Conflict between Pentagon and Catholic military chaplains brews over ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Paul Conner Executive Editor
Font Size:

The archbishop for the U.S. military spoke out for the first time against the effort to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” setting up a possible conflict between Pentagon brass and the 285 Roman Catholic priests who serve on active-duty  in the military.

“Those with a homosexual orientation can expect respect and treatment worthy of their human dignity,” said Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Catholic overseer for military chaplains, in a statement released late last week. “However, unions between individuals of the same gender resembling marriage will not be accepted or blessed by Catholic chaplains.”

Broglio was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI two and a half years ago, though it is unclear if the archbishop speaks for the Vatican, which has so far been mum on the issue.

Catholic priests serve an estimated 1.5 million Catholic men and women in the U.S. military, according to the Archdiocese website.

The statement follows an April 28 letter from 41 retired Army, Air Force and Navy chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying that repealing the rule would present chaplains with “a profoundly difficult moral choice”–whether to obey God or men.

“Sacrificing the moral beliefs of individuals or their living conditions to respond to merely political considerations is neither just nor prudent especially for the armed forces at a time of war,” Broglio said. “Catholics believe that nothing will be done if there is a careful and prudent evaluation of the effects of a change.”

An evaluation by the Pentagon is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 1, but by then, Congress may have already passed legislation to repeal the Clinton-era rule that allows gays to serve in the military only if they do not reveal their sexual orientation.

The provision is steadily making its way through Congress on the coattails of a $760 billion defense spending bill, and it has strong supporters in Gates, Obama and Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 to repeal the policy on March 27. So did the House of Representatives 234-194. If the bill passes the Senate, the Pentagon would still need to wait until the Dec. 1 study is delivered to remove the ban.

The chiefs of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps all oppose repeal.

“A number of chaplains and commanding officers have expressed concerns about the effects of a change,” Broglio wrote. “There is a request for guidance.”

Guidance from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: “Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law,” and “under no circumstance can they be approved.”

So what happens when a gay man or woman serving his or her country seeks guidance from a priest? Does the priest withhold a blessing? Would the priest have freedom to espouse the Catholic teaching that homosexuality is “objectively disordered?”

“No restrictions or limitations on the teaching of Catholic morality can be accepted,” said Broglio. “First Amendment rights regarding the free exercise of religion must be respected.”

But Broglio made it clear that compassion would be a top priority as chaplains walk a razor’s edge.

“Catholic chaplains must show compassion for persons with a homosexual orientation but can never condone — even silently — homosexual behavior,” Broglio said. “A change might have a negative effect on the role of the chaplain not only in the pulpit, but also in the classroom, in the barracks, and in the office.”