As a kid, I looked forward all year long to summer camping. I participated in two of them – Girl Scout Camp and the two-week day camp sponsored by the city.
Even though I went to Catholic school for 12 years and spent many years in Girl Scouts – from Brownies at age 6 to Cadets in junior high – I didn’t know that scouting is considered a youth ministry of the Catholic Church.
Scouting programs, says the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are “excellent opportunities for the Church to pass on the Gospel of Jesus Christ to children and youth through her life and rich tradition of faith, morals, leadership development, pastoral care, prayer and worship, and service.”
Marty Cutrone, director of Strategic Alliances for the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, agrees that scouting provides important values-based education in a wholesome environment.
“At its core what scouting provides – in addition to values and character development – is faith and patriotism,” Cutrone says. “Servant leadership is taught and practiced in a life-changing experience for youth from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scouts and Venturers.”
Furthermore, Cutrone says, the landmark October 2017 decision to welcome girls to the Boy Scouts expands its scope and offers the scouts critical training in equality, diversity, and inclusion.
“Nothing in handbook or scouting says that scouting shouldn’t be embraced by girls,” Cutrone notes. “Welcoming girls is among most historic changes in the Boy Scout movement. And we aren’t just adding girls – we are shifting the paradigm to say that this is ‘family scouting.’”
Millennial families want to experience camping as a family, he adds, so scouting will aim to meet the needs of changing dynamics among its members. “We’re compelled to finally offer the scouting program to the full family.”
OC leaders are excited about the incredible life-changing experience of scouting being offered to girls and their families, he adds. “We want to dispel and eradicate the stereotypes cast upon women by our society.”
“For decades our customer base has requested this,” he points out. “The voices became louder and louder that they wanted their daughters to experience what scouting has to offer. Girls have been involved peripherally, but their participation was not recognized or acknowledged.”
In Orange County, girls now are welcome officially into the Cub Scouts, which are comprised of children ages 5 to 10 years old, Cutrone says. Next February, girls will be welcomed also to the Boy Scouts, for 11- to 18-year-olds and to Venture groups, co-ed programs that begin in middle school.
Whether the decision to admit girls was made as part of an expansion plan, as critics say, or due to popular demand, the change has ramifications for both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.
“The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” said Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh in a statement following the decision to admit girls. “We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”
The announcement was criticized by the Girl Scouts of the USA. “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today – and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success,” reads their statement.
Still, with both programs offering opportunities to learn self-reliance, faith, and values, girls now have more scouting choices – something the Church likely supports.
“Over the years, the Catholic youth ministry community and scouting programs have enjoyed a shared mission and a collaborative relationship, one that continues to this day, says the USCCB.