Editor’s note: an earlier edition incorrectly named one of the leaders of the Gallup Diocesan Catholic Scouting group. The edition also did not make it clear that Catholic scouting does not take the place of the Boy or Girl Scouts, but adds activities to a scout’s already-existing membership. The article has been updated.
For over 100 years, many of America’s children have grown up with a standard of moral virtues and physical skills taught to them through the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
The groups are not aligned with any particular faith, but have received criticism from secular groups in the past for citing a duty to God in their pledge. At the same time, some religious groups are concerned with ties between the Girl Scouts and organizations that support abortion, such as the March of Dimes.
Some Catholic parents may admire the emphasis on citizenship and “physical, emotional and mental fitness” for Scouts, and yet may have concerns over certain policies. But two national Catholic groups are in place for both boys and girls: the National Committee on Scouting and the National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Camp Fire.
Neither of these programs are separate from the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but they do build on the activities and directives of the original troop programs by adding Catholic teachings, catechesis, and activities focused on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Groups of Catholic scouts are usually run on an individual Diocesan basis through a volunteer network of parents and a sponsoring member of the clergy.
Carly Burnham is the director of the Catholic scouting committee in the Diocese of Gallup. Five of her six children are members of the program, and she runs the committee with her husband, Dan, and Fr. Jeff King, an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church. Catholic scouts attend regular meetings, and then receive assignments which tend to encourage parents and families to participate and help their children to earn badges.
“We want to relate what we do in our faith to what we do with scouting, what we do in school, how it all works together,” Burnham said. “When you go camping, you’re still a Catholic scout, you know? [Or] why do we collect food for Catholic charities? Because we’re Catholic, we have this need to serve God, to feed the hungry, so we talked about the Corporal Works of Mercy. It all ties together.”
Diocesan committees also introduce badges for special occasions. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, scouts could earn a unique badge by performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“We also have a rosary series, where you can earn these rosary badges. You learn how to pray the rosary and then you learn about the different mysteries, so there’s five altogether. Then there’s a bunch of Saints’ badges.”
Burnham says there are currently between 20-30 families participating in the Diocese of Gallup’s scouting program. One of the main events she looks forward to is the annual retreat, which brings more parental involvement into the group.
“We combine all of the Catholic scouting into one event, so we had the retreat this year, and then the pack oath, that they have this duty to serve God,” she recalls. “We had a fallen-away Catholic with her daughter and she has that desire to get back into the Church, I think. So she was there getting her religious emblem book for her daughter.”
Burnham hopes to see new committees formed throughout the Diocese as the program expands. As a parent and a leader, she’s proud of what her scouts have accomplished since the beginning of the program.
You can almost hear the smile in her voice as she adds, “I like the identity. I think it’s a great way to evangelize.”