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Not Satisfied With Attacking Nuns, Catholic Bishops Go After Girl Scouts

First the nuns, now the Girl Scouts: It would be comical if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging.

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The following is reprinted with permission from  Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter  here.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is having a Saturday Night Live moment. Emboldened by the Vatican's hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA. Which would be comical -- first the nuns, now the Girl Scouts -- if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging, especially to the bishops.

The tactics against the girls and the women are taken from one playbook, the goal of intimidation is the same, and the pushback in both cases is distracting from more pressing problems at hand. Still, you wonder who does their public relations, as the bishops are now about as popular as a recession.

The apparent goal of this exercise of "investigating" gender female persons is to set up and enforce a male-defined model of girlhood/womanhood. A Vatican-, or in this case, USCCB-launched investigation is what Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, calls the equivalent of a grand jury investigation. There is the presumption that something is wrong, not something right, that there is guilt to be uncovered, not virtue to be unleashed. What is wrong seems to be women and girls thinking for themselves and acting for the common good.

What boggles the mind is why the Roman Catholic Church would be so presumptuous as to investigate what does not belong to it. Granted, some Scout troops meet at Catholic churches, but that does not make them Catholic entities any more than the Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets in the same basement. In the case of the Scouts, the supposed connections with groups that support reproductive justice are, for the most part, links to websites where girls can find further information on issues, hardly a ringing endorsement of the groups' missions. Sex education is not an integral part of scouting; that is something left to families. What is really at issue here is that women and girls involved in the Girl Scouts do not ask permission of ecclesial men to live as responsible citizens of a global world.

Girl Scouts USA belongs to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, about ten million strong in 145 countries. In a July 2012 conference in Chicago, WAGGGS will discuss the UN Millennium Development Goals. Those include the elimination of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, environmental sustainability, and the development of a global partnership for development, a blueprint for just living in the 21st century. The Episcopal Church USA adopted a resolution at its 74th General Convention to support the goals. Perhaps they will be investigated next.

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is hardly leaving the Girl Scouts quaking in their boots. Their reasoned and patient replies to accusations that they shouldn't have to answer demonstrate their mission: "Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place." Would that the bishops follow suit.

Several parallels with the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious lay bare the playbook here. The LCWR "doctrinal investigation" was Rome-based, undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Girl Scout "investigation" is U.S.-based sleuthing led by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth chaired by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. Both cases are based on long-term reporting by conservative Catholics, both lay and clerical, of the groups' supposed sins. This is a cottage industry that includes the Eternal Word Television Network and random ecclesial busybodies who apparently report to Rome and to the USCCB on a regular basis.

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