Catholic Chaplains “Outing” LGBTQ Service Members Leads to Defense Minister Apology

A photo of United Kingdom Defense Minister Johnny Mercer speaking at a podium with a rainbow flag backdrop behind him.

United Kingdom Minister of Defense Johnny Mercer

The United Kingdom’s Defense Minister has apologized to LGBTQ military service members outed by Catholic military chaplains who reportedly broke the seal of confession and betrayed the confidentiality of pastoral encounters.

Minister of Defense Johnny Mercer apologized on behalf of the U.K. government at an event celebrating the repeal of the ban on gay service members in the U.K. military 20 years ago.  The personal apology comes after reports that several military members were outed by Catholic and Anglican chaplains to their military superiors in the 1990s, facing humiliation, dismissal, and criminal prosecution.

Apologizing for both the underlying ban on LGBTQ service members and the betrayal of trust by priest chaplains, Mercer said, per Metro:

“Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defense minister, I personally apologize for those experiences. Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.”

The Daily Mail reported that more than one hundred lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members were dismissed for confessing their sexual identities to military chaplains.

At the time of the alleged incidents, the official position of the U.K. Armed Forces was that “homosexuality” would damage the efficacy of the military, and therefore it was expected that any personnel, including chaplains, would report LGBTQ members to their superior officers, to be dismissed and prosecuted.

Since the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires a sacrosanct confidentiality between the penitent and the priest acting as confessor, if what these service members allege is true, the military chaplains would be excommunicated for betraying the sacrament.

Even if the confessions to military chaplains were made in a non-sacramental pastoral setting, the betrayal of trust and violation of confidentiality is of grave importance.

LGBTQ people should be able to turn to priests and chaplains in times of anxiety just as any other person can do. As ministers of the unending mercy and love of God, priests should never betray the trust LGBTQ individuals place in them by being vulnerable about their sexuality. If as the church insists, “same-sex attraction” is a pastoral and spiritual issue to be worked out with their priest, such sensitive information should never have been turned over to military personnel.

Though the alleged incidents occurred decades ago, they contribute to the history of discrimination and retribution against LGBTQ people by church representatives. They mark another instance when Catholic pastoral ministers abdicated their moral responsibility to defend the inherent dignity of a marginalized community.

Whether or not the alleged confessions were made in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or in an informal pastoral setting, the church should take responsibility for its failure to love and support these LGBTQ Catholic service members. They should acknowledge that in failing to love, they now have a responsibility to ensure such a betrayal never happens again. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the confession of a sin must be coupled with a sincere desire never to commit the sin again and an act of penance to mend the relationship with God and the offended. So, too, should the church make a sincere commitment to stop discriminating and persecuting people for their sexuality and make a good-faith act of penance to the service members who were hurt by the church’s actions.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2020

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