What in the name of Juliet Gordon Low is going on here?
Apparently lacking anything closer to home that might be worthy of investigation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched an official inquiry into the Girl Scouts.
According to the Washington Post, “Potentially at stake is whether troops can continue meeting in Catholic churches, and whether many Catholic girls, who make up a quarter of the nation’s 3 million Girl Scouts, will continue in scouting as the organization marks its 100th year.”
And what exactly have the Girl Scouts done to attract such scrutiny? Nobody really knows for sure, and the bishops aren’t being clear. Over the past few years, we’ve seen sporadic outbursts of conservative anger at the Girl Scouts over alleged connections to Planned Parenthood and similar groups, but Scout leaders say such rumors are ridiculous and no evidence to the contrary has ever been produced.
But where did it come from? Where this misbegotten seed germinate?
Well, like so many of these right-wing conspiracy theories, this one seems rooted in irrational fear of that most nefarious of organizations out to undermine the United States, the United Nations.
In an even-handed statement put out in January 2011, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry described the allegations this way:
“In 2010 several issues arose concerning GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the United States of America) triggered by a March meeting at the United Nations where GSUSA supposedly distributed inappropriate materials on human sexuality and a campaign was begun to have the Catholic Church and all her agencies sever ties with GSUSA. These issues included the GSUSA relationship with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the GSUSA relationship with Planned Parenthood, both of which called into question GSUSA’s position on providing resources and programs on human sexuality. The fundamental accusation is that GSUSA distributes materials reflecting an official stance contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage, abortion, contraception, and sexuality.
Our practice as an organization is to investigate such matters by going directly to the sources involved so we contacted GSUSA and several of those who had made accusations concerning the UN meeting. In a March 16 e-mail to NFCYM membership we shared the GSUSA response to the UN meeting, which included in part:
“The Girls Only Workshop was hosted by GSUSA, UNICEF‟s Working Group on Girls, Girls Learn International, and The Grail. The meeting was only open to the girls and participating sponsors. The girls received a copy of the only document they were working on, titled ‘The Girls Statement’. No other documents were given to the girls as part of the event. The room in question was also used to host other events over the course of the multi-day conference. Prior to our girls entering the room, we did not ’sanitize’ the room to ensure that no trash or other items were left behind. GSUSA was not contacted by C-Fam regarding its initial story to discuss the facts of this event. Had they applied these basic journalistic standards, the true details of this event would have been reported.”
OK, so what is C-Fam, the group that originally leveled these charges?
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute is a deeply right-wing organization that sees itself as a watchdog against U.N. incursions on our national sovereignty and against U.N. attempts to subvert American and Catholic morality. According to its website, C-Fam’s “vision” is “the preservation of international law by discrediting socially radical policies at the United Nations and other international institutions.”
In 2010, C-Fam charged that at a UN meeting, the Girl Scouts had distributed to young girls a “sex guide” titled “Happy, Healthy and Hot: A Young Person’s Guide to Their Rights, Sexuality and Living with HIV.” The Girl Scouts, as explained in the excerpt above, said no such thing happened. But that appears to be the genesis of this whole crusade. As one indication of just how ridiculous the whole thing has become, in 2010 C-FAM announced new evidence of the alleged ties, explaining that it “has learned that at least one regional director of the Girl Scouts comes from the ranks of Planned Parenthood personnel. In 2004, the Great Plains Council of Girl Scouts, representing 11,000 girls, hired Beverly Todd Nolte as their CEO. Previously, Nolte had held marketing and lobbying positions with Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Council Bluffs. ”
What we appear to be seeing, in other words, is a confluence between a rather bizarre conspiracy theory with the growing politicization of at least some segments of the American Catholic Church, with the Girl Scouts as the latest helpless victim of that trend.
– Jay Bookman