US Military Catholic Chaplains: serious concerns

The paucity of priests serving in active duty in the US Military’s Chaplain Corps is nearing disaster.

I think there are three active duty priests in the Army in Iraq.  The number of Navy chaplains, who serve the Marine as well, is dropping.  It has been suggested that someone, somewhere, in the heights of the executive branch and military leadership, are trying to reduce the number of priests.  There will also be problems from a repeal of “Don’t ask don’t tell”.

That said, the Archbishop of Baltimore, H.E. Most Rev.Edwin O’Brien, former Archbp. for the Military Services wrote a column in his diocesan paper, The Catholic Review, about problems with the number of chaplains.

Here is an excerpt.


It is my understanding that my fine but frustrated successor as Archbishop for the Military Services, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, has pleaded with military leaders at very high levels to show some concern for those of our Faith, but the new mantra of the Chaplain Corps is said to be: A chaplain is a chaplain, is a chaplain, is a chaplain. In other words, it makes no difference what religious needs you have as long as there is a chaplain of any denomination nearby. For Catholics, this is unacceptable!

The result? Catholics are down to some 70 priests to serve our three sea services when the need is more than twice as many. And those “slots” no longer filled by priests are going over to chaplains of other denominations, some of whom are overeager to welcome our young, Catholic, spiritually hungry service men and women into their fold.

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  1. chcrix says:

    A refusal to keep an adequate number of Catholic priests on board is not a matter for pleading. Instead, recommend that Catholic Religious counsel young men against joining the armed services. That ought to get the attention of the high command.

  2. pkinsale says:

    Our son, stationed in Afghanistan, has experienced this terrible shortage. He has had only one opportunity for the sacraments since August. Thank God (and God willing) he will be home for Christmas. Interestingly, I think the experience has helped increase his faith.

  3. cpaulitz says:

    Thanks Father for spreading the word!

    A Navy chaplain asked me to post this as well on Rorate Caeli and did so this morning.

    Only other thought I’d offer is that, just maybe, if they train every Priest to offer the TLM, the leadership in the military wouldn’t think a Protestant minister was the same as a priest.

    If we are to think charitably, and not assume they’re anti-Catholic, maybe they see the typical Novus Ordo and don’t see much of a different with the typical Protestant service? That’s the take of people in the Navy I talk to, including my son’s Godfather.

    Maybe if the identify of our Faith was more traditional, it would be very apparant why a minister is not a Holy Priest.

  4. Unfinished says:

    When I was a Marine in Iraq in 2005, we were woefully short on priests.

    My battalion Chaplin was a baptist, so during the week I would attend one of his Bible studies, and on Sundays I would go to his service. (If I wasn’t on patrol, of course. After a month or two, since I was the only Marine in my platoon who seemed to care about Jesus, they stopped putting me on Sunday patrols). Not that I was in danger of becoming Protestant, but not having any Christian interaction was pretty unbearable.

    There were two Navy priests in all of Iraq. (One for the eastern half and one for the western) They would say Mass at a location, stay the night, say Mass again in the morning, then take a helicopter to the next location. It took them about three and a half weeks to complete the loop. Translated, that means that I saw a priest and was able to attend Mass about once a month. During the evenings when Father was around he would hear confessions and spend time with those who wanted to. I remember those days when Father was in camp fondly. Being around a priest gave some sense of normalcy.

    I was also lucky enough for Father to be present at my location for Easter. The other two dozen camps he visited were not so lucky.

    I pray Bishops will be generous in releasing a priest to the military if he asks. I would argue that the parish back home will survive without him, the faith and well being of the Marines overseas might not.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Is it licit for a Catholic to join or be employed by any business or group in which one finds one cannot receive the Sacraments? For example, I had this discussion with my friends who are Catholic, who took jobs in Oman and Saudi Arabia, knowing that they could not practice their faith in a regular way.

    As youth are not yet being drafted, can we expect them or even encourage them to join the forces if their primary needs, that is, the Sacraments, are not being offered? I think as Catholics we need to seriously consider whether they should encourage their sons and daughters to follow a path of career which most likely would not allow them to practice their religion on a regular basis. This is most serious.

  6. EXCHIEF says:

    99% of the time I agree with you but while I realize you are asking a question I suspect I know your answer…and it is there I disagree. If we do not have an adequately staffed military protecting the freedoms (including the freedom of religion) we currently enjoy is jeopardized. I would not discourage a Catholic from joining the military because in certain assignments (not all) acesss to the Sacraments would be limited.

    On the original point I am one who is convinced that Obama and his minions are anti Catholic and, so, the reduction in Catholic Chaplains is not unintentional. He and those of his ilk—which appears to include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–view the true Church as an enemy in terms of the secular/socialist agenda of the administration.

  7. Deo volente says:

    Father, thanks for posting this! The situation is grave indeed. The Archdiocese of Baltimore had the special collection for the Archdiocese of the Military Services with bulletin inserts. The collection was to assist the formation of new priest Chaplains. I hope the faithful took this seriously as the mandatory retirement age of 62 is not likely to be relaxed for Chaplain priests.

  8. P.McGrath says:

    The Archdiocese for Military Services has no priests of its own. It has to borrow them from all of the Dioceses and religious Orders.

    However, would it not be possible to have priests ordained specifically for the Archdiocese of Military Services? I understand that the Pope has to sign off on such a change in policy, but wouldn’t it worth it?

  9. Soonerscotty says:

    Could someone explain to me how removing DADT will cause problems for Catholic chaplains? I just don’t get how it would cause a problem…and how do Catholic chaplains handle themselves in other countries where their military forces are open to openly homosexual service members?

    Not trying to start a debate…I just don’t understand the “problems” that are supposedly going to arise.

    Gratias & Pax

  10. PostCatholic says:

    If your statement is true, that’s a very significant decline. My wife worked for years at AMS. At Archbishop O’Brien’s installation to the see of Baltimore we shared a table with three navy chaplains who were returned to the US after serving in Iraq. One told us about the “Holy Helo”–the helicopter that brought chaplains from ship to ship.

    I guess some of this is explained by the reduction in the deployment to Iraq.

    I think that Catholic chaplains are a desperately needed resource within the armed forces. For the most part, chaplaincy to the active duty armed forces is ministry to very stressed youth and young adults grappling with very serious issues. Many alleged “chaplains” are Christian fundamentalists with dubious pastoral qualifications and education. However much I may as a non-believer disagree with the Catholic world view, it is much more moderate and nuanced, and therefore useful, than is elsewhere available in the services.

    One thing I can say from my experience of that miserable man: If Broglio is failing to recruit enough chaplains, I’m unsurprised at his inability to provide inspiration and at his lack of accomplishment. How lucky for all of us that Abp. O’Brien is not a fickle friend.

    (I’m sure the staff at AMS, if any read here, now know exactly who “PostCatholic” is.)

  11. CarpeNoctem says:

    I’m an ANG priest and a pastor back in the civilian world. There’s only a hand-full of us out there who are active and deployable, so I am probably giving myself away… it really is a very small Air Force. I was recently on a short deployment where I saw many, many young men and women coming out of forward areas, who invariably reported that they had been out there 6 months, 12 months, and more and never saw a priest. On a number of occasions– notable by the fact that I was shocked the first time I heard it and couldn’t believe I heard it again and then again– I heard young troops asking if I really was a Catholic priest because they had never heard of an actual Catholic priest in uniform. It breaks my heart for so many reasons. When I am in uniform, I anoint. I absolve. I consecrate. The work of salvation goes on in the very midst of all the very worst this world has to offer. The Catholic priest will often be the hardest-working chaplain on a staff (beaten only by career-minded folks looking for eagles and stars and sacrificing family, health, and all else to get ’em– intrestingly, it seems priests tend to be somewhat under-represented in rank/leadership because of a gulf, not in performance, but in ‘career goals’). Indeed, I can attest from first hand knowledge that the gates of hell are turned away when there are priests among our troops, and so we need to be there just as surely as we need to be in prisons and poorhouses and parishes and the public square. No priests = no Church. If Vianney thought that a quaint little town without a priest would go native in a matter of years, consider young men and women in the pressure-cooker of war!

    I know that there are military priests out there, in ingress and egress areas, at the hospitals and medivac centers. There are priests on bases, in foxholes, and outside the wire in forward operating areas. And when I get blue over the stuff I have to deal with in my parish and school and the desperate need we have here at home to persevere through so much in order to teach and sanctify and govern, I recall how much more they and their scattered flock really need our prayers for the protection and preservation of their very lives.

    Two additional thoughts which may be of interest: I say the EF Mass in the civilian world, but I have not done so in uniform yet. In the few places I have been, there simply has been no interest (and then by extension, no resources such as servers, altar appurtenances, time set aside by chapel staff, etc). Most of our military Catholics, I think, are used to rapid cycling of people in and out. I think there is probably a “military priest” archetype out there that (saying this in as complementary a way as possible) collectively reduces the sacred liturgy a functional minimalism. (And there’s definitely some uncomplementary ways to describe this ‘attitude’ as well.) There isn’t enough time to establish anything really good (and by extension, nobody gets to bent out of shape because it won’t be forever that someone must endure anything really bad), and so Catholic chaplaincy languishes in a kind of lowest-common-denominator mode. That’s not to say that the rightful aspirations of the faithful are not there and should not be made known… it’s just that I have not encountered it yet in a situation that is stable enough to ask for it and then support it. In fact, I would say, if you are interested in the EF Mass and you attend on a military installation, PLEASE make your voices heard. It’s your right as Catholics given by SP and your right as citizens of the US under the 1st Amendment. Your local chaplain has a constitutional obligation to either PROVIDE (in the case of a priest) or to PROVIDE FOR (in the case of another faith’s chaplain or I’d argue a priest who cannot say the EF) your free exercise of religion.

    Secondly, I’m disappointed by the DADT debate, but that’s a whole other discussion. On so many levels, repeal of DADT will lead to many more souls will being lost. I find it interesting that the loudest voices I hear among chaplains in this debate are those who have never taken a sit in a confessional… liberal Protestants on one side and conservative Evangelicals on the other… neither voice is very Catholic in its outlook. (And no, NC Reporter, I am not saying that a possible Catholic position is to support repeal DADT.) Perversion is all around already. You find that in the military, you find that in parishes. My presence in the midst of the insanity, even if it is institutionalized by bad law, certainly does not endorse this behavior or any of the other dehumanizing things that happen at war or in everyday military life. Through the power of God I can and must be available to enter into those moments that change lives by whipping out that stole I carry. As a priest in uniform, I have the opportunity snatch the devil’s quarry right out of his teeth! You go where the business is, I suppose. (I think that Miguel Pro as a great patron for these ‘behind the lines’ operations.)

    Repeal of DADT in itself does not change the essential relationship a priest already has with the military. (The military has never existed as an ontic good under any circumstance, so it is right to question the presence of a priest in this organization even before something like DADT is repealled.) BUT, if my First Amendment Rights that guarantee my freedom to be absolutely unquestioned by the government in my spiritual role as a priest are abridged, (which, N.B., is different than my role as a staff officer advising command on spiritual matters or in my role as a generic “chaplain” giving a public invocation or providing for the needs of “free exercise” for non Catholics)… if I am denied the lattitude to do a DUTY that EXPECTS me to attend to the spiritual NEEDS of our Catholic troops… because a newly-discovered ‘civil right’ criminalizes my religious counsel and practice, then I WILL have to resign (or be kicked out) and place it all in God’s mercy. That will come when I am directed or advised against or disciplined for telling a hypothetical penitent “to cut it out” for the sake of their soul. At that point, the game is over. That will happen when, God forbid, a priest (stuck behind the Seal, but hanging because federal law gives priviledged communications unilaterally to the counsellee) gets hauled into some federal court or UCMJ tribunal by some activist who says that his/her civil rights were violated because the priest insisted that a penitent resolve to change his/her ways before the priest could absolve. …or maybe that this one priest over here DID absolve and the one other there (who is actually doing his job as a good confessor) DID NOT.

    That’s the real threat with DADT… that’s where anyone who’s paying attention knows it is going. Predictably, the real question of “what constitutes a civil right?” is not even being addressed in the debate. Bad assumptions, bad data can do no other than allow one to arrive at bad conclusions… but as I said, this is all for another discussion…

  12. shermshermy says:

    I am very cognizant of this issue, as I just learned that we will have “Christmas Mass” on December 16 because that’s the only time the Catholic Chaplain could make it to my small FOB in Iraq. I am grateful that I get to receive the sacriments every month (usually a Wednesday night and Thursday monring before the Chaplain flies off to another FOB). I don’t even want to know how proper it is for the Chaplain to celebrate Masses from random Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation rather than the doing the the readings for the specific Wedsnesdays and Thursdays during which he is present.

    I have been blessed to attend a parish back home where we haven’t had to suffer from a dearth of priests as some parishes have. But, this gives me greatest insight into their plight.

  13. LaudemGloriae says:

    Perhaps someone in your life would enjoy this for Christmas. I know I enjoyed it.

    Amazon synopsis: “Father Ron Camarda was recalled to Active Duty to serve with the Marines during the Battle for Fallujah, Iraq (2004). At Bravo Surgical (Marine equivalent to a M.A.S.H. unit)he received over 1500 casualties and 81 deaths. When he returned home he found his work was not done. Walking with the widows and families left behind has been filled with great love and compassion. This is a walk with God into the war in the desert, only to find that the real war is within the human heart. The Afterward is by Colonel Mike Shupp, USMC Commanding Officer, Regimental Combat Team-1, Fallujah 2004-2005 “

  14. bookworm says:

    This distresses me greatly. My husband was in the Navy during Desert Storm. He had fallen away from his Catholic faith before enlisting but was brought back in part through the example of a Catholic chaplain aboard his ship. He received First Communion and Confirmation (which he had missed out on as a child) while in service, and remained an active, practicing Catholic for some years afterward (including the years when I met him and we got married. Unfortunately he fell away again but that’s another story). If he were 20 years younger and in the service right now, he might never have had that opportunity to rediscover his faith.

    Being in the service and facing death, whether it’s your own or others, cannot help but make one think about the ultimate questions that most of us comfortable civilians spend our lives avoiding. It is a very fertile ground for evangelization and the lack of a Catholic presence at such a time could have tragic consequences for many.

  15. robtbrown says:

    1. In Rome there was appeal to American priests to help out in military situations. I knew of one prof who every weekend was flown to a naval base in the Mediterranean. This appeal was also consistently made to US seminarians for Christmas/Easter and summer work.

    2. I had a seminarian friend in Rome who grew up a Navy brat, attended the academy, then was a Marine officer for about 8 years. Bright and very personable, he wanted to be a military chaplain. He was told no, that first he had to work for two years in a parish.

    3. I have heard various stories about the relations between Catholic and Protestant chaplains. Acc to some, those relations are good, acc to others, not so good.

    4. I do know the following is true: At Ft Leav there was a Catholic chapel, St Ignatius, that burned down a few years ago. The offer was made to the Army to rebuild the chapel, using Catholic funds. That offer was rejected. Now Catholics have to use a generic Protestant building for mass. The building has a lot in common with a high school auditorium.

  16. robtbrown says:

    Also: IMHO, ad orientem, vernacular mass discourages Protestant chaplains from understanding the Catholic needs for worship are unique.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    These are great comments. I agree that Catholics should not be joining the armed forces if they can’t get the sacraments while on missions. The fact that homosexuals may be allowed in the near future to operate openly in the armed services is yet another reason why Catholics should think twice about serving.

    [Not that I think that homosexuals don’t belong in the armed services. The Romans had very effective legions made up of homosexuals. Housed and handled together in garrisons, they have no reason to go home, after all, and will fight the enemy with the vengeance of a spurned woman, and fight to the death for each other. They make very effective warriors. It’s just that they should not be housed with the regular troops. The Romans had a handle on this, we don’t and we can’t because the American culture is idiotic on the topic.]

    I also agree that if we had our distinctive worship back again, people wouldn’t be making the mistake of thinking Catholics are generic Christians and a protestant minister is a minister, period.

  18. catholicmidwest says:


    If you can’t imagine what might happen under DADT circumstances, in the current American paradigm, I wonder about you, frankly. I don’t know if you are Catholic, but if you are, don’t tell me you’ve never been taunted by a homosexual, or even a politically progressive non-homosexual, about our teachings on homosexuality. IF you haven’t, people either don’t know you’re catholic or you’ve spent your life under the sofa.

    In the armed forces, I can’t imagine that the offices of priests would be off-limits to this kind of abuse by walk-ins with an axe to grind. And that’s only the beginning.

  19. I retired from the U.S. Navy. Fortunately, I was always stationed in a place were a priest was available.
    I would like to see is anew career field established for Catholic deacons. Obviously, these men could not provide all the sacraments, but they could hold Communion services, and meet other needs, such as spiritual direction and/or education. They could hold the rank of Warrant Officers. The services do have enlisted chaplains assistants, but that is not good enough for Catholics.
    I applied to become a deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles while I was recruiting in the area. I was turned down because I was in the military. I was told that the diocese would not be interested in training someone who would not be able to serve in the diocese. I thought this was a very selfish, to say the least.

  20. Supertradmum says:


    I did ask an honest question. But, the resulting excellent commentaries make me think that my instinct, that people should not put their immortal souls in danger because of a career, may be the answer. In a time of drafts and required duty, that is a different question. However, now, when it is more and more obvious that Catholics are being marginalized by the Military, by the Military’s own choice of doctrines, I doubt whether a Catholic in good conscience could choose freely a career in which they may lose their immortal soul.

    We all make daily decisions concerning careers. I am only working part-time and could have had a full-time job with benefits, but the place where I would have been working sold Wicca symbols, Zodiac symbols, and other occultic symbols. As a Catholic, we must make decisions not to cooperate with the evil which is encroaching upon us-if we have a choice and if we accept the consequences. Another example, someone I know left a choice job in the State Government, as she was being asked to lie in meetings. She, a highly capable lady, is underemployed at this time. Not compromise-lie, and I think she made a heroic choice. As Catholics, we need to make these types of decisions all the time. I boycott every store which supports Planned Parenthood, and every food group which does. These things are practical ways to stand up against evil, and doable.

    What the men and women in uniform need are priests especially for Confession and the Mass. Deacons are not the answer.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    Having deacons hanging around when you can’t get a priest would only make matters worse.

  22. Soonerscotty says:

    Buh? What? I’m sincerely trying to understand an issue and you have the audacity to question my Catholicness?? Seriously? You’ve never ever met me and I ask a simple question and you have to question my faith?

    I didn’t realize trying to learn more about my faith and how it is lived by others and any limitations or difficulties I or they may face would cause my faith to be questioned.

    Seriously, if you truly question my commitment to the faith do you think that is the way you’re going to evangelize me?

    I’m sorry I don’t have a full understanding of every facet of life facing Mother Church and her servants…my bad…I’ll go to confession straight away.

    Oh, and I still don’t have a fully-formed and faithful answer to my question.

  23. bookworm says:

    Soonerscotty: the short answer to your question (how would repeal of DADT be bad for Catholic chaplains) is that it COULD open the door to such chaplains being accused of discrimination if they preach, teach to prospective converts/inquirers, or tell someone in confession that homosexual activity is seriously sinful. This is a very real possibility given the rampant political correctness being imposed upon the services these days.

    I apologize if anyone questioned your Catholic commitment. You see, we regular bloggers here spend a lot of time reading about and discussing the finer points of Catholic teaching and it’s easy to forget that what seems obvious to us may not be so to others.

  24. Soonerscotty says:

    @bookworm…thank you for that answer. That sort of makes sense…but, isn’t the same thing possible if a chaplain preaches/teaches against divorce, or extramarital sex, or abortion or any other number of issues? How would homosexuality and/or the repeal of DADT change things?

    I hope everyone keeps in mind that I’m not advocating the repeal of DADT…I just don’t see how it will have these supposed tragic implications for chaplains if repealed.

    Again, I’d be really interested to know how the issue is dealt with in the military of countries where it is already permissible to serve as an openly homosexual person.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    Homosexuality is a lightning rod for the Catholic Church, SoonerScotty, in a way that extramarital sex, abortion and birth control are not. There’s a very good reason for that too. Catholics are exactly like the general population when it comes to birth control, extramarital sex, abortion and divorce statistics. Our numbers are no different than theirs, so the general population concludes we are just blowing hot air on those topics, as it seems we are, for the most part. HOWEVER, we consistently refuse to let our priests marry or co-habit, whether with same sex partners or opposite sex partners. This outrages the general culture, who cannot stand the sign of contradiction. Therefore, we have a public problem with homosexuality.

    Also the Scriptures aren’t elaborately and repetitively against the other sins as it is against homosexuality. Homosexuality is condemned very explicitly over and over in Scripture. This is anathema to the general culture. They know that Catholics will hold their ground on it, and it outrages them.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, we also get lambasted for celibacy-same reason. Our priests are not supposed to marry or co-habit. That has never changed.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, SoonerScotty,
    The US is also not like other countries in several important regards, but the most important one here is that we are legality and lawsuit crazy. Break wind wrong on someone sues you in the US. This is not true even in Europe.

  28. albinus1 says:

    I don’t know if you are Catholic, but if you are, don’t tell me you’ve never been taunted by a homosexual, or even a politically progressive non-homosexual, about our teachings on homosexuality. IF you haven’t, people either don’t know you’re catholic or you’ve spent your life under the sofa.

    Well, catholicmidwest, I make no secret of the fact that I’m Catholic, I haven’t spend my life under the sofa, and I don’t recall having ever been taunted by anyone about Catholic teachings on homosexuality. And I’ve been very active in theatre and as such have had many homosexual colleagues. Must be where you leave or the environment where you work.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    Maybe. But we hear about homosexuality in the press far more often, and far more negatively, than we hear about birth control and part of the reason is that most Catholic laypeople aren’t serious about the birth control thing and everyone knows it from family sizes in their own neighborhoods. It’s not a lightning rod like the homosexuality issue is.

    When “ACT UP” and the like show up and make a scene about children instead of homosexuality, like they do, maybe it will be a reason for birth control to be a reason, but birth control’s not even on their radar. Or much of anyone else’s.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    For the same reason, priestly celibacy is a lightning rod too. The press goes on and on and on about this, ad infinitum. It shows up someplace in nearly every article the main stream media writes about the church, whether the topic of the article is really related or not. It’s a huge beef for many people, even if they aren’t even Catholic, have never been Catholic, and are never going to be Catholic. Some people are absolutely obsessed with the topic.

  31. Supertradmum says:


    All it takes is one disingenuous person going to Confession for homosexual acts, and then sharing with the authorities that the priest said it was immoral. In other countries, so far, there is much less legal challenges to the Church in these regards than here. The LGBT groups have pushed the agenda against the Catholic Church.

    Homosexuality is a lightening rod precisely because the LGBT groups have made it into a civil rights issue, by confusing sin with person-hood. The Catholic Church does not identify a person by their sin; if one is an adulterer, one can go to Confession and be forgiven and walk away to a new life. If one has perpetrated an abortion, one may go to Confession and leave never to be called an abort-er. God alone sees the hearts and minds of all of sinners. The trouble is that the homosexual community has pushed the idea that they are not sinners, but merely reflect a different lifestyle, which the Catholic Church resoundingly rejects. One may have tendencies, but the actions remain evil and disordered.

  32. Supertradmum says:


    Almost weekly, and more than once a week, someone is my sphere of teaching or where I live brings up the Church’s stand on homosexuality. Living in Iowa is a problem until the same-sex marriage law is revoked. Many people come into the State just to get married. This has caused confusion and very strong feelings. The Church here has been very clear about the Truth regarding the sanctity of marriage and the disordered lifestyle of homosexuality.

    Now that Illinois has the civil union act, the same thing will happen there. Students on both sides of the matter express themselves about these things. I assume you are not in a position or do not chose to discuss the issue. But, it is an issue being discussed and argued loudly in our newspapers and in our kitchens. I hope the people where you live have not just given up the Truth on these issues. God bless you and pray.

  33. Soonerscotty says:

    Ok, I guess what I’m not understanding is how the confessional is different in the US military then it is for civilians.

    In theory…wouldn’t it be possible for a civilian to do the same thing and claim a hate crime?

  34. Supertradmum says:

    Yes, of course, if one would be so evil as to set up such a situation. And, the priest is under oath not to divulge what was said, so it could be a one-sided argument. We have martyrs who refused to discuss Confessions, such as St. John Nepomuk of Bohemia. The reason why the priests could be in danger is that they might be told as part of being a soldier what to say and what not to say. Of course, such a situation like that would be unconscionable. As members of the Military forces, chaplains are wearing two hats, as it were; one as priest, the other as a soldier.

    Another scenario could involve two men, one of whom is trying to break out of a homosexual lifestyle, but being hindered by “friends”. A seminarian I knew years ago was in this situation. The Confessional becomes an important resource for counseling, as well as the forgiveness of sin. If more than one person were involved, the priest might be compromised. Blessed Father Felipe Ciscar Puig of Spain is also a martyr of the seal of Confession. There is also a German priest, Andreas Faulhaber, who was killed for not divulging Confessional secrets.

    However, the largest problem would probably be not being able to speak openly about the sin of sodomy and the beauty of chastity.

  35. S. Murphy says:


    Yes… I imagine it would be possible. I guess we’ll see if it happens. I think a civilian lawsuit would lose (but who knows); because the judge would say, “what did you expect?” Except in San Francisco, where the judge would say, “String him up, and fine the bishop a bazillion dollars!”

    In the military, there are internal procedures for redress, if someone senior to you shows a bias against your race, etc. There’s an Equal Opportunity rep at the command, whose job is to assist the complainant in resolving whatever the problem is. The procedures are probably different from service to service. I think the response would depend on the commander; but I’m not sure I could see someone actually saying ‘why yes, lieutenant,’* you’ve been subjected to hate speech, by the battalion chaplain: I’ll start the wheels in motion to have him dismissed from the service,” rather than “Let me see if I have this right. You went to see a Catholic priest, as such, in a Catholic confession – leading him to believe that you wanted him to speak about the Catholic Church’s positions and teachings, and now you’re bringing a complaint? That he can’t even defend himself against? Are you smoking crack?”
    I thin it’s be a little more likely to have traction if the complainer went to the chaplain in a more generic way —
    2ndLt Shmuckatelly: “sir, I’m in a fight with my partner x [x = a name of the same sex as the lieutenant]; I’d like some advice on resolving it.”
    LCDR Pescator: “Okay, Lt, since I saw you at Mass last Sunday, and you received Communion, you know what advice I have to give you, as a Catholic, right?”
    2ndLt: “Yes, sir, I remember your homily – but I think the Church is eventually going to come out of the Dark ages and get a clue about human sexuality.”
    LCDR: “All right; I’ll pray for you. In the meantime, what’s your question?”
    2ndLt: “Never mind, I don’t think you can help, sir.”
    LCDR: “I can put you in touch with the Episcopalian chaplain.”
    2ndLt: “If I can’t go to my own battalion chaplain, what am I supposed to do on deployment, sir?”

    2ndLt: “Sir, if I can’t go to the Chaplain at my own Battalion, what am I supposed to do – or any of my Marines who are gay, if they need some advice or counseling when we’re in the sh*, in Afghanistan?”
    LtCol F. X. O’Marine, “He’s got a point, Padre. How do you answer that? If you’re the only one he can turn to, when he’s gotten a dear-john letter from his gay lover, and he’s at Combat Outpost Fallen Hero, in GoatF*istan Province, what are you gonna tell him? How are you gonna keep my lieutenant, or my rifleman, who I need for my mission, from sinking low enough to eat his weapon? What if he’s upset because his parents didn’t know he was gay, and someone – maybe the ex-boyfriend, just outed him to them? What are you gonna say, Chaps?”

    It’s a fair question, after all. The Chaplain’s job is to provide, in this case, the Sacraments – anyway, religious services, education, and advice for his own faith group; but it is ALSO to assist his commanding officer in maintaining the morale of the unit.

    I have faith in our best priests’ ability to figure out how to deal with it. But they have to be prepared for it. I know two who could do it without compromising an iota of the Church’s teaching, and leave the commander, and probably the gay lieutenant, with absolute trust and confidence in them.
    I know one who would never compromise a nanometer, and probably get himself in trouble, because he’d get mad and stop thinking; and I know one, now retired, who would’ve soft-pedaled Church teaching on the issue (I know, because he did) and left everybody misguided but happy.

    *Lt, because I can imagine a college-aged activist going through OCS planning for the opportunity to do this. Not SOLELY for this reason, but, burning with righteous indignation against the Church, looking for a fight.

  36. boko fittleworth says:

    There are a lot of anti-Catholic protestants in the Air Force and the Army. People who don’t think Catholics are Christians. People who think Catholics need to be converted. I was at West Point recently and heard the Catholic chapel denigrated and a Catholic who became a protestant described as “becoming a Christian.”

  37. S. Murphy says:

    Boko, I’ve run into a few in the Marine Corps that have that attitude as well; but they seem to be a greater presence in other branches. Most of the Evangelicals and Baptists I’ve met in the Corps seem to think that Catholics are wrong, but not heathens. They’d love to see us visit their church and answer the altar-call and receive the sacrament of ‘Getting Saved,’ but they think of us what we think of them – in error, but Christian. But there is a chance that some chaplains, with the mindset you described, if they’re high up in the Army, AF, or Navy chaplain corp, could minimize their efforts to bring priests (Catholic or Orthodox) into the military, or retain them, once they’re in. It doesn’t help that we’re just short of priests all around, and bishops don’t want theirs to leave and join the military.
    The AF has a program where you can go to seminary and have a contract, if I understand correctly, to serve as a chaplain. I’m on an AF base, and we had a seminarian visit one day, who was accepted to that program. He’s still an active duty officer while in seminary – he was a major, and a pilot: now he’s a second lieutenant, and a seminarian. Pretty impressive, to take that step. I don’t know if that means he belongs to some diocese, and the bishop gets him when the Air Force is done with him, or what. But at least the program exists.

  38. AnnAsher says:

    Indeed if Catholic Priests offered TLM they would be clearly different from ‘chaplains’. I don’t believe the attitude of any chaplain will do is new. It’s very hard for Priests who are in a subordinate position to military rank to exercise and provide. the full breadth of Catholicity. I don’t believe the answer is more active duty Priests. An Order to serve the Military would be best.

  39. Jack Hughes says:

    In the UK a few months ago there was a series of articles about Secular Priests who operate outside of parish settings; including those in the UK Forces – the impression I got was that these Priests were the Priests the forces wanted them to be rather than the Priests they are supposed to be.

    As Regards DADT its repeal would be terriable for Catholic Chaplains due to the reasons outlined by other commentators

  40. cicada380 says:

    When my husband was in the Marines he served in a forward area where no chaplains were available. He is not Catholic and, at the time, did not identify with any religious denomination. Luckily, there was a secular religious leader in the community where he was serving, a Rabbi, that was able and willing to provide spiritual support for him (and others). I am forever grateful to that Rabbi for stepping up and providing the care that the military chaplains were not able to provide for him.

  41. VincentUK says:

    2. I had a seminarian friend in Rome who grew up a Navy brat, attended the academy, then was a Marine officer for about 8 years. Bright and very personable, he wanted to be a military chaplain. He was told no, that first he had to work for two years in a parish.

    This is US Army policy: “A minimum of two years of full-time professional experience, validated by the applicant’s endorsing agency ”

  42. MAJ Tony says:

    We are fortunate here at FOB Salerno, Khost City, Afghanistan, about 15 km from the Pak border, to have a Catholic Priest as a full-time chaplain. He is out and about to small Fwd Operating Bases and Combat Outposts all the time in 2 provinces here in RC East. Fr. Joe Hannon, a Salesian from “The Region” (as we call the “Gary-South Bend” area of Indiana) is a Lt. Col. and an Individual Augmentee. He’s been in the Army since 1977. Incidentally, our higher headquarters is 101st Airborne Div, whose chap. is a Catholic Priest. He’s also a LTC.

    I’ve been fortunate to have had Catholic chaplains on my base in all three deployments. In 2006, Fr. Chris Opara, a Nigerian-born Priest, and I both left tiny FOB Rustamiyah and transferred to Victory Base Complex (where Multi-National Corps HQ was located) right after Easter. I don’t believe that the DoD is in any way discriminating against Catholics. The real problem is lack of support from the local ordinaries. We seem to get more Chaplains from orders, and many of our diocesan Priests are from Africa, the Phillipines, etc. As a result, the diocesan Priests, thankfully, tend to be more orthodox. Fr. Opara was very devoted to Mary, and the Real Presence.

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