How the cookie crumbles: Catholics and the Girl Scouts

There’s been some controversy about whether Catholics should support the Girl Scouts, and even if it’s appropriate to buy their cookies.  Catholic News Service takes a closer look:

Tina Kent credits the Girl Scouts for teaching her skills in leadership, conflict resolution and critical thinking and for giving her an appreciation for the outdoors and opportunities to travel.

Kent became a Brownie at age 8 in her native Vermillion, S.D., and remained a Scout until she was a teenager in Waco, Texas.

Now a wife and mother of five, Kent lives in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., and is a Girl Scout troop leader in York, Pa., where her troop meets at St. Joseph Catholic School.

Her daughter Maggie, 7, a first-grader at the school, is a Girl Scout Daisy. Kent hopes daughter Ruth, 3, will one day join her sister in the Scouts.

Among other projects, her troop makes Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards for the elderly and this year donated 46 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the local Catholic food pantry and sent 85 boxes to a girls’ school in Afghanistan.

“As Catholics, we are called to be serving other people, to be reaching out, to be trying to do good in this world,” said Kent, 44, who became a Catholic at Easter 2003 when she was 35.

Kent is well aware of claims by some that the Girl Scouts of the USA promotes Planned Parenthood and its advocacy of birth control and abortion. Others have complained that some printed material distributed to Scouts contained references that countered the Catholic Church’s teachings.

After looking into the criticism herself, she told Catholic News Service, “I just don’t buy that it’s happening.”

Kent acknowledged, however, the organization on occasion may end up “associating with people who are associating with people who are not who the Catholic Church would choose to be associating with.”

The Girl Scouts of the USA, known as GSUSA, is marking its 100th anniversary this year. It has 3.2 million girl and adult members. An estimated 500,000 Catholic girls and adults in the U.S. are involved in Girl Scouts.

Criticism of the Girl Scouts as an organization has surfaced off and on over the last several years and earlier this year made the rounds again on the Internet.

In response GSUSA has strongly stated it “does not have a relationship or partnership with Planned Parenthood and does not plan to create one” and takes no position on abortion or birth control. “Parents and volunteer troop leaders in Catholic churches,” it said, “have total control of the Girl Scout programming their girls receive.”

Given the large number of Catholics involved in Girl Scouts, such concerns prompted the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at its mid-March meeting to discuss GSUSA’s “possible problematic relationships with other organizations” and questions about some of its materials and resources.

In a March 28 letter to his fellow bishops, committee chairman Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of South Bend-Fort Wayne, Ind., said some questions may need to be answered at the national level and others at the local level.

Read the rest.

  • Steve P

    I just hope that any of the comments here have some clear documentation and sources. Not, “some lady saw this brochure sitting on a table at a Girl Scout meeting.”

    I have had folks ask me about this before, and I have had to say truthfully that I haven’t seen anything to indicate that there is some nefarious relationship between Girl Scouts and any organization such as PP. I’m open to hearing proof to the contrary, but until I see it, I don’t have any intention of pulling our daughter out of Girl Scouts or objecting to the chartering relationship our local parishes have with their GS troops.

    And the issue of local vs. national may well be a major part of it. You could easily have someone promoting all sorts of things in a local setting, so it makes sense to know your daughters’ leaders, what they are talking about and covering in their sessions, etc.

    I look forward to some reasonable contributions on this thread, but I may have come to the wrong place… ; (

  • cathyf

    As a Girl Scout leader, I can tell you that, for better or worse, a core characteristic of girl scouting is an extreme elasticity. This goes back to Juliette Low’s strong belief 100 years ago that you can trust the girls to choose what’s fun and not. As a leader this can be frustrating — Boy Scouts have a very proscribed program, but Girl Scout troops can choose to do — or not do — any part of the program that they like. Some troops refuse to wear uniforms and don’t buy them. Some troops never do a badge. Many troops have never been to camp.

    So I know my girls, I know the troop leaders in my county, and I know lots of girls and leaders in my council. I can’t imagine any association that any of them would have with an organization like PP. But then we are pretty conservative out here in the rural midwest. Can I guarantee that there are no troops in other places that have associations with organizations that I and other Catholics object to? Of course not…

    Girl Scout troops in the US are sponsored by every possible religious organization. And certainly there are some of those organizations that have immoral teachings. We can be associated with them as Girl Scouts without supporting their views. I once lived in a parish that helped to run a food pantry under the auspices of the town’s association of ministers. The local Episcopal church was also deeply involved. The Episcopal church in the US supports abortion and homosexuality — should that parish have abandoned the food pantry over the presence of Episcopalians? Every Catholic diocese has ecumenical activities that they carry out with other Christian churches, and Jews, and sometimes others. Does this mean that the bishop is supporting abortion because he went to an ecumenical prayer service that included members of churches who have immoral teachings on abortion, etc.?

    I really liked this line:

    “associating with people who are associating with people who are not who the Catholic Church would choose to be associating with.”

    Pretty much describes Jesus’ public ministry, too!

  • http://awashingtondccatholic.blogspot.com/ awashingtondccatholic

    most local GS troops are organized/run by moms (and a few dads) who are not really involved at what happens at the next level or two up. Moms organize it because their daughters and a couple of friends wants to be brownies, daisies, etc. They run it as best as they can, with a little training, and then when their daughters leave, they to leave the organization. Boy Scouts is a bit different.

    Now, if you want to get up in arms, you should be complaining about the amount a GS Troop gets for each box of cookies they sell: only about 10% with the rest going to the GS Council.

  • http://awashingtondccatholic.blogspot.com/ awashingtondccatholic

    Oh, two other things..

    it is my understanding (but i can be wrong on it) GS is a little more lax on the issue of God and the fact that gays can be leaders.

  • http://awashingtondccatholic.blogspot.com/ awashingtondccatholic

    I dont’ think tha the issue is who sponsors a GS Troop but what stance does the GS organization (as a whole takes).

    Boy Scouts are also sponsored by a variety of organizations but does take strong stances on certain issues, regardless of the views of the sponsors.

  • cathyf

    In my council, troops get 60 cents per box and girls get 10 cents, while the council gets $1.80 per box. But if you sell 500, 750 or 1000 boxes, you get an extra 40 cents per box (out of the council’s share.) So we sold 1312 boxes as a troop and made $1.10/box for the first 1250 boxes and $0.60 for the last 62. Actually not a bad percentage at all on $3.50 boxes of cookies.

    And council spends the “council” cookie money on programming for the girls, upkeep on our four camps, inventory for uniforms, books and badges, all sorts of bureaucratic support to support event and camp registration. None of that stuff is free…

  • pagansister

    Tempest in a teapot!

  • cathyf

    The Girl Scout position on God is pretty much the AA position, and God is whatever an individual girl’s religion defines it as. Muslim Girl Scouts promise “…to serve Allah…” for example.

    As far as sexual preferences go, our policy in practice is that leaders have no business discussing their sex lives with anyone other than their own daughters on their own time. Gays are pretty rare — my immediate problems with discussing sexuality have more to do with the girl whose parents divorced after her dad was shacking up with a woman he got pregnant, and then the mom who is living with her boyfriend and had a baby with him last year. “Don’t ask don’t tell” is one of those policies that works pretty well…

  • Deacon Norb

    For any number of unknown reasons, two local Boy Scout troops were sponsored by our local Catholic Parishes; NO Girl Scout Troops were ever so sponsored. My boys were both in Scouting — in a parish sponsored troop. My girls all joined Camp-Fire which was heavily supported by the moms of our local parishes. I never bothered to ask the various adult women leaders in our parishes why this was so.

    But I did have two grand-daughters who were in Girl Scouts — one received the “Gold Award” — and our total family probably bought more than its share of cookies. Thin-Mints and the Peanut-Butter ones — different names in different sections if the country — were the local favorites. There are still a few boxes in the freezer for consumption later in the summer.

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    We are Catholic, not Amish or some other sect that closes itself off from the world. Certainly it would be easier to maintain “purity” of life were we to attempt to do so–that’s the impulse (to keep the group uncontaminated by outside influences) behind the Israelite purity codes, most of which Christians have left behind. But we would be failing in the commission we received from the Risen Lord, to “go and teach all nations.”

    There is a HUGE difference between participating in Girl Scouts, even in places where there might be minuscule links to organizations or resources that conflict with Catholic teaching, and having kids volunteer in an abortion clinic. The same with buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks; it will not cause the breakdown of traditional marriage (though it may damage your budget and, depending on what you order, your waistline). Whenever people start talking about how Catholics should avoid contact with anyone or anything that isn’t 100% “pure,” I start hearing Jesus say, “the Physician is not sent to heal the well.” We do better being in the world but not of it, being witness to our countercultural values in the midst of the culture, than we ever do by holding ourselves aloof. And honestly? We live in a broken world. Everything we do or consume or join has the potential to draw us into cooperation with sin. On the upside, every interaction we have with the world has the potential to draw that world into cooperation with grace.

    Make reasoned choices. If my eating a box of Samoas is going to earn me time in purgatory, it will be for gluttony, not for cooperation-in-evil-at-the-32nd-degree-of-removal.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    I think the major beef is with local groups and Councils that hold (fairly explicit) sex education classes and similar “feminist” events, often set up by Planned Parenthood. (The one that blew my mind was a Council that didn’t believe in knife or fire training for girls, but did believe in sex ed.) But probably this only happens in places where the lunatics run the asylum. Normal troops in normal Councils probably never encounter this sort of thing.

    But in areas where lunatics are running things… well, I guess that’s a good reason to go with Campfire Girls or one of the other organizations.

  • Mark

    Have learned a lot here, especially the analysis that GSUSA is an “elastic” group that seems to some degree of subsidiarity.

    Still, the problem is with an elite leadership (at the top of the GSUSA food chain) that makes alliances with other groups (like Planned Parenthood). As Catholics it’s good to be aware of these alliances, so that we can make smart choices (do we buy cookies or drink coffee — e.g. Starbucks — from organizations that donate $$ in conflict with the pro-life and pro-family principles we support?).

    This is no different than choosing NOT to support businesses that supported apartheid (in the 1980s). Or to avoid garments made in sweatshops or made from fur. Or to avoid using energy wastefully in our homes and businesses, which eventually harms God’s creation.

    Some evils are institutional, and we have a choice … and that is to avoid cooperating with such evils as much as possible. None of us alone can do much — that’s true — but we can do SOMETHING. That’s why I now think twice about using Starbucks, or buying cookies from that sweet Girl Scout on my block who has no clue what deals the well-compensated elite leadership of her organization have made.

  • cathyf

    Well I wouldn’t go as far as saying that our council isn’t run by lunatics… ;) Just not lunatics of the abortion-on-demand, pornographic-sex-ed-for-kindergarteners variety!

    There is a pretty strong strain of femanazi running through the organization — but it is because little girls pretty much all agree that 1) girls are better than boys, and 2) boys are useless pains in the neck anyway. I’m not in any big hurry to convince the little ones that boys might be useful for some things after all…

  • cathyf

    GSUSA gets no money from cookies at all. All that money goes to girls, troops or councils. GSUSA doesn’t even make any money off of the $12/year membership dues that each girl and adult volunteer pays — all of that money goes to buy the insurance that covers girls and adults when they are doing girl scout activities.

    GSUSA gets their money from a large endowment, royalties on the books, badges & uniforms, and from selling girl scout branded merchandise. (For example, if you buy a cute gs t-shirt from national, it will set you back $23-$26. A t-shirt designed and printed up by my local council would sell in the shop for $7-$10.)

  • Mark

    Money is “fungible” (translation: if GSUSA didn’t spend money on their “allies” at PP, it could go to “girls, troops and councils,” as you put it). That means fewer girls would have to go out and knock on doors to sell cookies and thus be able to spend more time in GS activities.

    Sounds like you are active in GS as an adult volunteer leader. If so, you’re in a better position than I am to tell your lavishly-compensated executive leadership at national headquarters to stop playing political games with the $$ and focus it instead on the kids (and the volunteers) at the grassroots level.

    By the way, here is a helpful source on where the GS cookie money goes:
    http://www.honestgirlscouts.com/files/1112YouDeserveToKnowWhatGirlScoutCookiesFund.pdf

  • Steve P

    You illustrate precisely the reason I wrote my first comment, Mark.

    Where is the evidence that there are any “‘allies’ at PP”? That they are “playing political games with the $$”? Or that there is “lavishly-compensated executive leadership at national headquarters”?

    The brochure appears to be a propaganda piece as much as anything else. I’ll see if the sites referenced actually show citations from the books that have been re-written with a pro-gay agenda, or whatever else is claimed.

  • http://www.patheos.com Deacon Tom

    Mary Rice Hasson, recently named a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributor on Catholic women’s issues with the Catholic News Agency, wrote a piece a few months ago that addresses some of the serious problems with the National Girl Scouts leadership and the ‘Journey” series of books. I suggest any interested person read her commentary.

  • cathyf

    I refuse to use the Journey books, but they are not at all different from the affective brainwashing that is mainstream education these days. Even in Catholic schools. They have been a pretty spectacular failure, too — it was 3 years and they were shoved aside last fall in favor of the new “Girls’ Guide” which are basically handbook and badge workbooks.

    The people in charge of programs tend to come out of teaching and social work, and very few of the leaders do. The “therapeutic” crap gets to be tiresome after awhile. But it’s not like normal people could even implement their bizarre schemes, since they write and speak in virtually impenetrable “eduspeak” gobbledygook.

  • Peter

    I’m sorry that coffee at Starbucks is hurting your marriage.


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