Boy Scouts, “Bigotry” and the Catholic Culture Wars

The progressive group Catholic United tries to smear a priest who cuts ties with the BSA

The decision by the Boy Scouts to include self-identified gay scout members has opened a new front in the Catholic culture wars as progressive Catholic organizations are denouncing the decision by a Bremerton, Washington, Catholic priest to cut parish ties with the Scouts following the release of their new policy. Calling the priest’s decision “bigoted” and “bullying,” James Salt, the leader of the progressive organization, Catholics United, has organized an online petition asking Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to “help bring healing to innocent kids and hurting souls who deserve better than bullying.”

On May 26, Fr. Derek Lappe, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, posted a letter addressed to his parishioners on the parish website which criticized the Boy Scout’s decision.  In his letter, Fr. Lappe advised parishioners of his intention to “part ways” with the Boy Scouts: “I do not feel it is possible for us to live out and to teach the authentic truth about human sexuality within the confines of the Boy Scout’s new policy.”  

In his letter, Fr. Lappe questioned the new Boy Scout policy, which he believes is based on the idea that same-sex attraction is genetic and unchangeable. He stated:

For many years we have seen headlines that proclaim a genetic origin for homosexuality. Various groups in concert with a willing media have tried to convince people that being “gay” is a genetically defined trait, as if being sexually attracted to a person of the same sex is no different an expression of DNA than one’s height or the color of one’s skin. The reality however, is that there is nothing scientific or logical in such a position.

But, Fr. Lappe wrotes “The genesis of same-sex attraction is much more complicated.” He referred to Catholic Medical Association’s 2000 document, Homosexuality and Hope, and its many references to scholarly research studies supporting the opposing view that there may be sociological and psychological factors to same-sex attraction. Concluding that the genesis of same-sex attraction is “much more complicated” than those promoting a genetic origin for homosexuality, Fr. Lappe said that his parish would no longer participate in  “offering a program of ratifying a label of gay which the young man has placed on himself and which so many elements of society also are happy to place on him.”
Fr. Lappe was accurately portraying Catholic teachings on homosexuality. But, in an angry statement posted on the Catholics United website on May 31st by James Salt, their Executive Director, the Catholic Church was attacked as a “harbor for bigotry and shaming.” Salt also ridiculed Fr. Lappe personally. Distorting the research studies that Fr. Lappe posted on his parish website, Salt concluded that “in Fr. Lappe’s mind, gay kids don’t or shouldn’t exist…He supposed there may be instances of same-sex attraction which are brought on by lack of interest in sports, extreme shyness, lack of hand eye coordination and resultant teasing.” And the statement, posted on May 31, claims that Fr. Lappe’s statements were somehow contrary to Catholic teaching and “out of touch”:

“Fr. Lappe’s decision to disassociate his parish from the Boy Scouts is a sad reminder that too many Catholic leaders are out of touch when it comes to understanding the nature of human sexuality,” said James Salt, executive director of Catholics United and an Eagle Scout. “This priest’s use of stereotypes to describe the cause of same-sex attraction is offensive and not in line with basic Catholic teachings.” 

Salt accompanied his online diatribe with a large picture of a boy scout with his mouth covered with tape and the caption “Stop the anti-gay bigotry in parishes!”
Catholics United has a long history of misrepresenting Church teachings to make the case for progressive policies surrounding homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and abortion. Founded by Democratic Party operatives like Salt and his predecessor Chris Korzen, Catholics United has been viewed by many—including William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights—as a “front” for the Democratic Party.  Salt’s previous employment history has focused on progressive causes—including helping to elect Kathleen Sebelius.  Salt describes himself as having done “messaging work” for Sebelius in her run for governor of Kansas.  Part of the “messaging” was to obscure Sebelius’s pro-abortion history, and redefine her as a pro-life Catholic. 

Salt has also worked for NETWORK, a National progressive social justice lobby, and Pax Christi.  His predecessor and co-founder of Catholics United, Chris Korzen, was an organizer for SEIU before he assumed control of Catholics United.  Both were instrumental in helping to convince Catholics that candidate Sen. Barack Obama was “really” the pro-life candidate because he would supposedly address issues of poverty in ways that would reduce abortion rates.

Salt and Korzen’s “messaging work” has been successful in the past, but it is unclear whether they can continue to convince Catholics of Kathleen Sebelius and President Obama’s “pro-life” intentions.  Now, they have turned their attention to help facilitate same-sex marriage by convincing Catholics that same-sex marriage is really a Catholic value.  In the lead-up to the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, Catholics United issued a press release on March 26 with the headline, “Catholics United Continues Search for Christ’s Elusive Condemnation of Gays”. In it, Salt decried what he called the “so-called family values groups who claim Biblical authority of carrying out Christ’s message in their opposition to civil same-sex marriage rights.”  Salt claims that “Christ never said anything about gay people—still, this hasn’t stopped certain right wing groups from using his word to divide and confuse.” 

In a speech delivered in Denver on October 17, 2008, Most Rev. Charles Chaput, then, the archbishop of Denver, warned that Catholics United had “done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.”   At that time, Korzen was the Executive Director of Catholics United and dismissed Archbishop Chaput’s remarks as “personal attacks on lay Catholics acting in good faith to promote Catholic values in the public square.”
As Executive Director, Korzen had a history of attacking anyone who tries to point out that Catholics United may have been a “front” for electing Democrats. In fact, according to an article in the June, 2013 issue of Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, on June 5, 2008, Chris Korzen’s lawyers at Catholics United sent a letter to the IRS to launch a probe of the Catholic League.  This was mostly likely due to William Donohue’s exposé of Korzen’s duplicity. 
Lois G. Lerner, the woman cited in the current IRS scandal, was one of those at the IRS who was mailed a copy of the letter.  Donohue found out about the source of his IRS audit because he has a copy of the letter sent by Korzen’s lawyers to the IRS because CNN provided Donohue with a copy of that letter.  CNN received a copy of the letter from Korzen himself because he sent that copy to the network as part of his strategy to block Donohue from appearing on the cable news network to present information on the role Catholic groups like Catholics United were playing in the presidential election.  Donohue said that on October 28, 2008, the same day he was asked to go on CNN, “Catholics United found out, they contacted the station trying to spike the interview … The person who did this was the head of Catholics United, Chris Korzen. He said I was not an authentic Catholic commentator and representative of the Catholic Church.” 
Korzen stepped down as Executive Director two years ago to create yet another political action group (Maine Majority) to help elect Democratic candidates for office. But, on March 26, following allegations that he had inappropriately used government public records in Maine in a publicity campaign, Korzen abruptly resigned from Maine Majority—the organization he founded just two years earlier.  Although Korzen has not yet resurfaced, and is no longer posting on Twitter or Facebook, it is likely he will eventually find another Democratic candidate willing to buy his “Catholic” outreach services.
In the meantime, it has become much more difficult for Catholics United to convince Catholics that they have the best interests of the Church and her people in mind. Faithful Catholics know that Catholics United, an organization whose president’s salary has been paid in the past by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, cannot be viewed as speaking for the Church.  Faithful Catholics know that the Church has passed down the authority for teaching on faith and morals to her priests and bishops—not to politically motivated advocacy groups.  While it is difficult to predict how Catholic parish-based Boy Scout troops will respond to the Scouts’ policy change—especially when they are under pressure from progressive organizations like Catholics United—it is quite likely that more controversies and conflicts are in store.

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About Anne Hendershott 103 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH