N. Virginia Catholic priest is in minority in region in breaking with Boy Scouts over gays

Robert McCartney
Columnist February 15

Pope Francis says gay people “shouldn’t be marginalized,” but a Northern Virginia Roman Catholic priest has taken the opposite approach regarding the Boy Scouts.

Father John De Celles of St. Raymond of Peñafort in Springfield kicked out his church’s Boy Scout troop and Cub Scout pack in December because the national scouting organization dared to open its doors to openly gay youths.

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

St. Raymond will instead sponsor units of a new organization — Trail Life USA. It’s just like the Boy Scouts, except that it officially embraces “a Christian worldview” and discriminates against boys who refuse to hide their homosexuality.

De Celles’s decision comes as no surprise to anyone who’s read his diatribes against gay behavior, liberal activists and similar targets in his weekly columns available on the church’s Web site.

He warned a year ago that St. Raymond would sever its relationship with the Boy Scouts if it changed the policy. Gays have “perverted relationships,” he wrote. “No more compromising with the devil.”

In April, De Celles denounced the Boy Scouts’ proposed step toward tolerance and inclusiveness as “a statement that ‘gay is okay.’ ” He warned that would “severely limit” his church “from passing on its moral teaching about same-sex attraction and homosexuals.”

Compare that with the pope’s now-famous statement about gays: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”

Happily, De Celles is in the minority. Despite alarmists’ warnings that a change regarding gays might cripple the Boy Scouts, the impact so far has been small in the Washington region and less than feared in the rest of the country.

De Celles, who declined to be interviewed, heads the only Roman Catholic parish in the close-in Northern Virginia suburbs to refuse to renew its charter with the Boy Scouts because of the decision on gays, according to information provided by the Arlington diocese.

That’s a big relief to the local Boy Scout council. It feared it might lose many more Catholic church sponsors in Northern Virginia, after Arlington Archbishop Paul Loverde said in May that the admission of gay youths was “highly disappointing.”

Since then, however, Loverde has refrained from further criticism while monitoring the new policy’s effects. On Feb. 8, he presided over the annual “Scout Mass” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Loverde might have been influenced by the more conciliatory attitude taken by other American Catholic leaders. In particular, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting issued a 40-point fact sheet in November that defended the Boy Scouts’ decision as consistent with Catholic teaching.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Washington Archdiocese, which includes the District and Maryland suburbs, also has backed the Scouts.

“The U.S. bishops have been fairly clear that what the Boy Scouts have done is within church teaching, which says that you don’t discriminate against anyone for sexual orientation,” said Robert McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

He said the pope’s statements also have prompted “a difference in tone” regarding gays.

In addition, the Boy Scouts’ decision appears to have had only a small impact among Protestant churches in the Washington region.

Besides Catholic St. Raymond, only two churches in our area have chartered Trail Life troops to replace Boy Scout units, according to Trail Life’s Web site. Both are nondenominational Christian congregations in Springfield.

The Web site says three more Trail Life troops are in the process of being formed — in Woodbridge, Warrenton and La Plata.

That’s not much competition, considering that the Boy Scouts’ National Capital Area Council has 1,712 troops, packs and other units. Far from seeing a mass exodus, the council actually gained one unit overall last year.

The picture is somewhat worse nationally, mainly because of withdrawals in Southern states such as Texas and South Carolina.

Nationally, total Boy Scout membership dropped 6 percent in 2013. That’s steeper than the decline of 4 percent in 2012.

But it’s not as bad as some forecasts had anticipated. A task force report was prepared in April before the membership change was made. It predicted that allowing individual troops to admit gays as both youths and adult leaders would lead to a membership drop of more than 10 percent.

I wish I could say all this means that the controversy is effectively over. It isn’t.

Last year’s decision only went half way, because the Boy Scouts still ban openly gay people from serving as adult leaders. So the whole issue will be joined again, as activists rightly pressure the organization to end discrimination at all levels.

I hope and expect that those with narrow-minded views will be the ones who end up “marginalized.”

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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