Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services appealed to his fellow bishops Nov. 15 to release more of their priests for service as military chaplains.
In a brief talk on the opening day of the U.S. bishops’ Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly in Baltimore, Archbishop Broglio said his flock – which includes Catholics serving in all branches of the military, their families and those at Veterans Affairs hospitals nationwide – is served by only 275 priests, a number that will decline in coming years.
He said most people serving in the military are between the ages of 18 and 28, and studies have shown that most of those who abandon the faith they were raised in do so before the age of 24.
After their service, members of the military and their families will return to the U.S. dioceses and archdioceses from which they came, “and I would like to be able to return them to you as Catholics,” Archbishop Broglio said.
He recalled meeting a group of 10 Protestant chaplains, all of whom had been baptized as Catholics but became attracted to Protestant denominations during their military service because no Catholic chaplains were available to them early in their enlistments.
Archbishop Broglio also talked about a bishop who had denied the request of a priest in his diocese who was willing to continue working as a military chaplain. The bishop expressed concern about not having a priest to assign to a certain parish in his diocese.
If a Catholic family in the United States does not have a priest in their parish, they can drive to another parish nearby, the archbishop said, “but military personnel cannot drive to another parish.”
He also appealed to the pragmatic side of his fellow bishops, noting that about 10 percent of all priests ordained in the United States in an average year have prior service in the military and another 10 percent belong to families in which someone was in the military.
“More priest chaplains (to nurture vocations in the military) will mean more candidates for the priesthood,” he said.
Archbishop Broglio said he was not there to discuss whether U.S. involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan was right, but however one feels about that question, “we are obligated to care for the men and women who are there.”
“If we are not there, someone else will be and we will have no control over the message given,” he said.
And although no one knows the reason behind the rise in suicides among military personnel, “chaplains are essential to dealing with the problem,” the archbishop said.
He also asked each bishop to designate a day of fasting and prayer in his diocese for “a just and lasting peace,” for an end to military suicides, and for the families and soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in military service.