The Girl Scouts’ once-wholesome image has taken a beating in recent years, with critics charging that the organization famous for its cookies is affiliated with groups such as Planned Parenthood that espouse values antithetical to Catholic teachings on human dignity and sexuality. 

But are those criticisms fair? 

Girl Scouts of the USA has never had a relationship with Planned Parenthood and has no intention of ever having one,” said Michelle Tompkins, the spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts’ national organization. 

Growing concern 

Tompkins told Our Sunday Visitor that the faith-based community is important to the Girl Scouts, and she said there are countless troops across the country affiliated with Catholic parishes. 

“The Catholic Church has always been an important partner with Girl Scouts of the USA, and we share a common vision for helping girls be the best they can be,” Tompkins said. 

However, symbolizing the suspicions of a growing number of Catholics, Sydney Volanski, 15, and her sister, Tess Volanski, 14, said they recently left their Houston suburban Girl Scout troop after eight years when they discovered “disturbing content” in Girl Scout publications. 

Assisted by their mother, the Volanski sisters created a website — SpeakNowGirlScouts.com — that highlights references in some Girl Scouts materials to the Women’s Media Center, a liberal organization whose website includes links to Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

The Volanski sisters told OSV that the Girl Scouts’ curriculum promotes abortion, homosexuality and a play that mocks motherhood and purity. They said they were also disturbed by a March 2010 report that said Planned Parenthood distributed explicit brochures on sexuality during a meeting of the World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides at the United Nations. 

“This discovery in combination with the UN/Planned Parenthood issue made us realize that our Catholic, pro-life views were incompatible with the Girl Scouts organization, and because of this we left it,” the Volanski sisters said in an email. 

Much of the information in SpeakNowGirlScouts.com is also found on the website of the American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood International initiative

“There are problems with Girl Scouts and their alignment with Planned Parenthood and the culture of death. A lot of good Catholic parents are unaware of this,” said Rita Diller, national director for the American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood International. 

In 2004, Diller launched a public information campaign after discovering the local Girl Scout Council in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, was sponsoring a Planned Parenthood sex education program that included a book containing graphic depictions of sexual activity. The collaboration between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood was dropped a year later, said Diller, who added that “deep-seated connections remain.” 

“This is an ongoing problem,” Diller said. “It appears the Girl Scouts have been hijacked at the highest levels by the radical feminist element, and they are pushing an agenda that is antithetical to the Catholic faith and at odds with common decency and morality.” 

Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley wrote in a June 1 column in the Denver Catholic Register that a growing number of Catholic parents and youth ministers had shared their concerns with him over the past year about the Girl Scouts. He noted that parents are increasingly seeking overtly Christian alternatives to the Girl Scouts, such as American Heritage Girls

Trickle-down effect 

Bishop Conley urged parents to browse the website of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which has links to worldwide organizations that promote family planning via access to contraception and abortion. 

“What happens at the international and national levels of scouting has an important trickle-down effect. This is exactly why ‘pro-choice’ organizations have worked to develop connections with the scouting movement,” Bishop Conley wrote. 

Tompkins countered that Girl Scouts of the USA is one of 145 member organizations of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. 

“We don’t all share the same values,” Tompkins said, adding that last year’s report saying Planned Parenthood distributed materials in a closed-door Girl Scouts meeting at the United Nations was “incredibly inaccurate” and “not even logical.” 

Although saying that Girl Scouts of the USA has no formal relationship with Planned Parenthood or takes any positions on issues related to sexuality, Tompkins said that local Girl Scout councils can decide what sort of partnerships they want to form. 

“The councils often do respond to the needs and requests of the local community,” she said, adding that any activity relating to sexual education would require parental permission. 

“That parental notification is really an important piece that we miss in all this,” said Robert J. McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. 

McCarty told OSV that he is scheduled to meet with national Girl Scouts leaders this month to discuss issues of common interest and to improve communication. He said he has found Girl Scouts of the USA to be a willing partner in respecting the concerns of Catholics involved in the scouting movement. 

“Most of the concerns I hear from parents are about what they heard or saw written on blogs and websites engaging in misinformation. It’s never anything they saw themselves,” McCarty said, who conceded the possibility of a local Girl Scout council distributing problematic material. 

The American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood International project conducted a 2004 study that surveyed half of the country’s Girl Scout councils. Diller said the study found that 20 percent of the local councils had some type of relationship with Planned Parenthood. 

Questionable affiliations 

In 2004, a pro-life organization in Waco, Texas, staged a boycott of Girl Scout cookies after the local Girl Scout council endorsed a Planned Parenthood-sponsored summer sex-education conference for girls. The boycott resulted in the local council dissolving its partnership with Planned Parenthood, Diller said. 

That same year, Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Kathy Cloninger told NBC’s “Today” show that the Girl Scouts worked across the country on issues of human sexuality and that its partners in those efforts included “Planned Parenthood organizations across the country.” 

“We’re very concerned with these connections,” said Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America. She told OSV: “I’m a former Girl Scout, and I very much enjoyed my time with the Girl Scouts, but based on the direction that organization seems to be trending, I’ve found it very difficult to have my own daughter involved with that organization.” 

Jenn Giroux, a mother of nine and founder and former executive director of HLI America, a program of Human Life International, told OSV that she believed Girl Scouts of the USA was tacitly allowing organizations such as Planned Parenthood to have access to young girls. 

“Clearly, what they’re doing now is standing against their own mission, to build women of character, that they’ve promoted over the last 100 years,” Giroux said. 

Tompkins said Girl Scouts of the USA underwent a massive realignment in 2006 that contracted the number of local councils from 315 to 112, adding that some activities that happened before 2004 are “not going on anymore.” 

Catholic advocates 

McCarty said he is satisfied with a grievance policy established a year ago that gives Catholic parents of Girl Scouts opportunities at the local and national levels to redress any problems. “We, as a federation, are an advocate for Catholic families, Catholic young people and the issues important to them,” he said. 

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.

Girl Scouts Parish Leader's Take
Marie Irwin sits on the Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Archdiocese of Boston. She said she has not seen any problems in her 12 years leading a Girl Scouts troop in Holy Family Church in Rockland, Mass. 

“I’ve heard of this controversy, and I don’t think that is what the Girl Scouts are about. I’ve never run into that sort of thing,” said Irwin, whose daughter, Elisabeth, earned the organization’s top awards including four religious medals — and is now a nursing student in college who earned straight A’s last semester. 

“Girl Scouts helped her focus,” she said. “It prepared her for life. I can’t say enough good things about it.” 

Of girls involved in scouting, Irwin said, “They grow into fine young women, strong women, who are not influenced by others.”