Spare a thought for the Catholics of St Louis, Missouri, weighed down as they are with ponderous spiritual matters. On top of such weighty issues as the pope’s recent call for an end to the death penalty – a popular pastime in Missouri – they must now wrestle with a new moral conundrum: Girl Scout cookies.
The ethical dilemma is put pithily on the website of the archdiocese of St Louis under the headline: “Can I still buy Girl Scout cookies?” The equally punchy answer states: “Each person must act in accord with their conscience.”
The spiritual crisis over the selling of Thin Mints, Trefoils and Do-si-dos on Catholic premises has been triggered by the archbishop of St Louis, Robert Carlson. In a letter circulated to the region’s priests and scout leaders, he questions whether the Girl Scout movement is spiritually in line with the teachings of the Catholic church.
In the letter , he questions whether Girl Scouts USA, the nationwide network with more than two million young female members, and its parent body, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, should be entrusted with the spiritual formation of its charges given the groups’ support for contraception and abortion. He also accuses them of promoting inappropriate role models such as the feminist writers Gloria Steinem and the late Betty Friedan, and of forging partnerships with human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Oxfam that advocate reproductive rights.
“Girl Scouts is exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior and it is clear to me that as they move in the ways of the world it is becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values,” the archbishop writes. “We must stop and ask ourselves – is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional and personal well-being of Catholic girls?”
Though he does not order an immediate severing of ties with the Girl Scouts and their cookies, Carlson does urge each pastor in the region to consider ejecting them from Catholic property and replacing them with other forms of social networking for young female parishioners. Some 4,000 Girl Scouts are currently understood to meet on Catholic premises in St Louis.
“Our primary obligation is to help our girls grow as women of God. Several alternative organizations exist, many of which have a Catholic or Christian background,” Carlson writes.
Girl Scouts USA has not risen to the bait of the archbishop’s letter. In a statement, it said with measured diplomacy that it looked forward “to extending our longstanding relationship with faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church and Catholic communities throughout the country… We remain committed to building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.”
Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri said it had enjoyed cooperation with the archdiocese for almost 100 years. “Although we are a secular organization, we greatly value our long-standing partnerships with religious organizations across many faiths.”