Breaking Point: US Military Archdiocese Needs More Priests Now

The military archbishop is begging dioceses to send him priests, even on short rotations, so the Church does not fail military personnel and their families.

US Navy Chaplain Lt. Tung Tran says Mass aboard the USS Rushmore, June 21, 2014.
US Navy Chaplain Lt. Tung Tran says Mass aboard the USS Rushmore, June 21, 2014. (photo: US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight/Released)

BALTIMORE — Archbishop Timothy Broglio is begging for more priests for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, saying that he soon may be “unable to provide Catholic priests for the military.”

During his address at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) general assembly in Baltimore, Archbishop Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), which serves United States military personnel and their families all over the world, said that even though many dioceses across the country are stretched, military service members and their families must not be forgotten.

“Indeed, I recognize that every archdiocese, diocese and eparchy is understaffed and struggling to meet the legitimate needs of the people entrusted to your pastoral care,” he said Nov. 16.

“It is not easy to ask you to sacrifice a young, physically fit priest to care for that portion of your flock that is out of sight and under my care as long as they are active-duty,” the archbishop said, “but the dire situation leaves me few other viable options.”

While one-fourth of military personnel and their families — roughly 1 million people — are Catholic, there are only 217 priests in the Military Archdiocese to serve them, he added.

This poses a serious problem, not only in regards to providing access to the sacraments, but also leaving young servicemen and women and their families vulnerable to proselytization by other religions.

“Some very well-organized groups eagerly present programs for youth ministry. They offer them as ecumenical, but they are generally based on a very Protestant or even a fundamentalist approach to faith,” Archbishop Broglio said.

“If there is no priest there to lobby for funds for a Catholic program or to sponsor an alternative, the program appears to be very appealing to the leadership on an installation who grant the necessary resources to that program,” he said.


Next Year’s Dire Straits

Next year, he said, at least 11 priests will be retiring from the Army or leaving due to medical reasons — a branch that was “heretofore stable.” Similarly the Navy, which provides chaplains for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard has 48 priests, of whom 36 can be deployed. The Air Force also faces a drop from its current 56 priests.

“The numbers mean that it will be almost impossible to ensure that men and women even in deployed locations and on aircraft carriers will have access to a Catholic priest,” Archbishop Broglio stated.

“If the Armed Forces were ever to be completely without priests, most observers agree that they would soon be completely without chaplains of any kind,” he said.

Ironically, the Armed Forces is actually “the largest single source of vocations in this country,” according to a 2015 CARA study. It found that 4% of newly ordained priests surveyed had prior military service, and 16% were children of active-duty parents.

Archbishop Broglio told his brother bishops that this “represents a significant contribution to your dioceses, but I am not sure that the AMS can sustain those percentages, if there are no priests among the military population.”


The Archbishop’s Proposal

Like Mother Frances Cabrini, “so that she could meet the needs of even poorer families,” Archbishop Broglio said he felt like he was begging for coal from poor families.

He urged bishops to encourage their priests to consider serving in the Archdiocese for the Military Services, even though he has heard that there’s a perception among young priests that bishops do just the opposite.

“Please encourage your priests to consider the possibility of serving in the military. You might talk to the recruiters who are in the corridor outside this room. So often seminarians and young priests tell recruiters and me that your vocation directors, personnel board members and vicars general dissuade priests from approaching you about eventual service as a military chaplain,” he said.

“Perhaps to counter that perception, you could invite a recruiter to address a gathering of priests to illustrate the benefits and the challenges of this ministry,” Archbishop Broglio added.

He also dismissed the notion that young priests who serve the AMS must make a lifelong commitment.

“That is not the only option. You can send a priest for three to five years and then send another,” he said. “The AMS does want some long-term commitments, because we need some priests in leadership roles with rank, but also can use many for shorter commitments.”

He reminded his fellow bishops of the advantages of sending a priest to the Military Archdiocese for three to five years, saying, “They return to you enriched and better able to serve your people in the diocese. I can also cite the example of many priests who have returned to their dioceses and taken assignments. They brought with them a wealth of experience and a new vision.”

He closed by thanking the many dioceses across the country that have given up a priest for military service, but asked that even more do the same.

“The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, is extremely grateful to those local Churches that have sacrificed one or more priests. Faithful served by the AMS are praying even now that you might respond generously to my appeal,” he said.

“For it really is imperative that every diocese have at least one priest to ensure that your faithful who defend our religious freedom do not have to sacrifice theirs.”

The March for the Martyrs in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2021.

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