In history, whenever there is a revolution, a cultural sea change, there will almost inevitably be a counter-revolution. People who oppose the change will push back. That is occuring in the military chaplaincy. It begins years ago when the mainstream churches became mildly anti-military and fewer of their clergy wished to enter the ministry in the military. Those vacant slots were taken, in large measure, by baptist, holiness and other fundamentalist churches. Forty percent of the chaplains now were educated at Liberty University, aka Jerry Falwell U.
These churches are seeking to restore DADT, and are pushing their chaplains to be their tools in the effort. They wish to push gl persons and military families back into the closet by treating them as though they were invisible, of ignoring the invaluable principle of respect for your fellows and sisters in the military service. Fort Irwin recently had to bring an off-post chaplain to conduct a family bonds program because no chaplain on post would do it with a lesbian couple in attendance.
The Southern Baptist Convention and the catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services have issued guidelines that instruct their chaplains about glb persons, most especially not to minister to them in any way. Several groups, among them the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy (F, are trying to resist this disrespect for our warriors. I would like to share a letter from a colleague to Archbishop Broglio with his reservations. He is a traditional sort of guy who would like to do what we are told to do as chaplains: Take care of those who come through the door or find someone who can.
An Open Letter to Archbishop Broglio
I write as brother priest to brother priest; I write with a pen name because, like soldiers under DADT, I would be punished for my words. So much of your letter, Archbishop Broglio, is like the authorities in the Southern Baptist Convention. A few of my friends say it’s more reasonable but I detect similar attitudes as their edicts.
The issue is not “religious freedom.” No one proposes that any clergy be required to witness a wedding which violates his/her conscience. I was requested to do a lesbian wedding in the Cadet Chapel at West Point; I declined but I hope I did so with respect. I promised obedience and, some evidence to the contrary, try to do that. Why I would be told to not be present at such an event for a fellow warrior
is a mystery I have yet to understand. The Holy Father speaks often of respect, and even of love, for our gay brothers and sisters. How my presence in the chapel would bring the teaching of the Church into disrepute is beyond me. That I am not on the altar says it all. Respect is the core value in the military.
You speak of scandal but numerous polls tell me that what you ask your chaplains to do is more likely to be scandal in the eyes of the People of God. Our young people most especially. Not what, brother, so much as how we do things.
You ask us to make the truth of the Gospel clear and I agree. Like Francis, I am concerned that the people we serve think our preaching is only about abortion,
contraception, and same-sex marriage. I have, in many different settings, explained church teaching to faithful as well as non-Catholics on these subjects. However, like a well-known president of the University of Notre Dame whose response to a request to multiply the presence of crucifixes beyond reason was, “How often do you have to make the point?”
There is no need for “renewed conscience-protection language” in law; I never in my service felt any compulsion along these lines.
In ministry, I have shown by example my obedience to the direction of the Church with regard to same-sex marriages. However, I assume that I often lead retreats and equivalent to Strong Bonds programs at which divorced men and women were present. Divorce has the prohibition of Christ; silence is all we have on couples of the same gender, unless you interpret the centurion and his servant in Luke as such a couple. Then it gets very interesting indeed.
If I counsel a same-sex couple, I doubt that morality of their relationship will come up. If it does, I will counsel them in what I have been trained with a professional manner. I have rarely been accused of being shy if I am asked what I think; I doubt that this would be such a time. In the pulpit, I would never say anything but the teaching of the Church. I removed a communion minister who was publicly known to be committing adultery from that ministry. I am not unwilling to do such things. The primary question is whether or not it is a scandal to the people
For the rest of your letter, my brother, I don’t know your service in the military chaplaincy but my presence in command ceremonies, etc. needs to have the same advice you give to commanders. You advise them to do their command functions so as to not jeopardize their command. It is the same with chaplains. Diplomats know how to be pleasant to their enemies; most priests learn that art pretty quickly. Simple common courtesy, even when it is not extended to you, goes far. Respect is a core value in the military.
I was once at a hail and farewell where one of the senior chaplains, a Baptist, was asked by the commander (who forgot to whom he was speaking) to lead off the next dance with his wife. The man smiled and with his wife on his arm walked a loop around the dance floor and then stopped in front of the commander (who had been told the situation). The chaplain thanked the commander for the honor but allowed that he wasn’t much of a dancer. Good model, I think.
Almost all of my services for deceased were in the context of unit memorial services where the absence of the unit chaplain would itself be offensive to the members of that unit. That would give scandal. Again, how often do we need to make the point? I asked once that an assistant be reassigned from service to the Catholic program because she had an abortion and it was publicly known. How often?
If we do what you ask, my brother, we will in the eyes of many be not only closing the door to the mercy of Christ, but also nailing it shut. When the Lord looks upon our gay and lesbian soldiers, does he look on that person with true love, or condemnation? If the college of bishops says this is the battle that must be waged, so be it. But this is not the way to win that battle. We will be seen as the Pharisees in the gospel, heartless religious functionaries. The people will see something hurtful in what we do and it is not the attitude I see in the Holy Father; I beg you to reconsider what you have said.
Let us pray for one another. Rev Stephen Wardlaw
Let us hope that the spirit who blows fresh winds through us and our institutions from time to time will once again perform that service.