URBANA, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - Rejecting the secular program of the Boy Scouts, a rural Catholic parish in Ohio is forming a new youth group to shape the next generation of solidly Catholic men.
Father Matthew Lee, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Urbana, decided on a new outdoor-based program to replace the previous Boy Scout troop, hoping for a youth ministry more Catholic in nature.
Father Lee told Church Militant he chose Trail Life USA (TLUSA) because it is an explicitly Christian-based organization.
"We can talk about the Catholic faith openly at meetings," he said. The Boy Scout program only allows the religious materials they provide to be used.
"We can be overtly Catholic," Fr. Lee said. "If I want, I can have a Vatican flag at the campsite."
TLUSA requires the troops to be owned by a church, and St. Mary's needs $12,000 for the camping equipment for the troop. With the hope of garnering greater reach, Fr. Lee started a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds outside the rural farming community. Father Lee has four churches in the parish, and the troop is open to all Christian boys in the area.
Church Militant also reached out to Mark Hancock, chief executive officer of TLUSA, who said they require the troop to be owned by a church because "[w]e believe our close connection to the local church makes us a community outreach and service organization for that local body."
"TLUSA is specifically and unapologetically Christian," Hancock said. The program is led by men, and all adults must sign and agree to adhere to a Statement of Faith and Values.
"Boys learn to be godly men from godly men," he explained.
Hancock said the program started in January of 2014 "as the culmination of a grassroots movement to provide an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, as well as to provide much-needed Christ-centered mentorship to boys."
Over the past few years, the Boy Scouts of America leadership has caved to liberal pressure and allowed openly gay leaders, welcomed girls and transgender scouts and after 108 years and dropped "boy" from their name in hopes of swelling their ranks.
All these capitulations to the Left have rankled many of the scouts and leaders still active in the program — Catholics among them. In the diocese of Bismark, North Dakota, Bp. David Kagan was the first to publicly denounce the Boy Scouts of America for allowing gay adult leaders. In a letter to the faithful, Bp. Kagan wrote:
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.
TLUSA is "boy-focused," Hancock said. "Recognizing the unique and God-ordained design of boys and girls positions them to learn and grow best through programs and activities created and carried out for them."
Hancock explained boys can be of any faith or have no faith. TLUSA believes the boys without religion need a Christian influence.
"We are not an outdoor ministry with a Christian skin, we are, at our core, a Christ-centered ministry that uses the outdoors," he said.
The program is open to boys from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"Our main objectives are character, leadership, and adventure," Hancock said. "We aim to develop boys across these objectives to instill faith, confidence and the type of experiences (leadership and otherwise) they are not likely to find anyplace else."
That experience was exemplified in a blog post written by one of the leaders, Tim Owen. He related what one 10 year old told him about TLUSA's Worthy Life Award. This boy said the length of time it took him to complete the award made it the hardest for him.
"But it was my favorite because I think it just helped me walk closer to God," the boy said.
Owen went on to explain that the fathers also love the Worthy Life Award "because someone has provided them to walk shoulder to shoulder with other godly men to raise their sons together and ... to engage one-on-one with his own son about some of the most important things he could ever impart as a father."
The lack of formation in the past has all but eliminated an entire generation of Catholic men. Father Lee noted he has seen very few younger men with a strong faith.
"I'm excited for a youth program that'll raise rock-solid, young Catholic men," he said.
Father Lee said he has his core team in place and they expect to launch the program in the spring. He mentioned there are already about 20 boys that want to join and he expects more. The parish already owns a truck but they still need a trailer, tents, camp stoves and other camping gear.