DALLAS, TEXAS (CNA/EWTN News) - Citing legal and community changes, the Boy Scouts of America have said self-declared gender identity now determines youth eligibility for its scouting programs. The move could add new difficulties for Catholic sponsors of scout troops trying to adapt to the organization's relatively new policy on homosexuality.
"Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application," the Boy Scouts of America said Jan. 30.
The statement said its local councils will "help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child."
The statement said Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting are "specifically designed to meet the needs of boys." In previous years, the organizations have used individuals' birth certificates to determine whether they are eligible for single-sex programs.
"However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state," the statement said.
The new policy comes after a transgender child in New Jersey was asked to leave the Cub Scouts late last year. The child's pack was hosted by Immaculate Conception parish in Secaucus. The child had told CNN that "it's not fair because my friends get to do it, but I can't."
CNA contacted the National Catholic Committee on Scouting for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
The Boy Scouts of America had announced in July 2015 that it would adopt a non-discrimination policy allowing homosexuals to be scout leaders and volunteers. The decision promised that churches with objections to homosexual behavior could set their own standards for affiliated organizations.
Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, himself a former boy scout, in summer 2015 reluctantly told his North Dakota diocese to disaffiliate from the Boy Scouts of America due to the legal risks and the moral confusion its leadership policy could cause for Catholics.
He said the policy could risk lawsuits for church-sponsored troops that attempt to hold their leaders and volunteers to Catholic moral standards.
Bishop Kagan lamented the goals of those who sought the policy change to "redefine what is acceptable and unacceptable in society."
At the same time, the bishop suggested that the Boy Scouts of America would not be able to defend the previous policy in court given trends in the American legal system.
However, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, a leading member of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, had recommended "cautious optimism" towards that policy change, voicing hope that Catholic churches could still use Boy Scouts of America programs in a way consistent with Church teaching.
He said Catholic-chartered scouting units are "the only way we can have a direct influence" on Catholic youth involved in scouting.
At the same time, the bishop acknowledged there is no way Catholics can control the material in Boy Scout programs, merit badge material, and its Boys' Life magazine.
Bishop Kagan recommended alternatives to the Boy Scouts, enumerating the Federation of North American Explorers, the Columbian Squires, and Trail Life USA. He also recommended alternatives to the Girl Scouts, listing American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers' Girls Clubs, and the Federation of North American Explorers.
There are about 2.3 million members of Boy Scouts of America groups between the ages of 7 and 21. President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, is a past national president of the Boy Scouts of America and served on its executive board in 2013 when it voted to lift the ban on homosexual scouts, The New York Times reports.