Don’t Ask, Don’t Ask: Women Seeking to Become Catholic Army Chaplains

A few weeks ago community leaders of Catholic men and women religious convened in Denver, Colorado. In between sessions on topics from global warming to the decrease in vocations, vendors set up tables to sell their products or their ideas or, in some cases, to recruit. Among this array of merchants was one table that, to an untrained eye, might have seemed better placed at a high school job fair than a gathering of priests and nuns—the United States Army.

So, what was the military doing at such an assembly? Recruiting. That is, more specifically, recruiting male priests to become military chaplains. The military, like the rest of the world, is suffering from a priest shortage. Chaplain Ran Dolinger, spokesperson at the Army’s office of Chief of Chaplain reports that there are only 100 priests to serve more than 105,000.

Despite the shortage, Catholic women cannot apply for the job. In the past 200 years, the US military has made strides—albeit small strides—in ending discrimination against women. However, despite its efforts, women still cannot serve in Infantry, Special Operations, Artillery or, apparently, become Catholic chaplains. Why? The Army does not dictate who qualifies as “clergy,” but allows each denomination (I assume only denominations which have enough infrastructure to support a chaplaincy) to send whom they deem as clergy to become military chaplains. And in the Catholic Church that, of course, means men only.

The main office of the Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services, located in Washington, DC, is in charge of Catholic military chaplains in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. On their recruitment webpage, they ask: “Considering the chaplaincy? Do you have… A passion for your faith? A deep love of ministry? A calling to support the needs of the military and their families with the sacraments? A desire to try something new in your ministry? A strong sense of creativity in your ministry?” To me, those do not sound like gender specific requirements. Nonetheless, the recruitment page is painted with “he’s” and “him’s” leaving women out of the picture—yet again—in the Catholic Church and in the military.