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Bismarck Diocese cuts ties with Boy Scouts over lifting of gay leadership ban

BISMARCK – The bishop of the Catholic Church’s Bismarck Diocese has ordered all of its parishes and schools that sponsor Boy Scout troops to cut ties with the organization because of its decision last week to lift a ban on allowing openly gay adults to serve in leadership positions.

Bishop David Kagan issued a letter Monday stating that effective immediately, the Bismarck Diocese and “each and every one of its parishes, schools and other institutions, is formally disaffiliated with and from the Boy Scouts of America.”

Priests across the diocese were notified of Kagan’s decision July 28, the day after the BSA’s executive board voted to allow openly gay troop leaders and employees. The decision was made public Monday through Kagan’s letter posted on the diocese’s website and social media, diocese spokeswoman Sonia Mullally said.

“I regret my decision but, in conscience as the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese of Bismarck, I cannot permit our Catholic institutions to accept and participate directly or indirectly in any organization, which has policies and methods, which contradict the authoritative moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” Kagan wrote.

Kagan was not available for an interview Tuesday, Mullally said.

Cory Wrolstad, western North Dakota field director for the BSA’s Northern Lights Council that serves all of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota, said Tuesday that he was disappointed and “probably more saddened” than surprised by the decision.

It will affect three Boy Scout troops and five Cub Scout packs in western North Dakota, including a Boy Scout troop in Mandan that the Catholic Church has sponsored for more than 66 years, he said.

“They’ve obviously been a key player for many years, a key partner,” he said.

Organizations pay a $40 annual fee to charter a troop or pack and are responsible for providing a meeting space and adult leaders.

The council will now find new organizations to sponsor the affected troops and packs, likely religious organizations from different faiths or different chartered groups, Wrolstad said.

Kagan’s directive was clearer than the position taken by the Fargo Diocese, where Bishop John Folda issued a statement last week thanking the BSA’s executive board for still allowing chartered organizations to select unit leaders based on religious principles.

Folda wrote that he will insist leaders of the 13 Catholic-chartered troops within the Fargo Diocese “continue to act in accordance with the Church’s teachings and select volunteers based on character and conduct consistent with those teachings.” A diocese spokeswoman declined to specify to The Forum whether Folda meant those troops would allow gay leaders.

“While we continue to have some questions about the application of this new policy, it is my hope that Scouting remains a viable option for Catholic youth of the Diocese of Fargo,” Folda’s statement read.

Roger Hoyt, executive director of the Northern Lights Council, said in a statement that he’s saddened Catholic youths interested in Scouting programs will have to participate in packs and troops sponsored by other faiths or chartered organizations.

“One of the important aspects of the membership resolution that was recently passed was the strong support of the Boy Scouts of America for individual church doctrine and beliefs so leadership selection could continue to be made based on a faith’s deeply held religious convictions,” he wrote.

Kagan wrote in his letter that, “While there are indications that the BSA has a religious organization exception, which each local troop could invoke, that will provide no protection for any of our parishes and/or schools, which sponsor troops.”

Kagan listed alternatives to the BSA for parents of Catholic youths to consider, including the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires and Trail Life USA.

The Bismarck Diocese covers 23 counties in western North Dakota with a Catholic population of nearly 62,000 people, according to its website.

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