Should military chaplains serve in the armed forces?

Military Chaplains Series

The military chaplaincy is popular within the ranks of the US armed forces, but some peace advocates see a theological conflict with regard to priests serving as officers, writes Chaz Muth.

Melkite Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy of Brockton sees a conflict of interest for a priest to serve in, and be paid by, any branch of the armed forces, which sanctions the killing of other humans in combat situations.

Fr McCarthy was a co-founder of the Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi USA, along with Catholic icon Dorothy Day, whose popularity diminished among the Catholic elite when she protested US involvement in World War II. Day, who also co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, became a vehement opponent of nuclear weapons and remained so until her death in 1980.

Fr McCarthy doesn't have a problem with priests providing pastoral care to soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, or members of the Coast Guard.

In fact, he encourages it.

He urges members of the clergy to bring spiritual enlightenment to all members of the military, including the Gospel message of peace through non-violence and loving one's enemies.

He doesn't, however, believe that any priest should serve in the armed forces to provide religious care to military men and women.

Being a commissioned officer in the military makes it impossible for that priest to maintain his objectivity when preaching the Gospel, which should include the message that killing any human is an act of evil, Fr McCarthy told Catholic News Service.

"The military chaplaincy is a major spiritual and moral problem in the Church," he said. "The big untruth of Christianity: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, evangelicals ... is that one can move logically from the teaching of Jesus to participating in the activities of war; killing, maiming, murder, deceit, etc. It can't be done."

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington vigorously defends the role of the military chaplain.

The Archbishop and every military chaplain interviewed by CNS see no conflict of interest for clergy who serve in the Army, Air Force, or Navy and believe their presence actually provides armed forces' leaders with a moral check during strategic military planning.

Having a chaplain embedded within the military gives the Church access to the people who make life and death decisions involving wartime combat, Archbishop Broglio said.

He also said having a chaplain within the ranks of the armed forces provides a moral compass for the men and women who serve.

READ MORE

Catholic peace activists see conflict in priests serving in military (The Pilot)

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