The Fourth of July offers an occasion to express our thanks to the men and women of our armed forces for their service and love of country as well as the Catholic chaplains who care for all of our servicemen and women and their families across the globe.
The shepherd in charge of the pastoral care of the Catholics in the armed forces is Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who holds a doctorate in canon law and is a former papal nuncio. He was named head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services in November 2007 and installed on Jan. 25, 2008, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Archbishop Broglio spoke June 12 with Register senior editor Matthew Bunson about his chaplains, religious liberty and the military life. (This is a longer version of the June 25, 2017, print issue In Person.)
Well, Your Excellency, first welcome, and thank you for your gift of time. I know our readers will very much appreciate your insights into a variety of issues.
Well, I’m happy to speak with you this morning, and to be able to communicate with your readership, as well.
You made a bit of a stir last week at your speech at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, especially on the importance of virtue. What made you choose that particular topic?
Well, it came about really for two reasons. One, I think we often tend to speak about values, and we don’t often speak enough about virtues, and there is a distinction.
And I think, as particularly because it was a Catholic prayer breakfast, it seemed particularly important to stress some of those fundamentals that really should be at the basis of who we are and how we operate in our day-to-day existence.
And I think that my premise is that greatness and sanctity — and sanctity is certainly the goal of all of us — are posited on the practice, the authentic practice, of virtue. And so, I wanted to take advantage of that stage to get that message across.
Do you find that that’s especially important today? It’s always important, but given the political divide that we have, much of the acrimony that we see pretty much on a daily basis in politics and in media, is it even more important now?
I think that makes it particularly important in our time. And I think, also, that there is a launch of, well, conscious or unconscious, a launch of countervalues that really come into opposition with virtue, in the sense that we’re continually told to put ourselves first; we’re continually told that material things will bring happiness.
And then there is a tendency, I think, with the wealth of information out there not to make distinctions, so you know we — and this is important for the political discourse — rather than consider the issues sometimes, it’s often just the person who’s speaking about one issue or another that determines my position, and I think as Catholics we have to be more informed when we take a position on a certain issue.
And as a shepherd, as one of the leaders of the Church in the United States, what’s your current diagnosis of the culture in the country?
Well, I think that the timing of Pope Francis’ call for an evangelization, a joyful evangelization, is very timely, because I think we need to revive some of the spirit that animated our forefathers in the faith, either when they came to this country, or when they sought to practice our faith in this country.
Some of that enthusiasm, some of that ability to stand out in a good sense, to stand out just by our virtue [is needed].
When you read the Acts of the Apostles, and you hear about the primitive community, it was marked by the practice of charity, by the virtue and, almost in a certain sense, daring to be different. And I think that’s important in a world where we tend to be numbers, to be classified.
There is a certain call to live our Christian virtue in a way that makes us stand out, in the most positive interpretation that anyone could give to that phrase.
Do you find that there are ways that should be employed to bring everyone together to work for the common good?
I think our prayer is very important. I think our practice of charity is extremely important, and I think, also, an awareness of the advantages that we have as Americans, and that — any gift that comes from Almighty God — is given not just for ourselves, but it’s also given with a responsibility. And so we really are the keepers of our brothers and sisters, and I think sometimes we tend to forget that that’s particularly important in the issue of immigration.
I think it’s important in the issue of foreign aid. I think it’s also important in what we practice as Catholics in terms of our local Catholic Charities and then, of course, our participation in Catholic Relief Services.
I know that you’re participating in the “Fortnight for Freedom” June 21-July 4, and I’m also aware, of course, of the many challenges you have as the archbishop of the Military Archdiocese. In looking at issues of religious liberty, of trying to protect the rights of your chaplains and their families, how would you define or describe the state of religious freedom right now in the military?
I think, in broad strokes, that religious freedom is respected. No chaplain is going to be, would currently ever be, required to do something that is against the principles of his or her faith. Also, in terms of an individual’s practice of his or her faith, that is respected. … Yes, faith does influence what we do. And there are certainly [some counterexamples]. Recently there has been a tendency in the military to say, “Well, you can’t wear your faith on your sleeve,” or people, not chaplains, but others, have been criticized if they have a Bible on their desks or something like that.
And I think we have to recognize, as an author recently pointed out, that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion. And I think it’s important to make that distinction.
Now, by the same token, religious freedom is compromised in the military by budget cuts, by my inability to provide a sufficient number of priests to minister to the men and women in the armed forces, and you know the one, the budget cuts obviously, that can be remedied; we’re talking about pennies of what the military budget is, so it would really be just a decision that this is important and therefore it should be funded.
In terms of personnel, that’s a more difficult problem to resolve. It’s not going to be resolved merely by funding.
That brings us back in many ways to your suggestion for prayer.
You have, of course, some recent ordinations of new priests and deacons who want to become chaplains. Could you talk about the many challenges, but also the immense joy and opportunities, that serving as a chaplain brings to not just the whole archdiocese, but to the whole of the military life in the United States?
Well, I think the chaplain’s role is very, very important. He is the only person on a military installation who has absolute confidentiality. I’m not only talking about what would be covered by the secret of confession, but I’m talking about a privilege that a chaplain never has to say who came to him or why someone came to him. So it’s very important to have that figure present on our military installations.
There is also a tremendous grace, I think, given particularly to priests who are with men and women when they deploy. Those are moments when people ask fundamental questions, and it’s important to have them there, to have the priest there to be able to respond to those questions.
Also, the military is the largest single source of vocations in the United States today. If you look at the statistics from the CARA [Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University] report, you’ll find that a good 10%-15% every year come both from prior service and from those men who were raised in a military family.
I was just at the ordination of a transitional diaconate in Atlanta: He and two of his classmates were raised in families where either the mother or the father was an active-duty military member. That’s significant, and I think that, given that the Archdiocese for Military Services serves the youngest population in the United States — most of our people are between the ages of 18 and 28 — it is important to have priests there so that some of those vocational desires can be nourished and adequate responses can be given.
How many chaplains currently?
At the moment on active duty, I have about 208.
And the overall population to whom they minister?
Well, roughly, we would say that there’s about 900,000, because there’s about 300,000 military that self-identify as Catholics. We traditionally multiply that number by three because of their dependents, who are also subjects of the Archdiocese for Military Services.
These chaplains, of course, for those who may not be familiar, are deployed literally all over the world.
That is correct — military installations all over the world.
How do you even begin to assess where to deploy your resources of chaplains?
Well, I don’t make that decision. That is made by the chiefs of chaplains of the three chaplain corps, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. And I can really only try to influence that decision. We have an agreement with the Navy, for example, that an aircraft carrier doesn’t go out without a Catholic priest, because that’s about 5,000 people just on the aircraft carrier; that doesn’t count the three or four ships that escort the aircraft carrier.
It is its own little parish then, isn’t it?
It certainly is; it certainly is. In fact, one of the Navy’s best ads is “Small parish looking for priest.”
It’s also easy to overlook the risks that you face as a chaplain.
That is correct, because obviously you are unarmed, and yet you are in harm’s way. And, obviously, you’re also going to be separated from family, friends, support systems, and so it is a sacrifice on their part. For the most part, they do their job very, very well.
For you, as the archbishop, how often do you have to travel? I’m guessing that you’re on the road quite a bit.
Roughly 200 days a year I’m on the road, and that would be about the same for my — I have four auxiliary — bishops, who also help me in this ministry, and they also travel constantly.
For those who may not be aware, that involves air force bases, that involves military installations and aircraft carriers, I’m guessing, so it’s a fairly demanding life.
It is; it is a very demanding life. They’re wonderful people, but they are in obscure locations. We do our best to try and visit. We actually try to visit every military installation every year, with one bishop or another.
You served for a number of years in the Vatican Secretariat of State and as a papal nuncio. Do you find that there are parallels between your service as a nuncio and your role as archbishop?
Well, certainly one parallel is the quest for peace.
That was certainly something that I did in my 25 years as a diplomat for the Holy See, and it’s also something that is very much uppermost in the minds of all of us who are either privileged to serve with the military or in the military, because after 17 years of war, the members of our armed forces are very tired.
There is an earnest desire that the diplomats succeed in assuring that we’re no longer at war.
And you can have a role in that, I’m guessing.
Yes. Certainly, through prayer, certainly also through encouragement of dialogue. And taking advantage of, certainly, the many international contacts that are mine just by virtue of the ministry that’s been assigned to me.
I know, too, that one of your many tasks is providing pastoral care — not just for the needs of soldiers and servicemen and women, but also their families.
That is correct. And people don’t often think about that, but the family, when someone is deployed, is really in a particular situation that demands special care; and that’s why the chapel on a military installation, and the community that forms around that chapel, becomes very, very important. And, of course, the archdiocese is also responsible for the pastoral care of veterans, so that’s another area of responsibility where we try to meet the needs of those who are in the medical centers, or in some of the other care facilities that are part of the Department for Veterans Affairs.
What do you find are some of the greatest pastoral needs for dependents and for soldiers, sailors and airmen?
Well, I think certainly a need to feel encouraged in this time of separation. There’s also an ability to dialogue that’s very important, as well, because what you have is a situation where, for instance, the younger members of a family step up and take certain responsibilities, and then when Dad or Mom comes back, they’re expected to fall back into their role as children — and, of course, that requires some adjustment. There is also — one of the most important things — allowing the deployed member, when he returns home, to be able to tell his story, because that’s actually one of the ways that whatever trauma has occurred can be healed, or can be at least alleviated somewhat.
And most of all, it requires a certain sensitivity, and it requires an ability to welcome people back, and also to realize wherever they are in this journey [they need support].
What are some initiatives on the part of the archdiocese? You’ve mentioned the number of young Catholics, of young people, on bases, but also in families.
In terms of religious education, we do have a curriculum that goes from pre-K to grade 12; that’s at one level. We’re also trying to reach out to the young adults. In fact, [we planned] in Illinois, a first retreat/conference for young adult Catholics, in an effort to evangelize them, but also to … hear what their needs are and to try and respond to their needs. I’ve also tried to sensitize a little bit my brother bishops about those who return and the families of those deployed, particularly if they worship in communities in territorial dioceses, that there be some awareness of them and responsiveness to their particular needs.
Do you find that chaplains serve as very powerful role models for young people in the military and outside of it?
They certainly do; they certainly do. Because of their training, and also because of their willingness to serve in all sorts of situations, that’s a great gift, but it’s also not always so easy.
And, of course, the history of the armed forces in the United States is filled with stories of great examples of chaplains who have given their lives, but also who were martyrs for the faith. I’m thinking especially of the recent example of the cause for canonization for Father Vincent Capodanno. I know that the diocesan phase has just been closed. Could you tell us a little bit about him?
Well, Father Capodanno is one of those striking figures. He was a Maryknoll missionary from Staten Island, New York, was assigned eventually to Hong Kong, and it was there that he came into contact with naval personnel and others who would come to Hong Kong for R&R during the Vietnam conflict. And because of that he heard about the need for priests and decided to ask his superiors to become a Navy chaplain. He did, and he was sent with the Marines to Vietnam, and actually then was so taken with the pastoral possibilities that this provided that he asked to stay with them, or to be sent again with them.
And he was one of those chaplains — typical of most chaplains — who was going to be with his Marines: He was going to take care of them; particularly he was going to be with them in those moments when they were most in need, when they were under fire. And that’s actually how he died, giving comfort to a Marine.
Even though Father was wounded himself, he continued to stay on the front lines and then was eventually felled by the enemy’s bullets, but he really died, well, literally, with his boots on … because that’s where he wanted to be; that’s how he wanted to take care of those who were assigned to his pastoral care. So he’s a great example for chaplains and I think for priests in general.
And, of course, the history of the, a survey of the history of the Catholic chaplaincy, with which I’m most familiar, is filled with these figures, who gave unstintingly of themselves to meet the needs of those who were entrusted to their pastoral care. And it’s a beautiful history: Significant, I think, in this or in the last century, the chaplains who received the Medal of Honor were all Catholic priests. Very, very significant.
A fact that is often not reported.
His cause was opened. You have a doctorate in canon law, so it must have been interesting to oversee this diocesan process for his cause. But the amount of detail and exactitude that has to go into it is very striking, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. It has a particular law from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, it’s very detailed, and it must be respected because you wouldn’t want to have the cause fail on a technicality. So we try to be very precise, and also we had the advantage that many of the witnesses are still alive, so that helps with a figure who died 50 years ago, which at this point in my life doesn’t seem that long. It’s still a point where we can still talk to people.
Understood — people who knew him. But isn’t this also a wonderful example of the fact that saints are around us today, in the military too, that it is possible to be in the military life and be a saint?
That is correct, and I think we have many, many examples, and it’s good to bring these examples forward. And, of course, that’s the whole purpose of canonization: that their lives be worthy of imitation; and so you have to put them before the people of God so that they hear about them. And it was interesting to talk to my delegate for the cause at the end of the process, because he himself thanked me for the opportunity to work this closely on the life and the virtues of Father Capodanno, because it made an impression on him and on his priesthood.
And yet another example of the sacrifice and the selflessness of military chaplains, and anyone who’s spent much time around the military certainly recognizes that.
Yes, yes, they are really unique individuals who give unstintingly of themselves for the benefit of others.
Now for those who may not be aware of it, where does the funding come for your archdiocese?
It all comes from free-will donations. Basically, we have various sources, but the archdiocese has to come up with the funds to cover its expenses every year, which amounts to a budget between $6.5 and $7 million a year. That does not include the tuition, the half of the tuition that we pay for co-sponsored seminarians.
If someone would like to donate to the Military Archdiocese, how would they do that?
Probably the simplest way is through the website of the archdiocese, www.milarch.org.
And if a young man is interested in potentially becoming a chaplain, what would you recommend to him?
I would recommend, first of all, that he talk to his local priest about beginning a process of discernment. But then I would invite him — certainly anyone who’s over 18 — to come to one of our discernment retreats, which are held in the fall and the spring, in the month of November and the month of March. And we’ll cover any costs involved in the person participating in this retreat.
And that [registration] can be done, again, at the same website.
There’s also [a link] for the vocations office, and the young man could contact Father Aidan Logan, who’s the vocation director.
Well, your Excellency, thank you again, and please be assured that you and all of your personnel, priests and staff are in our prayers.
Well, thank you very much for that. I’m very grateful for that prayerful support.
Take care, and God bless, Your Excellency!
God bless you, too. Thank you, Matthew.
Matthew E. Bunson is a Register senior editor and senior contributor to EWTN News.