Not His House: Archbishop Oversteps, Opposes Repeal of DADT

On December 1, Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio contributed an essay to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the Clinton-era policy that prevents LGBT persons from serving openly in the military. He quotes at length from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, compares homosexuality to alcoholism, and makes the unconvincing, dishonest claim that lifting the ban would infringe upon the religious liberty of Catholic chaplains by forcing them to bless same-gender marriages. But the military is not the Catholic Church.

With all due respect, the Archbishop does not get to order the nation’s house according to his reading of natural law.

Answering to the President, not the Prelate

Chaplains are engaged primarily in a non-sectarian work of care and counsel. They work on a regular basis with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and persons of no religious belief whatsoever. They divide duties consistent with their competencies and their diverse consciences. These duties are carried out in a generic way that is respectful of the soldier’s religious affiliation, and the conscience of the chaplain.

Hearing Catholic confessions is but a small part of a Catholic chaplain’s job. Catholic chaplains are not required to perform marriages between non-Catholics or divorced persons. There is no reason to think they would ever be required to bless same-gender unions or to “condone” (how patronizing!) sexual love between persons of the same gender. 

While the Archbishop has religious authority over the Catholic chaplains in the armed services, their primary allegiance is to the military and the president. So long as they actually serve in the military, they answer to the president, not the prelate.  

Canon law and catechism are irrelevant to the debate about lifting DADT. They are no more relevant here than they have been to other policy issues such as women in combat; bans on drugs, sexual harassment, racism and “fraternization”; or decisions concerning the handling of service members who become pregnant.

If Church teaching were relevant, you would expect Broglio to invoke it in a critique of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which fell (and still fall) significantly short of Catholic just war criteria (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2309). 

With respect to DADT, Broglio’s reading is selective. While he emphasizes a few passages dealing with homosexuality, the Catechism offers no less than ten pages on the eighth commandment, regarding truthfulness. DADT should be repealed because it enjoins LGBT service members to lie, bringing harm to themselves and others and if the Catechism is correct, their relationship to the Divine. 

Oddly the Archbishop. again invokes the outdated and inappropriate analogy between homosexuality and alcoholism. He is certainly entitled to this view, but his views are irrelevant to military policy. Similarly the Vatican’s shifting views on condom use would be irrelevant to a military decision to promote safer sex. Said decisions have military readiness as their guiding principle, rather than the doctrines of a particular religious sect, even if that sect is as large and influential as the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Archbishop is so concerned about his religious liberty (and that of allied conservatives), but what about the religious liberty of moderate and progressive chaplains (including Catholics)? Some chaplains belong to denominations that now accept and bless same-gender relationships. These chaplains are disallowed the privilege of blessing those relationships in a military setting. Military policy is like that. It is ordered not to the sectarian needs of chaplains—or the Archbishop’s desire for maximal religious liberty—but to the secular needs of the military, which provides chaplains to boost the morale and discipline of the troops. 

Many studies and the examples of foreign militaries have proven beyond doubt that allowing LGBT persons to serve openly is the right and prudent thing to do. The majority of American Catholics agree.

wmcmullan@ses.gtu.edu'

Eugene McMullan is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the Graduate Theological Union. His dissertation pertains to the role of religion in in the LGBT movement in San Francisco in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He is also the Co-Editor of Communion, the monthly newsletter of Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.