"It's been hard to get the message out there as to what is true when distortions get repeated over and over," said Gladys Padro-Soler, the Girl Scouts' director of inclusive membership strategies.
In other instances, the scouts have modified materials that drew complaints – for example, dropping some references to playwright Josefina Lopez because one of her plays, "Simply Maria," was viewed by critics as mocking the Catholic faith.
The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts' "possible problematic relationships with other organizations" and various "problematic" program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.
The bishops' conference provided a copy of the letter to The Associated Press, but otherwise declined comment.
Girl Scout leaders hope the bishops' apprehensions will be eased once they gather information. But there's frustration within the iconic youth organization — known for its inclusiveness and cookie sales – that it has become such an ideological target, with the girls sometimes caught in the political crossfire.
"I know we're a big part of the culture wars," said the Girl Scouts' spokeswoman, Michelle Tompkins. "People use our good name to advance their own agenda."
"For us, there's an overarching sadness to it," Ms. Tompkins added. "We're just trying to further girls' leadership."
With the bishops now getting involved, the stakes are high. The Girl Scouts estimate that one-fourth of their 2.3 million youth members are Catholic, and any significant exodus would be a blow given that membership already is down from a peak of more than 3 million several decades ago.