Military chaplains harassed, mocked for quoting Scripture during chaplain training

From Citizen Link:

Military Chaplains Sue Over Harassment, Attack on Christian Faith
by Bethany Monk

Those who serve our country often greet reveilles before the sunrise. They don the uniform. They represent our country, and they continue to make sacrifice after sacrifice. With the onslaught of government intrusion on religious freedom, some of them are dealing with egregious attacks on their personal faith.

A legal group on Friday filed suit on behalf of two military chaplains. According to the suit, a supervisor with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mocked their Christian faith, repeatedly, during a chaplain training program.  [?!?]

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Steven Firtko and U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Klender began the Clinical Pastoral Education Center program at a San Diego VA last year. Shortly after, they say the program’s supervisor, Nancy Dietsch, began harassing their beliefs.

According to the suit, she told them they could not pray in Jesus’s name, and she shouted: “Do not quote Scripture in this class!” while pounding her fists on her desk.

“Not only was the treatment these men received inappropriate, it was also a violation of federal law and the religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment,” said retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. J.B. Wells, executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy (M-VA).

M-VA is representing the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the endorsing agent for the two chaplains.

According to court documents, Dietsch also insisted that God could be a man or a woman and stated that evolution is a fact. The suit says she stated three times that: “There is no room in this program for those who believe they are right and everybody else is wrong.

“This is what happens when your actions as Commander-in-Chief say that morals and values don’t matter anymore in the military,” [Ohhhh…. they do matter.  But they have to be twisted.] said retired Air Force Col. Bill Spencer, a national representative of family policy councils for Focus on the Family. “And then you have all of these other people out there who will interpret that commander’s intent in extreme ways.”  [Or exactly according to the intent of the CinC.]

Klender withdrew from the program in February because of the harassment, according to the lawsuit. Firtko, who was placed on probation by Dietsch, received a letter — dated Feb. 15 — from the VA notifying him that he would be dismissed from the program on March 1.

“No American choosing to serve in the armed forces should be openly ridiculed for his Christian faith,” Wells explained. “That is most obviously true for chaplains participating in a chaplain training program.[Indeed, no.  These are exactly the people you want to attack.  Drive chaplains out of the military and the battle is half won.]

Read the complaint in Conservative Baptist Association of America v. Shinseki. HERE

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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “There is no room in this program for those who believe they are right and everybody else is wrong.” Unless it’s her, of course.

  2. Random Friar says:

    This is not necessarily VA related. The CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program has a near, if not total, monopoly on chaplain certification and accreditation. It is a very “vanilla” model, and discourages most any, real active spirituality.

    I’ve gone through it, and it’s more psychological and bureaucratic than pastoral. Since they are “the” governing program in chaplain certification, the VA would seem to have little other practical choice.

    Now, you can find good CPE programs, but by far, the majority are terrible.

  3. Bea says:

    Good Grief, what does she think chaplaincy is all about.

    Her statement : “There is no room in this program for those who believe they are right and everybody else is wrong.” just proves that there is no room for HER.

  4. JARay says:

    There should be no room for anyone who thinks that they can tell you what you can believe and what you cannot. If this is the kind of thing that Chaplains have to suffer then indeed it is an utter disgrace and protests must be made right to the very top.

  5. Priam1184 says:

    Well, it should be obvious to everyone by now that the religion of this country (at least its government and a large sector of its population) has nothing to do with the Church or the Scripture. It is the worship of self, and it goes no further than that. So I can’t say that I’m surprised and won’t indulge in any phony outrage over this, even though it is troubling.

  6. When I saw it was a CPE program, the lights went on. This is a very popular program, in which Catholic seminaries and many other religious groups enroll theology students. It’s not without any redeeming value–if run right–but it’s design is such that it can easily be manipulated and abused in the wrong hands. And from stories I’ve heard, that’s exactly what happens.

    The idea is that those preparing for ministry should be in a stressful situation, and evaluated for how they handle it. Hence these things are linked to hospitals, prisons, or situations like that. In addition to having participants give regular reports on how they handled challenging encounters–with patients or inmates, etc.–there are sessions between the supervisor and the other theology students in which the supervisor provokes discussions that have the potential for disagreement and conflict. The idea is to see how folks handle it.

    Not entirely without merit–but easy to abuse.

  7. RJHighland says:

    Progressives will be progressives whether in government or religion. It looks like conservative ministers in the military are starting to be treated like traditionalists in the Catholic Church have been treated since Vatican II. Especially the line. ” There is no room in this program for those who think they are right and everybody else is wrong” There is no absolute truth simply opinion. It means what ever you think it means to you. As long as you strive to do what you think is good. Sounds very familar. Progressive Catholic priests and liberal Protestant ministers probably have no problem with what she said and would probably agree with her.

  8. Midwest St. Michael says:

    RJHighland says: “There is no absolute truth simply opinion. It means what ever you think it means to you. As long as you strive to do what you think is good. Sounds very familar. Progressive Catholic priests and liberal Protestant ministers probably have no problem with what she said and would probably agree with her.”

    Ah yes RJ, the most wunderfulest of “progressives” in the Church love to say things similar to Ms. Dietsch. Things like, “The Catholic Church does not have a corner on the market for truth.”

    Uh huh, yet the CCC says this:

    “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, *whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.* All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.” (CCC 819, stars added)

    Apologies for the sidetrack, Fr. Z. It’s hard to resist sometimes.


  9. fr.john.worster says:

    After 23 years of Army Chaplaincy as a Priest, both in reserve status and deployed, I can say that in my experience chaplains only very rarely have to go through such experiences. We can be relieved, I think, that chaplains of all faiths routinely get lots of respect and freedom to provide pastoral care that is very specifically religious in nature. And as relationships build with staff (in hospitals and institutions) the quality of ministry and collaboration can be very rewarding. I am glad, however, that in this situation a firm line is being drawn in the sand.

  10. Bob B. says:

    Isn’t this the same VA that banned the words “God” and “Jesus” from their cemeteries?

  11. RJHighland says:

    The Christ truly has entrusted the fullness of grace and truth to the Catholic Church I was just saying that many inside the Church do not practice or teach those truths. The Catholic Church does have a corner on the market. Also people outside of the visible Church can find many elements of sactification and truth, ie the Trinity, Virigin Birth, Jesus is the Messiah fortold in the Old Testiment. Those are all Christian truths held by the Church and most people claiming to be Christians, it is where people swirve off of the path of Truth or quit seeking the Truth contained by the Church whether inside or outside the Church that they run into problems. I came from a Baptist up bringing so I know how the Lord uses these as a means of Salvation, but in my eyes it is a stepping stone to the truth it should not a permanent stop because there are many false teachings to be found out there in Christiandom.

  12. jhayes says:

    From discussions of this several years ago, I recall that the military draws a distinction between situations in which people are free to attend or not, and required formations at which they must be present. If the Catholic Chaplain schedules daily and Sunday Masses, Catholic discussion groups, bible studies, marriage self-help groups, etc. he is free to present Catholic teaching to the people who come just as he would in a normal Catholic parish.

    The issue comes up when there is a captive audience of people who are present only because they are required to be there for a scheduled formation. If the battalion is drawn up in formation on the parade ground, the view is that a chaplain should not proselytize for his own religion – for instance, he should not preach that Jews and Muslims must convert to Christianity (or specifically, to Catholicism) to be saved.

    This presents a very difficult problem for evangelical Christians, who believe they have an obligation to share their beliefs with others on all occasions.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    A military without God is a horde, not an army.

    Would Ms. Dietsch respond thus to quotations from the Koran?

  14. av8er says:

    Excellent supertradmum!

  15. Giuseppe says:

    Pray for our Roman Catholic chaplains. It is not an easy job. Priests in the military are a dying breed. Do restrictions on the roles of pastoral care apply to evangelical protestants, who seem to never adhere to restrictions on proselytizing? (Asking an evangelical not to proselytize is like asking a man not to breathe.) A friend, an Air Force vet, claims that “Are you saved?” is the motto of the Air Force. The Air Force is an evangelical protestant organization.

  16. robtbrown says:

    Giuseppe says,
    A friend, an Air Force vet, claims that “Are you saved?” is the motto of the Air Force.

    And of course, the proper answer is: No, not yet, and neither are you.

  17. Bruce Wayne says:


    I find that the response that “I am redeemed and have hope that I may be saved when I die” works really well as a response. It can either leave the questioner puzzled or just thinking you agreed or it can provoke an actually useful “ecumenical” discussion. Either way you generally get left alone fairly quickly when they realize you are a serious Catholic.

    I recall a friend whose baby was very sick and he and his wife were praying the rosary in the hospital room. When the (I want to say Methodist) chaplain made a visit and asked them if they wanted to pray with him they said “that is very kind of you to offer, please join us and we can show you how to pray the rosary with us.” That led to, “err I have too many more rooms to visit, buh-bye!”

  18. robtbrown says:

    Bruce Wayne says,
    When the (I want to say Methodist) chaplain made a visit and asked them if they wanted to pray with him they said “that is very kind of you to offer, please join us and we can show you how to pray the rosary with us.” That led to, “err I have too many more rooms to visit, buh-bye!”

    When Fr Kapaun was a POW in the Korean War, ellow POW’s who survived said he had Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all saying the Rosary.

  19. rbbadger says:

    Sad to say, she reminds me of some nuns we had overseeing the formation of seminarians at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo ten years ago. (I’m saddened to say that ten years later, one of those nuns is still there.)

  20. Gaetano says:

    As soon as I saw “CPE”, I knew there was a problem. Bad CPE with a tyrannical director/instructor is about as bad as it gets: psychological intimidation, psycho-babble and outright emotional manipulation. Several chaplains I know who underwent the program properly described it as emotional abuse. It was all the bad theology and bad psychology of the 1970’s & 80s packed into one program.

    Fr. Richard Neuhaus described the attitude of people like Ms. Dietsch’s quite well: “There’s no such thing as truth – and that’s the Truth!

  21. AGA says:

    A few years ago I said to a fellow military officer, that the military chaplaincy will be ended during our careers. As things progress like they are, at some point, the faithful chaplains will just quit – forced to leave by conscience or by a decision from their “endorsing agency.” What will remain will be a chaplaincy of squishy women, and some men. At that point, what’s the point? Why retain the chaplaincy? Just call it “the Councilor Corps” and not the “Chaplain Corps.” Faithful people both within and without the military will support the name change. Why keep bastardizes the term chaplain at that point? The role of the chaplain or “unit councilor” will be remarkably similar to the role of the “political officer” within the communist armies: help the Joe and Jane Six-Packs to adapt to the new way of thinking.

  22. PhilipNeri says:

    I chose to wear the habit during my 12 week CPE program at a large Catholic hospital. For this grave insult to leftist religious orthodoxy, I was harassed daily by three OP sisters, a female UCC minister, and a female Episcopal chaplain. At one point, the UCC minister grabbed the capuce of my habit, flipped it over my head, and snarled, “Are you going to wear this THING everyday!?” The OP sister who served as my ER/Trauma preceptor refused to work with me, telling me repeatedly that she would not tutor me so long as I wore the habit. Both the UCC chaplain and the Franciscan priest wore rainbow/pink triangle paraphernalia on their work clothes. . .w/o comment from anyone in the admin. Every day was a new insult, a new Mean Girl threat. Eventually, the harassment became so distracting that I had to go to the head of Pastoral Services (a former SSND sister) and threaten to file a harassment complaint with the hospital and the archbishop. She defended the chaplains until I made it clear that I had been documenting the harassment (names, places, times) and that I would send this info to the archbishop with details and her refusal to end the harassment. She apologized and spoke to the chaplains. Their response? None of them spoke to me again. Fine by me!

    CPE programs have gotten better over the years, but they are still used by dissenting-types to weed out orthodox Catholic seminarians. We need our own program!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  23. Pingback: At War With Religious Liberty |

  24. Elodie says:

    You can find Nancy Dietsch’s cv online, with the Masters in theology from a Baptist seminary. Viktor Frankl institute certification, working on her PhD with them. She’s worked on various ethics committees. Lots of higher education completed in the 70s. Ahem.

  25. Kerry says:

    “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”

  26. Joe in Canada says:

    Apart from the problems of CPE, there are 2 different models of chaplaincy. The Catholic model is that the chaplain is a priest for the people. He offers the ministry of the Church to those in his care. If there is no ready priest, other Catholic faithful may fulfill the role, finding priests for sacramental needs. The other model is the “professional” model. Faith is not required. The chaplain is there to provide “spiritual” services to everyone. They are expected to, and to varying degrees depending on their good will do, ask if they can get a minister of the person’s own religion. Alas! imagine the godo soul who needs a priest who is faced with a nice lady whose feelings might be hurt because she wasn’t “good enough”. Etc.

  27. robtbrown says:

    These stories are not surprising.

    1. These are people who want religion without God or Truth, which is of course Gnosticism. NB: Maritain pointed out that Gnostics were the first Modernists. Of course, this leaves them well equipped for free floating “ministry”. And I wonder how many would actually commit themselves to affirming the existence of One God.

    2. Incidents like the above, incl the accounts of Philip Neri, should remind everyone that, despite the Church’s use of Protestant style liturgy and mushy ecumenism, anti-Catholicism is alive and well.

  28. robtbrown says:

    Interesting coincidences.

    1. She is from a KC, Mo suburb (Raytown). I am from Kansas, a few miles west of KC.

    2. She is from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, whose location I know well because I used to buy wine at a Sam’s Club on the other side of the street. I don’t think it is liberal, but I do see that her MDiv was completed in 1978. She might not have been nuts then, but people can change a lot in 35 years.

    3. Dietsch was my mother’s maiden name, but I don’t think this woman is a relative. At least, I hope she isn’t. That notwithstanding, the Dean at the Ohio JUCO, who a few years ago tangled with an adjunct prof of philosophy whose syllabus warned students of his Catholicism, was my 2d cousin. He is a “deacon” in the “Episcopal” “church”–neither deacon, nor episcopal, nor church. His dad, my 1st cousin but a contemporary of my parents, was a good guy, but we always thought his sons were pansies (edited for family viewing).

  29. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “…and threaten to file a harassment complaint…” I ratehr suspect you could have added battery for the grabbing of your clothing….just saying.

  30. PhilipNeri says:

    After I finished the CPE program, our supervisor called to let me know that the OP sisters had nagged the hospital administration into banning religious habits as a “safety issue.”

    I nearly laughed myself into a hernia.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  31. Melody says:

    To fair, while the director sounds quite unpleasant, I have had the misfortune to pray with evangelicals who shouted the holy Name at the end of every sentence in a manner that made me wince.

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