Archbishop for Armed Forces Asks for More Priests

by Sofia Infante


During a meeting with bishops on November 16 in Baltimore, Archbishop of Military Services Timothy Broglio appealed for more priests to join the Archdiocese which he oversees. He noted, “Approximately, one fourth of the active-duty personnel and their immediate families are Catholics…At present those Catholics—totally around a million people—are served by only 217 priests in a territory that covers the globe.”

The numbers of active duty chaplains are steeply dwindling: “Next year the Army, heretofore stable in the number of priests in uniform, will lose at least eleven to retirement and separation for medical reasons, “ and “The Navy [corps of chaplains], which serves Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard has 48 priests today of whom 36 can be deployed but by June there could be a reduction due to retirements.”


During his talk, the Archbishop acknowledged that dioceses across the country are “under-staffed and struggling to meet the legitimate needs of the people entrusted to your pastoral care.” However, he insisted that given the “dire” situation, he had no other options but to ask that diocese be willing to give up a priest if they do not already have an active duty military chaplain. He said he feels a bit like “Mother Cabrini, the first saint with an American passport to be canonized. She used to oblige poor families to give her a lump of coal so that she could meet the needs of even poorer families.”


These commitments do not need to be long term as commonly thought, Broglio stressed. In fact, he suggested that they could continue for about three to five years and that after their time serving these priests, are “enriched and better able to serve your people in the diocese.” He also addressed the risk of non-Catholic religious groups serving and proselytizing to Catholics due to the lack of chaplain priests. “They offer them as ecumenical,” Broglio mentioned regarding multi-faith worship services offered by non-Catholic chaplains, “but they are generally based on a very Protestant or even a fundamentalist approach.”


Archbishop Broglio suggested that seminarians and priests are dissuaded from offering their services and talking to their Bishop by vocation directors, Personnel Board members, and Vicars General who tell them, “‘Do not bother the Bishop, because he will say no.’” He encouraged those at the conference to “counter that perception… [by] invit[ing] a recruiter to address a gathering of priests to illustrate the benefits and the challenges of this ministry.” He also reported that the Archdiocese sponsors “discernment retreats and has also embarked on an initiative called ‘For God and Country’ to acquaint small groups of priests about the ministry of chaplains and some of the possibilities that are available.”


The first retreat was “very successful” and yielded five participants for ministry in the military. Archbishop Broglio ended his talk by quoting Pope Francis’s call to  “dedicate yourself, even at the risk of your own life, to ensuring that the faithful serving to defend your country might not be deprived of the spiritual food they need to survive.”

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