm virtues and values consistent with our Catholic faith.”

Naumann said Girl Scouts contributes more than a million dollars each year to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which he called “an organization tied to International Planned Parenthood and its advocacy for legislation that includes both contraception and abortion as preventive health care for women.”

He also said that many of those who have been cited as role models by Girl Scouts “not only do not reflect our Catholic worldview but stand in stark opposition to what we believe.”

The Girl Scouts, which has 1.9 million girl members and 800,000 adult members nationwide, does not take a position or develop materials on human sexuality, birth control or abortion, according to its website. And despite what critics say, the organization says, it does not have a relationship with Planned Parenthood.

“Parents or guardians make all decisions regarding program participation that may be of a sensitive nature,” it says.

Girl Scouts officials say that each member organization of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts creates its own programs that are based on the needs and issues affecting girls in its individual country. Girl Scouts does not always take the same positions or endorse the same programs as the world organization, they say.

Some parents in the archdiocese have nothing but praise for Girl Scouts.

“Girl Scouts has provided excellent opportunities for my daughters that no other organization has been able to replicate,” said Jeffrey Benes, a parishioner with daughters in Girl Scouts.

Some are wondering why the Catholic dioceses haven’t taken similar actions regarding Boy Scouts.

“I feel like we’re being discriminated against,” Walters said. “We’ve been wiped from the archdiocese website, and we have no leadership role in the church at all. There’s nothing like this going on with the Boy Scouts.”

Judy L. Thomas: 816-234-4334, @judylthomas