In my last column, I wrote about the Vatican’s forced reform of 47,000 American nuns who focus on ministering to the poor. After several years of dialogue and an extensive inquiry (inquisition?) into the doctrine of numerous religious orders, the Vatican plans to have its way with women religious. The Vatican thinks their time would be better spent warning Americans of the evils of birth control, gay marriage and female ordination.
As if it were not disturbing enough to watch the Vatican push nuns around, the U.S. Conference of Bishops recently announced an official inquiry into the Girl Scouts of America. Like the nuns, the Girl Scouts are accused of “radical feminism” for their promotion of female empowerment. The Girls Scouts are also accused of having ties to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Of course the bishops have no jurisdiction over the Girl Scouts, so the announcement is primarily a smear campaign designed to steer Catholic parents away from letting their daughters participate.
Earlier this year, Indiana State Rep. Bob Morris (a Republican and a Catholic) responded to a bill honoring the centennial of the Girl Scouts of America by accusing GSA of being a “radicalized organization” with ties to Planned Parenthood. He threatened to pull his two daughters out of Girl Scouts and put them in an alternative right wing organization called American Heritage Girls. In a Feb. 18 letter to other lawmakers, Morris gave proof of the Girl Scouts liberal agenda: The honorary president of the Girl Scouts of America is none other than Michelle Obama. Morris is either ignorant or deceitful; the current First Lady is always the Girl Scouts’ honorary president. Morris later apologized for the tone of the letter and its inaccuracies. He said he would have researched these factoids if he had realized the letter would reach a “wider audience” than just other legislators. Apparently he had no qualms about using smear tactics and lies to mislead other lawmakers and affect legislation.
Catholic politicians are not alone in their fear of Girl Scouts. Alaska State Rep. Wes Keller mounted a similar attack. Keller declines to give his religious affiliation on his official legislative profile, but Wasilla Bible Church lists him as an elder. Wasilla Bible Church is a non-denominational congregation with an all-male clerical staff and an all-male board of elders.
In fact, male-dominated Protestant groups have been sounding the scary Girl Scout alarm for several decades. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson made the unsubstantiated claim that one third of Girl Scout leaders were lesbians. Two years ago, evangelical leader Chuck Colson ordered his followers to boycott cookie sales. What does a Watergate felon have against little girls in beanies and sashes? Well, it’s not the beanies or the sashes, so it must be the little girls.
Fear of Girl Scouts is such a common ailment among powerful men, psychiatrists should really come up with a name for the disorder. The bishops did not start the invective; they are merely chiming in with the voices of misogynist churchmen in other traditions.
The conflict is not Catholics v. Girl Scouts; many troops meet in Catholic parishes. Nor is it Catholics v. women; most faithful Catholics are women. Most American Catholics support women in leadership, including the ordination of women to the priesthood. The problem is male leaders — in politics, in churches and in society — who are scared to death of what the Girl Scouts really stand for: Young women learning to speak, act and lead in confidence.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on FaceBook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.