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Patricia McGuire Headshot

Girl Scouts and God's Grace

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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I am a Girl Scout.

Recently, I shook hands with more than 200 Girl Scouts assembled at Trinity for the annual "In Your Honor" ceremony celebrating the Gold Award and Silver Trefoil Award Girl Scouts of the Nation's Capital Council. As I looked around the room packed with girls, parents and families, I marveled at how this organization keeps girls focused on healthy, wholesome, positive activities in a world where too many young women face exploitation, abuse, disparagement, discouragement and the plague of low expectations. A quick sample of the Gold Award projects clearly demonstrates the plain fact that the Girl Scouts today are about a whole lot more than cookie sales. In one project, a girl developed brochures and video guides to help teenagers dealing with family members who have Alzheimer's. Another project focused on introducing kids living in a homeless shelter to science, technology, engineering and math. Yet another project took on the problem of cyberbullying. Many of the projects focused on literacy, environmental action and drug/alcohol education.

The next morning I opened the newspaper and read that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched an investigation into the Girl Scouts.

Well, Father, I was really just a Brownie. It didn't last long. Mom pulled me out after the episode with the cookies. I ate more than I sold. About five times.

Apparently, the bishops have received some complaints about Girl Scout troops affiliated with Catholic parishes and schools. Seems that some troops have used materials that conflict with Catholic teaching. And there's that longstanding rumor about some tie to Planned Parenthood, which the Girl Scouts have repeatedly refuted.

OK, so then as a grownup I went to Camp CEO. Ten times! We camp with girls to teach them about women's leadership in business; they teach us about braiding hair and creative chilling. I shared a tent with five other women, but we all had our own two foot-wide cots with the one-inch plastic matresses. These are the women who make the "most powerful" lists in the local magazines, cowering under mosquito nets and worried about spiders. Women who first thought that "camping out" meant something like a room at the Days Inn. But since we were exhausted from all of that singing and swimming with the girls in the muddy Potomac, we slept right through the late night racket of the cicadas. Can you believe that the women who run big local corporations snore like bears? Anyway, really, nothing bad happened, not counting stepping on the salamander and screaming at 3 a.m. on my way to the latrine. I think I did my penance already!

By what right do the Catholic bishops "investigate" the Girl Scouts, an independent secular organization? Nationally, some estimates indicate that up to a half million Girl Scouts are Catholic, and the Girl Scouts have always welcomed partnership with religious organizations. So, yes, at some level the Church certainly has the right to make sure that the activities of Catholic schools and parishes are not undermining Catholic teachings. And, to their credit, the Girl Scouts are cooperating with the inquiry, and have even made some changes in materials and activities already.

But optics, brother bishops, optics. Sweeping indictments are unjust, cruel and destructive. Coming fast on the heels of the news about the bishops' investigation of nuns, this new "inquiry" into the Girl Scouts adds to a perception that some bishops have a problem with strong, confident, independent women. There's also a perception that a few complaints from ideological extremes are used to slander good people and organizations that only exist to improve social conditions.

The net effect of these "investigations" of nuns and Girl Scouts is a real sense of increasing dismay among the very people who want to be most loyal to the Church, the women who do the hard work of staffing the Catholic institutions and ministries that exemplify the best of Gospel teachings in real life. And in more cynical corners, "investigating" nuns and Girl Scouts for alleged doctrinal deviations seems like an effort to deflect public attention from the real crimes of priestly deviance. Perhaps the bishops do not intend to appear so obtuse, but that's what comes across to many lay people.

Real evil abounds in our world each day, and most of us are doing our level best to relieve the pain of evil's fallout -- child abuse, homelessness and hunger, poverty and corporate greed, illiteracy and the fear that ignorance nurtures, environmental destruction, senseless violence and war. Faith leaders should support the good people who work hard to make a positive difference for children in this very imperfect world. Surely, the Girl Scouts are one of the great organizations that reveal God's grace working within our culture to help girls grow well and strong, keeping them away from the dangerous precipices of destructive behaviors that consume too many young lives.

By the way, Trinity has a long and strong partnership with the Girl Scouts, including a very successful Girl Scout Scholarship program that has contributed close to $2 million to support Girl Scouts in college at Trinity. We just announced an expanded program of Girl Scout Centennial Scholarships in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts. And we'll be singing loudly with several hundred thousand Girl Scouts on June 9 to "Rock the Mall" in celebration of the Girl Scout Centennial.

For my penance I will throw away all the Thin Mints in my freezer. I think they're well past the expiration date anyway. But I'm not returning my badges, no way! I endured seaweed, bugs and heat for the pleasure of winning that "I Love Aquia Creek" badge. Sorry, Father, it's a Girl Scout thing, you wouldn't understand.