N. Va. priest who ousted Cub Scouts over gays kept the popcorn money for Christian group

Robert McCartney
Columnist March 1

The Cub Scouts of Pack 683 in Fairfax did a brisk business selling popcorn in August and September. Peddling boxes outside grocery stores and on neighbors’ doorsteps, they raised about $2,800 for medals, camping and other expenses.

The vast majority of the boys will never benefit from the funds they collected. The Roman Catholic priest at the church that sponsored the pack kept the money when he canceled the pack’s charter in response to the national Boy Scout organization’s decision to admit openly gay youths.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

Father John De Celles of St. Raymond of Peñafort in Springfield decided that the popcorn money, together with an additional $1,200 that Pack 683 had taken in previously, will go instead to support a new boys group that the church is sponsoring.

That’s a unit of Trail Life USA, created to offer a scoutlike experience that calls itself “Christ-centered” and bars boys who publicly identify as homosexual.

“He hurt these children for no reason so that he didn’t have to fund his own new program,” Pack 683 parent Stephanie Curb said.

In my column two weeks ago, I criticized De Celles for terminating the Boy Scout and Cub Scout units at St. Raymond even though most American Catholic groups and leaders say the Scouts’ new policy on gays is consistent with church teaching.

Shortly afterward, Cub leaders and parents e-mailed me to say I’d missed half the story because I wasn’t aware that the priest had also imposed a financial burden on the boys.

De Celles had the authority to keep the money, but that doesn’t justify his decision. He should have divided it proportionally between the small number of boys who stayed for the Trail Life program, and the majority who departed for other Cub packs.

“Even from a technical standpoint that he could keep it, I don’t think it was the moral thing to do,” Cub parent Melanie Frola said. Her son, Nick, was proud of selling popcorn worth $84.66 that his pack won’t see.

Frola and her husband, Mike, said the decision prompted them to leave St. Raymond after being parishioners for 12 years.

Pack 683’s former Cubmaster, Jess Speaker III, said the pack had about 30 boys in the fall when De Celles informed them that he would cancel their charter.

About half the boys left shortly afterward to start a new pack, 1683, also led by Speaker. Most of the others went later to other Cub packs, and only a small number stayed to join Trail Life, said Speaker and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.

Speaker thought that De Celles’s action was unfair because many popcorn purchasers wanted to back the Cubs and had never heard of Trail Life. “The uniforms, the shirts sell the popcorn. People buy it because they were helping Scouts,” Speaker said.

The new pack has had to hustle to raise money to pay for its annual Blue and Gold banquet. It also needs funds to assist Cubs who otherwise couldn’t afford dues, uniforms or camp.

De Celles did not respond to phone messages and e-mails requesting comment.

But the diocese confirmed that St. Raymond was keeping the money raised by the Cubs.

“Any resources, including fundraising, that were part of the Scouting ministry within St. Raymond remained part of the ministry of the church, and would be used to fulfill the same role with the new organization,” diocesan spokesman Michael Donohue said.

De Celles was within his rights because of national Boy Scout policy. It says that St. Raymond, as the chartering organization, always owned the pack’s money and equipment, regardless of how the assets were obtained.

This wouldn’t happen in the Girl Scouts, where every troop is independent and possesses its own bank account and gear.

Oddly, St. Raymond’s break with its Boy Scout troop, also 683, was apparently cordial.

There wasn’t much money at stake, because the Boy Scouts’ funds were low before their spring mulch sale. Camping equipment, however, is to be divided proportionally between the Trail Life unit and a new Scout troop, according to an adult leader working with both groups.

De Celles should have done the same with the funds raised by the Cubs.

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