A friend of mine, actually one of my old parish’s most accomplished busybodies, once talked her way into the hotel room of a 1950’s rock guitarist when he was performing in the Phoenix area. Her goal — her sole goal — was to get the legend’s autograph for a friend of hers.
After sizing my friend up, the man smiled. Cocking his head toward another man, who was holding a camera, he asked her, “Do you object to pictures?” When my friend looked puzzled, he asked again, “Do you object to pictures?” Finally, it dawned on her that he was really asking, “Is it okay with you if my friend here photographs us while we’re having sex?”
My friend bridled, took umbrage, flew into a state of the highest dudgeon imaginable. With finger wagging, she addressed the aging satyr: “Mister _____, I’ll have you know I was a Girl Scout. I’m no groupie! All I want is for you to put your signature on this piece of paper, for my friend, who idolizes you, though I can’t imagine why. He saw you play at _______.” She named a ballroom in Connecticut.
By this point in his career, this performer had made the transition to nostalgia act without downsizing his headliner’s ego. Even Keith Richards, who considered himself deep in the man’s artistic debt (and who had managed to get along, more or less, with Mick Jagger for over two decades) found him hard to take. He had also been convicted of a sex crime. But something about my friend’s straight-backed rebuke brought out the rake’s gallant side. Picking up her reference, he asked, “That place is closed now, right?” My friend nodded, and the two fell into a pleasant conversation. After about half an hour, he signed her paper, and she left triumphant.
Extracting the Girl Scout training from this friend of mine would have been impossible. Easier to deprogram a Moonie. In tandem with the Catholic Church, the GSUSA had poured the concrete that held her value structure together. “Always leave a place looking better than when you found it,” she’d lecture me, and had no sympathy for my argument that cigarette butts add reverse chic to picnic spots. Once, while catering a retreat — one of her chief charismata — she discovered she’d overestimated the amount of milk required by half. Me? I’d have yelled, “MILK FIGHT!” and it would have been on. This goody-goody-friend of mine insisted on hauling the overage down to Maggie’s Place, a local house of hospitality for expectant mothers.
Not only did this woman follow a neurotic compulsion to do the right thing, she insisted on doing it for the right reasons. If I rouse myself to throw someone’s discarded Coke bottle into the recycle bin, I expect to be inducted into the Orde Pour le Mérite. My friend, on the other hand, would warn, “Don’t do anything for the badges,” meaning merit badges. In her book, virtue rewarded hardly counted as virtue at all.
As grating as I often found this just-canonize-me-now attitude, I hope the bishops find generous traces of it as their Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth investigates GSUSA materials it fears are “problematic.” Exactly what sort of heterodoxy the committee expects to find is unclear; in his announcement, committee chairman Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Ft. Wayne, Indiana doesn’t say. But among culture warriors nationwide, the buzz against Girl Scouts has been building to a roar for some time.
The Huffington Post reports that a Colorado troop became a target for critics by accepting a biological boy who considered himself transgendered. Just this past February, GSUSA spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins issued a letter refuting what she says were false allegations broadcast via EWTN, in a program titled Women of Grace. According to Tompkins, GSUSA has no relationship with Planned Parenthood, and no plans for creating one. Neither did it have any hand in distributing a Planned Parenthood brochure that turned up at a United Nations event. The HuffPo identifies the brochure as “Happy, Healthy and Hot,” and says its purpose is advising HIV-positive young people “how to safely lead active sex lives.”
I find myself hoping that this collision will not end too bloodily. It’s true, when it comes to ideology, the Girl Scouts are not the Boy Scouts. The GSUSA may not order its members to become atheists or homosexuals, but unlike the Boy Scouts, they leave room in the ranks for both types. If GSUSA has no formal relationship with Planned Parenthood, it does belong to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, whose spokespeople have called for “an environment where [girls] can freely and openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality.” It would be very hard for a Catholic Girl Scout to avoid concluding that people who contest Church teachings are worthy objects of fellowship.
That conclusion seems like nothing more than common sense. It’s the opposite conclusion — that one rejected doctrine anathematizes an organization the way one drop of African blood was once thought to make a person black — that looks persnickety. If the Bishops’ Conference wants to cut its own ties to organizations like the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, which supports same-sex marriage and abortion, that’s one thing. If it wants to prohibit Catholic universities from honoring public figures who buck the Church’s line, it’s at least operating within its jurisdiction. But to reach outside of its own organizational limits to make demands of institutions that include Catholics, but which never claimed to be Catholic, is to reach into strong-arm territory. If this is evangelization, it’s not a style of evangelization I see winning many converts.
Indeed, that may not even be the bishops’ goal. Implicit in their latest move seems to be a fear that no young person could remain an orthodox Catholic if exposed to any opposing point of view — roughly, “How are you’re going to keem ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree”? If I were a young Catholic, I’m sure I’d find that inference unflattering, to say the least. Lately it’s become fashionable among Catholics to claim persecution, Cardinal George’s prediction that his successor would die in jail being only the most melodramatic example. But I cannot find an instance where the GSUSA, acting in odium fidei, shunned, harrassed, or even denied preferment to a Catholic. If the barbarians won’t come to the gates, then, it seems, we’ll drag the gates out to the barbarians.
Among their merit badges, the Girl Scouts offer one called “My Promise, My Faith.” According to the GSUSA home page, “A girl earns the My Promise, My Faith pin by carefully examining the Girl Scout Law and directly tying it to tenets of her faith.” It represents a lesson on living in a pluralistic society; only though a complementary badge with a name like “You Heretic Knuckleheads Are My Cross” could that lesson be more thorough.
Cervantes — whom I’m quoting via Florence King — once defined a lady as someone so determined to be respected that she could make herself so even in an army of soldiers. Change “army of soldiers” to “horny rock has-been,” and you’ll have a fair picture of my Girl Scout friend. Throw in stewardship and (occcasionally) a sanctimoniousness that made me want to garrotte her with her own kerchief, and you’ll have your case that Catholicism and the Girl Scout Promise can go together like milk and Peanut Butter Tagalongs.