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Head of Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Remembers Soldiers’ Sacrifices

Archbishop Timothy Broglio sees courageous Catholics as most faithful citizens.


| Posted 5/28/12 at 1:45 AM

Archdiocese for the Military Services USA

Religious faith is seen by some people as poisonous to good citizenship. One’s religious beliefs are expected to be kept private if they are not in conformity with the secularist mindset. Matters such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate are seen as demands to which any good citizen would acquiesce.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio could not disagree more.

Citing the examples of Servants of God Emil Kapaun and Vincent Capodanno, the Ohio native sees those who live their Catholic faith as most loyal citizens.

In 35 years of priesthood, Archbishop Broglio has witnessed the close connection between love of God and love of country. He has seen this most strikingly in his current role as archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, a position he has held since 2008.

In anticipation of Memorial Day, the archbishop spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie about the challenges he faces and the joys he experiences in his post.


How was the memorial Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception?

Every year, the Archdiocese for the Military offers a Mass on Sunday of the week preceding Memorial Day to remember those who have died, those who have served, and those who currently serve their country in the armed forces.

It is important to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. It is also an enormous responsibility to carry out one’s military duties faithfully while maintaining a Christian family life, so we ask for God’s graces to enable our military personnel to do that.

The Mass was well attended, with many military personnel, including general officers; and many priests were present as well.

For those who could not attend, the Mass will be broadcast on EWTN on Memorial Day at noon Eastern time.

In my homily, I spoke of getting back to the basics of our Catholic faith and of our service to our nation. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this same topic in January, reminding us that the Church, of its very nature, is public. It is a visible continuation of the life of Christ, and as such, the Church cannot remain silent in the face of attempts to limit her voice and outreach. We must continue to spread the message of Christ fearlessly to the whole world.

This is not at all in opposition to the good of our nation. Quite the contrary. The better we live our Catholic faith, the better we serve our country. Love of God and love of country go hand in hand.

St. Thomas More said that he died the good servant of the king, but the faithful servant of God first. He remained true to his values, especially that of the sanctity of marriage. In so doing, he contributed to the good of his country. Had he given in to the unjust demands made of him by King Henry VIII, he would have only contributed to the decline of his country, and we would not be calling on his intercession today.

Newly installed archbishop of Baltimore William Lori stated in his installation homily earlier this month that “we must be loyal Americans by being bold and courageous Catholics.” I agree completely.

You can’t sit back and allow injustice to have free reign. You have to be proactive and stand up for your beliefs and for the good of society.


Recently, the Army chief of chaplains attempted to prevent Catholic chaplains from reading your letter regarding the HHS mandate. How does that issue now stand?

The Army chief of chaplains sent out instructions earlier this year that Catholic chaplains were not allowed to read my letter on the injustice of the HHS mandate from the pulpit. The original mandate runs contrary to our First Amendment rights and so did this instruction.

I spoke with the secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and he agreed that it was a mistake to try to prevent our chaplains from reading my letter. The original instruction against reading my letter was rescinded, and our chaplains continue to exercise free speech as they serve those who serve our country.

Any chaplain has the right, in the context of his religious service, to make known his religious beliefs. Otherwise, what is his purpose in being there?

Similar to St. Thomas More, the chaplain is not there to promote the “belief of the day,” but to hold fast to what endures. This right of chaplains was reinforced in the 1997 case Rigdon vs. Perry, and it should be clear by now that its violation is not acceptable.


Another concern you’ve encountered recently is the reversal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. What are your thoughts on how the policy now stands?

The Church exists to serve all people, regardless of whatever personal inclinations they might have. However, there are certain norms that need to be upheld in our service to them.

To be truly at the service of another human being means to have his best interests at heart. What is best for anyone is union with God, and this union is not possible without chaste living. We are all called to live out the virtue of chastity in whatever state of life we are in.

The Church has always recognized the unique value of marriage, which is the bond of one man and one woman. Marriage, as one of the seven sacraments of the Church, is at the core of what it means to be human.
Every human being, regardless of whether he marries, should come from and be raised in a family, which is only possible through the traditional understanding of marriage. Every child should have a mother and a father, because there are specific roles either parent plays in a child’s development. There’s a balance found in marriage.

In the Archdiocese of the Military, we’ve had very few visible, overt problems after the reversal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy last year. However, I am concerned about what might happen down the road. Certain groups may attempt to pressure us to actively participate in their agenda, which may include so-called “gay marriages.”

Such a thought is abhorrent to our basic mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is flat out unacceptable, and we will never participate in such things.


On the one hand, there is a shortage of military chaplains; but on the other hand, there is an abundance of priestly vocations from those who have served in the military. How do you explain this seeming paradox?

It is a great paradox. We currently have 260 chaplains on active duty, which is far below what we need, when you consider our 1.8 million members worldwide. Those who protect our country, wherever they may be stationed, are often left without the sacraments and the guidance of chaplains. This is a grave concern for me as their archbishop.

There are at least three reasons for the shortage of chaplains. The first is due to a general shortage of priests. There are just not as many today as there were in the past. The second is the physical requirements of being a military chaplain. You do have to be physically fit and able to endure oftentimes harsh living conditions.

The third reason is simply a diminished interest. Very few priests who ask their bishop for permission to be military chaplains are turned down. However, relatively few priests seem to be interested in asking their bishops in the first place.

It is correct, however, that there is a high number of men ordained to the priesthood, whether diocesan or religious, who have worn a military uniform in the past.

About 10% of all those ordained annually in the United States have been in the military. There’s a spirit of service and sacrifice in the military and in the priesthood, so that explains part of it. Being so close to suffering and death is another reason. Suffering, but death in particular, has a way of getting you to think about the four last things and then desiring to lead the life God wants you to lead.


What are your top concerns right now as you lead your flock?

My No. 1 concern is always increasing the number of priests on active duty.

Without priests, we are very limited in what we can do, so it’s always beneficial to get more priests. Two of the priests we can look to for inspiration and model our own lives after are Father Emil Kapaun, who served in World War II and the Korean War, and Father Vincent Capodanno, who served in Vietnam. Both of them are now officially Servants of God, and their canonization causes continue to move forward.

My second concern right now is the HHS mandate. Although, interestingly enough, we fall into that very narrow exemption whereby we only serve Catholics, as opposed to a hospital, for example, which serves any number of people from all faiths.

However, the mandate, seen in the eyes of the Church in general, is a threat to religious liberty by an overreaching government. It’s an unjust attempt to force people of faith to act against their religious conscience.

My third concern is funding for our mission. We receive all of our funding from voluntary donors, whether they be groups such as the Knights of Columbus or individuals. Those interested in helping us carry out our work can visit our website, where they will find a way to donate on the right side of the homepage. The site also has information that priests interested in chaplaincy can read as well.


What do you enjoy most about your work?

The people I’m privileged to serve are the best part of my work: the men, women and children who are dedicated primarily to the life of the Church. From this dedication flows a commitment to their country.

It is a joy to be at the service of these people who either directly in the line of duty or who indirectly as spouses or children endure physical and psychological hardships for a higher goal.

Being around these selfless people makes all the travel worthwhile. Last year I spent 220 days on the road. That can be tough, even on someone like me, who is used to traveling, even before my installation in the Military Archdiocese.

This brings to mind something people may not be aware of regarding our archdiocese. We have American men and women all over the world, not just within our own borders. That explains why there are three auxiliary bishops and the need for more priests.

We’re unique in that we’re not confined to a specific geographical area like most dioceses. We’re what’s called a “personal diocese.”


Are there specific memories that come to mind regarding the flock you shepherd?

Last Ash Wednesday, I visited our wounded soldiers at the new Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was very inspiring to see these men who, prior to their injuries, were the cream of the crop physically. They were highly fit and trained soldiers. Now they are far more limited in what they can do, sometimes because of the loss of limbs.

That contrast of strength and weakness is a beautiful thing. The soldiers, through their love of country, chose to put their lives on the line. They willingly sacrificed their health and comfort for the good of the nation. That’s very touching and inspiring.

I can’t help but recall the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of the whole world. He was perfectly content as the second Person of the Trinity, but out of love for us became man, suffered and died for us.

There’s a tremendous beauty to that and also a personal call to each one of us. We’re all expected, in light of our baptismal vows, to overcome our selfishness and live for God and others.

I spoke in my homily last Sunday about how the extent to which we die with Christ is the extent to which we will overcome our slavery to sin and thereby become more, not less, human. To be truly human means to live in Christ, and we can only do this by taking up our cross and following him. We can have a foretaste of that eternal reward here. It’s the paradox of the cross. He who loves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.