Not very Scout-like

June 12, 2007

Monsignor James P. Farmer of St. Ursula Catholic Church may have done right by his church, but he has done a disservice to the Boy Scouts who are members of the troop sponsored by his Parkville parish. He has barred from Boy Scout functions politicians who oppose Catholic teachings, notably on embryonic stem cell research, for no other reason than the view they hold. That surely wouldn't pass a Scout's test of courtesy, respect for others or, for that matter, good citizenship.

As an organization, the Boy Scouts of America tries to keep politics out; Monsignor Farmer's edict has needlessly politicized an aspect of scouting life. His prohibition relates to appearances by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier at Eagle Scout ceremonies, including a February event to which an Eagle Scout personally invited her. She was there to congratulate the boy, not espouse her views on issues. But after Monsignor Farmer learned that Ms. Klausmeier, a supporter of embryonic stem cell research, which the Catholic Church opposes, had attended the ceremony, troop leaders were reminded of the ban against inviting such politicians to troop events and told to get guest lists cleared as well.

Monsignor Farmer was within his right under the Boy Scouts charter agreements with host groups to restrict attendance or membership in a troop. But if the troop wants to visit Annapolis to see how state government works (Scouts encourage an educated, informed citizen), the pastor's rule would mean the troop could visit only those politicians who follow the Catholic Church's teachings.

But what if a state lawmaker opposes abortion but supports the death penalty, which the church is adamantly against? How would Monsignor Farmer parse that? Invite or uninvite?

If Catholic leaders started crossing off their list every politician who doesn't hold their views, there would be few people to visit or lobby in Annapolis for repealing the death penalty, aiding Catholic schools or holding the line on civil lawsuits arising from clergy abuse. You can't convince someone without a conversation.

The archdiocese backs up the Parkville pastor by citing a 2004 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document, "Catholics in Political Life," that forbids honoring or giving a platform to "those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles." But Ms. Klausmeier wasn't receiving an honor, she was honoring an Eagle Scout, who had attained the highest level in the scouting world. And that's where the attention should have been - on the outstanding accomplishment of a young man doing his duty to God and his country.

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