Archbishop Questions Pelosi’s Logic in Opposing Provision to Protect Military Chaplains from Being Ordered to Act Against Faith

May 21, 2012 - 11:20 AM

Archbishop Broglio

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA. (Photo courtesy the Archdiocese of the Military Services)

(CNSNews.com) - Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who oversees all Catholic priests who serve as chaplains in the U.S. military, says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defies logic in opposing a provision to the House Defense Authorization bill that protects military chaplains from being forced to violate their religious beliefs.

In an interview with CNSNews.com last Friday, Broglio challenged Pelosi, who on Thursday had called the provision “a fraud.”

“I am a little bit perplexed, because if, according to her, there’s no danger to ministers being forced to act against their conscience, what logical objection could there possibly be to putting that in a law?” the archbishop asked.

“If, according to her, there’s no possibility of that happening, then it would seem that the law merely reinforces – the provision of the bill, I should say – merely reinforces what she purports is already in existence.”

Last week, during her weekly press conference with reporters, Pelosi said she agreed with the White House in opposing Section 536 of the House defense authorization bill, which she called “a fraud.”

Section 536 states that no member of the armed forces may “direct, order, or require a chaplain to perform any duty, rite, ritual, ceremony, service, or function that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain, or contrary to the moral principles and religious beliefs of the endorsing faith group of the chaplain.”

The House Democratic Leader further said the idea that military chaplains would be forced to perform same-sex marriages against their will is “a manufactured crisis.”

“Nobody is ordering them to do that,” Pelosi said. “I’ve never seen any suggestion that we’re ordering chaplains to perform same-sex—where is that? I haven’t seen it and I’ve been around this issue for a long time.”

But Broglio, the head of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, respectfully but firmly took issue with Pelosi.

“I would suggest that perhaps she’s not very familiar with how the military works,” Broglio said. “While no one might be constrained to act against his or her conscience, you can also have a situation where someone in command makes it very, very difficult for that person, if the command wants him or her to act in a certain way. And I think that the law, the provision in the draft, the provision in the bill, would protect the chaplain from that kind of situation.

Broglio agreed that Catholic chaplains have not yet been asked to perform same-sex marriages.

“It would be very difficult obviously to force a Catholic priest to witness an attempt at marriage between people of the same gender because our position on that is so clear,” he said.

“However, you do have other situations on the periphery, for instance a Strong Bonds retreat, which is generally aimed at couples,” he said. “It would be very compromising for a Catholic priest, for example, to be forced to be a spiritual director for that kind of retreat if it included couples of that other type. And this legislation would protect him.”

Even the archbishop himself has been subject to interference from the Pentagon – in this case, over another issue on which the administration and the Catholic Church are at odds.

In February, Broglio wrote a letter he wrote for Catholic chaplains to read from the pulpit on a Health and Human Services Department requirement under Obamacare which mandates that all health insurance plans cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions– free of charge.

The Office of the Chief of Chaplains, at first barred the letter from being read.

“That is exactly the kind of situation that should be avoided, because strictly speaking, anything that a Catholic priest does in the context of Catholic worship is not governed by the military, but is governed actually by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, of which I am the archbishop,” Broglio told CNSNews.com. “So the fact that someone from the Chief of Chaplains office would presume that he could intervene in that situation is actually a violation of the First Amendment.”

He added: "And not to be speaking off the top of my head, there was actually a court case in 1999, Perry vs. Rigden, in which the Court agreed with exactly what I just said."

Broglio sent a letter to the House Armed Services Committee in support of Section 536. After the House committee passed the bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a memo which said that this section of the law, Section 536, was “potentially harmful to good order and discipline of the military.”

“I find that extremely difficult to understand, because, if we functioned up to this point with the understanding that a minister or priest or a rabbi, in the exercise of his religious duties is governed by the Constitution, how could this provision possibly undermine the good order that’s existed for the first 200-plus years of this republic’s existence?” Broglio asked.

The measure has passed the House, and now goes to the Senate.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, was created by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Before then, Catholic priests have served as military chaplains since World War I in 1917, under the authority of the Archbishop of New York. In 1985, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor of New York, a former Navy chief of chaplains and auxiliary bishop for the military, led the effort to create the separate Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.