Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Archbishop for the Military Voices Opposition

DON’T CHANGE. Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, is pictured during his installation Mass in 2008 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The archbishop has urged Congress not to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the military.
DON’T CHANGE. Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, is pictured during his installation Mass in 2008 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The archbishop has urged Congress not to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the military. (photo: CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON — The archbishop in charge of more than 800 chaplains in the American armed forces has condemned the proposed repeal of the 1993 law banning openly homosexual persons from serving in the military.

“The effect of a repeal” of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy “has the potential of being enormous and overwhelming,” wrote Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

His statement, released on the archdiocese’s website June 1, was a summary of a report he was asked to make to the chiefs of chaplains of the armed forces. “Sacrificing the moral beliefs of individuals or their living conditions to respond to mere political considerations is neither just nor prudent,” he wrote.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted May 27 to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In both cases, the change was in the form of an amendment to a defense-spending bill. The amendment stipulates that the repeal cannot come into effect until after a Defense Department impact study and the secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president certify that it will have no impact on military readiness, unit cohesion and recruiting, among other concerns.

The Senate will vote on the repeal later this summer.

Archbishop Broglio is charged with the spiritual welfare of the 375,000 Catholics in the military and their 520,000 family members. It’s also his job to vet priests who want to serve as chaplains. His statement warned that the change in policy could “have a negative effect on the role of the chaplain not only in the pulpit but in the classroom, in the barracks and in the office.”

Homosexuals deserve compassion and dignified treatment from chaplains, he noted, but Catholic chaplains “can never condone — even silently — homosexual behavior.”

Instead, chaplains must urge homosexuals to commit themselves to a life of chastity. “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and by sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

Archbishop Broglio warned against repealing the law at least until the potential impact of the change had been carefully considered.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the chiefs of staff of the armed forces earlier this year that no repeal would take place until a formal study of its impact was completed early in 2011.

Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., says the Obama administration was breaking that promise with its push to pass the repeal.

“They are in a hurry because they are afraid that the balance of Congress will change in the fall elections,” he said. 

Constrained Chaplains?

Thompson told the Register that “repealing the ban will put chaplains in a conflict between their military commanders and their God.” Lifting the ban would be followed quickly by a zero-tolerance rule for any discriminatory comments, he said. “A chaplain who expressed Catholic or Christian teaching on homosexuality would face disciplinary action. He would be prohibited from giving counsel.”

Likewise, 40 retired evangelical Christian military chaplains warned of “persecution” of chaplains over family-support programs some chaplains offer but would have to refuse to same-sex couples for moral reasons. The chaplains expressed that viewpoint in a joint letter to the president requesting the ban not be lifted.

One of the signers, the Rev. James Poe, told the Register that repealing the ban would wreak “havoc” in the military, whose leadership of career commissioned and non-commissioned officers is dominated by Christian family men. “Many of them will quit, and they won’t be replaced because Christian pastors will warn young men to stay away from the military,” Poe said.

As a result, “the military culture will change,” Poe predicted. “Raising a family gives you a future-oriented perspective that gays don’t have.”

Arthur Schulcz also sees chaplains being put in a conflict of interest by the repeal. He is spokesman for the International Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers (endorsers are church bodies recognized by the military to ratify clergy for service as chaplains). Schulcz’ group, representing 300 chaplains, has recommended against repealing the law.

Chaplains, he says, will be at risk of disciplinary action, including dismissal, if they inform soldiers performing homosexual acts of the immorality of their actions. “The Army only sees one side of an issue. If you don’t agree, it says, you can leave.”

Thompson is confident that any chaplain who is disciplined for teaching religious doctrine concerning homosexuality would “have a clear case that his rights under the Constitution to the free expression of religion had been violated.”

Effect on Morale

The Thomas More Center, which has many former military personnel on its legal staff, joins many secular organizations, such as the Center for Military Readiness, in claiming the repeal will impair military efficiency and morale.

“Right now, men and women are in separate barracks,” said Thompson. “Now you will have homosexuals living in close quarters with 120 other men 24-7, 365 days of the year. It’s an invasion of their privacy to put people in there with them who are going to be sexually aroused by them.”

Schulcz cited a poll by Army Times that “10% of military personnel say they will definitely not re-enlist if the ban on homosexuality is lifted, and another 15% would consider leaving the armed forces.”

A Brookings Institute forum in Washington, D.C., in early May brought together officers from several other countries that allow openly homosexual people to serve in the military to relate their experiences. Judging from the transcript of the proceedings, homosexuals have served alongside heterosexuals without incident.

Thompson, however, said the United States was a more Christian country, based on church attendance alone.
A Canadian naval officer and a chaplain both confirmed those findings from their own experience, yet both also supported Thompson’s contention that cultural differences might make the Brookings’ findings irrelevant.

The naval officer, who insisted on anonymity, told the Register, “I’ve served with gay personnel all my career, and I’ve seen no detrimental effect on military performance. What we care about is: Will a guy be willing, when there’s a fire, to put on a respirator and grab a hose and go in.” He’d never heard of a homosexual, male or female, “hitting on” another service person. “It would be the absolute kiss of death” for anyone who did, he said, noting the recent dismissal of Canada’s senior combat officer in Afghanistan for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with a female “in theater.”

But what is true of the Canadian armed forces may not be true of the American military. “The U.S. appears much less of a post-Christian society,” the naval officer said. “Ideological battles over abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ and drugs are much more evident there.”

The Canadian chaplain, a Catholic priest of many years’ service, said Canada’s court-ordered legalization of homosexuality in the military in 1992 “was really not an issue” then and so it remains. “There used to be a concern that gay people were a security risk, that they would be open to blackmail from agents of the Communist bloc.”

No serviceman has ever raised homosexuality with him as an issue; nor has anyone complained of homosexual advances from another service member. “The position of the Catholic Church is well known,” he said.

The chaplain has no worries about being forced to perform a same-sex “marriage.” “That would never happen,” he said. (Canadian armed forces protocol requires a chaplain whose beliefs preclude his officiating at a same-sex “marriage” to refer the couple to someone who will.)

The priest doesn’t agree that the United States is more or less “post-Christian” than Canada. But based on his own service alongside American troops, he told the Register, “a large number of American troops are drawn from rural areas and are very poor. Many of them may never have met an openly gay person. That would present a challenge.”

Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.