Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman, the Obama administration has moved swiftly to provide spousal benefits to service members in same-sex unions. Military chaplains have been able to preside at the weddings of same-sex couples since 2011.
On Feb. `17, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services released guidelines for all military chaplains, lay people in Catholic ministry and Catholics in command positions. Here are key passages form the archbishop's letter, which began by cautioning military chaplains and the faithful to be mindful of the "danger of scandal."
Recent changes in interpretations of the laws of the Federal Government oblige me to recall what is clearly held by the Catholic Church. At the same time I am grateful to the Congress of the United States for its passage of renewed conscience-protection language, specifically for chaplains in the Armed Forces.
For priests and deacons
No Catholic priest or deacon may be forced by any authority to witness or bless the union of couples of the same gender. No Catholic priest or deacon can be obliged to assist at a “Strong Bonds” or other “Marriage Retreat”, if that gathering is also open to couples of the same gender. A priest who is asked to counsel non-Catholic parties in a same-gendered relationship will direct them to a chaplain who is able to assist. Catholic parties will, of course, be encouraged by the priest to strive to live by the teaching of the Gospel.
Lay ministers must respect Church teaching.
Obviously, anyone who is known to be in a sinful relationship is excluded from ministries in the Catholic community. While this list is not intended to cover every situation, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, catechists, and members of the Catholic Council immediately come to mind.
Catholics in Command Positions
I am not unaware that the faithful entrusted to my pastoral care also include those Catholics who exercise command positions. They can be faced with additional questions as they fulfill their responsibilities to those above and below them in the chain of command. Consequently in response to a doubt raised by the AMS regarding the question of a person’s possible cooperation with evil, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) stated:
“Commanders of United States military installations/veterans’ facilities (hereafter, ‘commanders’) would not be engaging in morally illicit cooperation, but rather tolerable remote mediate material cooperation with evil by implementing federal employee benefits accruing pursuant to same-sex marriage, as required by United States v. Windsor. Our determination is contingent on the situations in which commanders are unable to avoid such cooperation without jeopardizing their own just right to their employment security for themselves and/or their families. This is also contingent on the commander making known his/her objection to being required to so participate, as well as on attempting through legal channels to continue to accomplish changes in policy consistent with the historic understanding of marriage and family as based on natural moral law. Also, if without incurring a demotion of loss or downgrade of position/rank/grade or other serious harm, there is a mechanism to have others more senior in the chain of command to carry out the implementation of such policy, this should be pursued.”