'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal Poses No Serious Problems for Military Chaplains

Since the repeal of the  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which banned gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the armed forces, military chaplains have had no problems with challenges to their ministries because of the change.

That’s the gist of an Associated Press story posted on KVUE.com which surveyed chaplains from a variety of denominations, including Catholicism:

“Prior to repeal, various conservative groups and individuals — including many conservative retired chaplains — warned that repeal would trigger an exodus of chaplains whose faiths consider homosexual activity to be sinful. In fact, there’s been no significant exodus — perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal. Moreover, chaplains or their civilian coordinators from a range of conservative faiths told The Associated Press they knew of virtually no serious problems thus far involving infringement of chaplains’ religious freedom or rights of conscience.

” ‘To say the dust has settled would be premature,’ said Air Force Col. Gary Linsky, a Roman Catholic priest who oversees 50 fellow chaplains in the Air Mobility Command. ‘But I’ve received no complaints from chaplains raising concerns that their ministries were in any way conflicted or constrained.’ ”

” [Col. Timothy]Wagoner, [a Southern Baptist chaplain] who commands five other chaplains at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey, said the chaplaincy corps was responding professionally and collegially to what he called a ‘balancing act’ precipitated by the repeal.

” ‘We’re good at this stuff — we want to take care of our folks,’ he said. ‘We have to respect the faith requirements of the chaplain and we have to take care of the needs of the airman.’

“That attitude meshes with the official Pentagon guidelines on the repeal: ‘The Chaplain Corps’ First Amendment freedoms and their duty to care for all have not changed. All service members will continue to serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs, and they will be expected to treat everyone with respect.’ “

The news story notes that Catholics make up a large number of the chaplain corps, and their leader was among the most vocal opposing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” :

“According to the latest Pentagon figures, there are about 2,930 chaplains on active duty, most from theologically conservative faiths and organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest contingent, with about 450 active-duty chaplains; the Roman Catholic Church is next with about 220.

“The Catholic official who oversees those chaplains, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, had vehemently opposed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and issued a statement after repeal conveying ongoing concerns “in this difficult time.”

“‘ This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic chaplain will ever be compelled to condone — even silently — homosexual behavior,’ he said then.

“However, Broglio said he was unaware of any major repeal-related problems that had arisen for his chaplains during the first nine months of the new era.

” ‘There have been no overt difficulties,’ he said. ‘It’s more a question of what might occur in the future.’

“Broglio remains concerned that Catholic chaplains might somehow be pressured to participate in or facilitate ceremonies or programs that bestow recognition and approval on same-sex couples — ‘As time goes by, it will be a challenge, to make certain you’re not silently condoning.’

“As for preaching the Catholic doctrine that homosexual behavior is a sin, Broglio said he expects chaplains to retain the freedom to do so as part of their religious services. But he said there is confusion as to whether that freedom extends to other settings where chaplains might face pressure to deliver inclusive messages.

“Broglio said he has not given his chaplains specific instructions to either emphasize church teaching on homosexuality in their preaching or to avoid the subject.

“He concurred with the estimates that only a handful of chaplains have left the military because of the repeal. He said ‘two or three’ Catholic chaplains had resigned their commissions in recent months, and guessed that repeal may have been a factor though they didn’t cite that specifically.

The question of religious liberty does not seem to be a problem at all for chaplains of any denomination, including Catholics:

“Bishop James Magness, the coordinator for about 75 active-duty and reserve Episcopal chaplains, said he’d heard a common, positive verdict about repeal from his more conservative Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist colleagues.

” ‘The whole argument about religious liberty is so incredibly uninformed, and inflamed by some of the very conservative legal groups,’ Magness said. ‘In reality, there’s been very little if any of the services forcing any ministerial activity on a chaplain against his or her will.’

“[Catholic] Chaplain Linsky said he’d respect any chaplain who did leave the military out of principled objections related to the repeal, but knew of no such instances thus far.

” ‘The chaplain corps,’ he said, ‘has navigated this issue with great calm and prudence.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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