Thoughts on an NCR Article about religious freedom in the US Military

March 23, 2012 at 11:23 1 comment

This is in response to an NCR article On the U.S. military archdiocese, religious freedom & Bishop Joseph Estabrook, by Tom Gallagher, published March 22, 2012.

I feel a sense of annoyance at a bill introduced into the US House of Representatives proclaiming itself the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act. Evidently the Military Archdiocese feels religious rights need to be protected in the military because it heartily endorses this Act and asks its supporters to write their Representative and encourage passage of the Act. I feel this misrepresents the US Military itself, and the Military Chaplaincy.

I am a retired Army Chaplain (Catholic). In all my years on active duty never have I seen any chaplain forced to act against her or his conscience, personal beliefs or convictions, or their endorsing agency’s denominational tenets.  The pertinent Army Regulations are clear. These letters from the HQ Military Archdiocese and the General Counsel referred to in the article reaffirm the commonly held opinion that the bishops’ concept of religious freedom applies only to those views that they espouse and try to force on the general citizenry. The Military Archdiocese seems to think that anyone of any religious tradition whose conscience differs from the position mandated by the bishops is in error, and error has no rights. This perceived error can be fought by any means necessary, and integrity is not a requirement. The word hubris comes to mind. One of the missions of the US Military is to ensure that all constitutional rights are protected for all citizens. If this law is passed the free exercise of religion would be denied to people on active duty and their families whose views are different from those of the bishops, the government will be favoring a particular establishment of religion, and the military will have failed to accomplish its mission. One can hope that saner heads prevail in Congress.

It would seem that the Military Archdiocese feels that military members who do not agree with Catholic views are a threat to Catholic rights. While I have served with any number of wonderful folks while on active duty, I have never seen this happen. The opposite has been true. Chaplains and other soldiers of different traditions have more often than I can count supported the rights and traditions Catholics in any number of ways, often much better that I could. We learned to respect and support, and at times defend, each others’ traditions and rights. No commander or supervisor has ever told me to act against my conscience or the dictates of the Catholic Church. The basic attitude I experienced in the Army was respect, both up and down, having less to do with rank, and much more to do with the fact that we all wore the same uniform. In the Army I have had more freedom to exercise my role in the catholic community than I have ever had in a civilian parish. While it is not perfect, the Army knows how to live the free exercise clause. It seems to me that the Military Archdiocese does not.

The Pope has said the Gospel is to be proposed, not imposed. What the Military Archdiocese is supporting here, and in other areas, sure looks to me like imposing. It is telling the government how to use government property, telling it to prevent folks entitled to the use of government property, ie, a military chapel, from using the property if they do not agree with catholic views on marriage. I do not see how the bishops can even think of imposing their views on others. All of us have rights, not just the bishops. They might really believe that they alone have the truth.  Sad.

If, in this case, the Military Archdiocese is successful in imposing its views on the US military, this is the beginning of a slippery slope. Suppose, for example, that there is a group who believes that the use of alcohol in any form is morally wrong and therefore cannot be allowed in government buildings, and they were to try to have all alcohol banned from government buildings. If they have the numbers to enact such legislation, what would catholics do about Mass? What goes around comes around.

Statements like those of HQ Military Archdiocese and the General Counsel on this topic will not make life any easier for the chaplains who are actually serving God and Country, not just talking about it. I’m putting my money on the chaplains. They’re real, and they know how tough it can be. They love God by any name, and they love their folks, and they know the two are closely connected.

Just sayin .  .  .


Entry filed under: Army, Catholic, Chaplain, Church Leadership, Current Church, Priest. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Fr. James C. Bowman  |  March 24, 2012 at 11:37


    I believe you misunderstood Archbishop Broglio’s remarks. He was trying to be ecumenical and work with leaders of other faiths on a problem that COULD someday impact even on Catholic Chaplains.

    Jim Bowman


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