Where are all the Catholic chaplains?

A new study indicates thata the chaplains serving the military don’t really mirror the people they serve.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via Huffington:

A military chaplains serves as both a religious leader and a listener — ideally one who can assist military personnel of all faiths. A frequent refrain among chaplains is “chaplain to all, pastor to some.”

But according to Department of Defense data, the nation’s corps of chaplains leans heavily toward evangelical Christianity, failing to mirror the military it serves.

Even though just 3 percent of the military’s enlisted personnel and officers call themselves Southern Baptist, Pentecostal or some form of evangelical, 33 percent of military chaplains are members of one of those groups, according to Pentagon statistics.

And the disparity could soon widen: Data from the Air Force indicate that 87 percent of those seeking to become chaplains are enrolled at evangelical divinity schools.

The discrepancy is the result of a number of variables, including a post-Vietnam aversion by mainline Protestant and Catholic seminary leaders to participate in military culture, and the popularity of online chaplaincy courses at evangelical seminaries.

Military officials say chaplains are trained to support troops of all faiths, regardless of their own religious affiliation.

“In these various roles, chaplains respect the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

But liberal theologians and educators say the imbalance could compromise efforts to meet the spiritual needs of soldiers facing combat or the stresses of military life. And some critics go further, arguing that the military risks becoming a mission field for evangelical Christianity.

Read more.


  1. Maybe I had horrible, horrible luck while I was in– but the non-mainline Chaplains I knew saw it as a job, not a vocation. (Since my ship time was near the PI, we had no shortage of Catholic Chaplains, and dedicated ones at that.)

    With the difficulties involved in finding and keeping a preaching job outside, the military is a really good idea for someone of that stripe.

    On a side note, they may be trained to be chaplains to all, but some go native and are just blanking officers. (A much bigger problem than being another flavor of Christian, sadly!)

  2. With a shortage of priests in most dioceses, I think many bishops are reluctant to give up priests to the military service; it only makes their staffing problems worse.
    I don’t know if there is a similar reluctance on the part of religious order superiors, but it is likely.
    Maybe they need to think of military chaplaincy as a missionary outreach, because in a way it is.

  3. Fiergenholt says:

    In Deacon Greg’s post: “And some critics go further, arguing that the military risks becoming a mission field for evangelical Christianity.”

    I have met two retired mainline Protestant Air Force Chaplains who insist that the United States Air Force Academy is already a field-training site for evangelical Christianity — but it’s not the Chaplains doing. They are being over-powered by a very strong evangelical movement within the faculty at that institution which tends to influence the cadets even more than the “official Chaplaincy” staff can ever.

  4. This is an important issue. Good for ETS! And for those blowing the whistle on these who proselytize our somewhat trapped heroes.

  5. Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher says:

    We have a great priest in our diocese who is an Air Force chaplain. He has had several deployments overseas (Iraq and Afghanistan). He is a wonderful pastor, canon lawyer and is also the vicar general in our very large (in area) diocese that only has a handful of priests. When he is gone, either deployed or on reserve duty, he is sorely missed. I am grateful for his service to the military personnel he ministers to. We are worried about his safety when he is gone, but he is doing important work.

    I wish we had more priests in our diocese and more vocations to the priesthood all over the United States so the bishops could spare more priests for service to our military men and women, especially those deployed over seas.

    Unfortunately, permanent deacons can’t be military chaplains…I wonder if they could, would there be more Catholic chaplains?

  6. Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher-
    when our Father was off the ship, we had a warrant officer that was a deacon doing the service. He wasn’t a Chaplain– he was in AIMD– but deacons do help a lot.

    I sort of wonder if there might be some sort of specific religious order for this…. I guess it is a rather newish problem.

  7. Paula;

    The issue of permanently ordained Roman Catholic deacons serving as military chaplains was discussed at some length here on The Deacons Bench about six-eight months ago. Some facts that surfaced:

    –The Military Ordinariate of the United States, the non-geographical archdiocese that handles Roman Catholic military chaplains, does have a surprising number of deacons assigned. In fact, their Chancellor is a deacon.

    –The largest military establishment here in the Midwest has a deacon assigned as a paid Pastoral Associate to their Roman Catholic Chaplaincy staff. I suspect that situation is repeated at many military chapels throughout the United States. They are under an employment contract as any civilian worker might be.

    –The real stumbling block is not assigning civilian deacons to military chapels but in allowing deacons to openly serve as uniformed chaplains. There is no protocol for that yet. The initiative, however, has to come from the American Catholic Bishops. None of the military services would take that initiative on their own.

    –I would suspect, if the truth were known, that permanently ordained Roman Catholic deacons are far better trained before ordination in their formation programs that most evangelical pastors readily accepted by the military into uniformed chaplaincy positions.

    –In fact, the military already has women chaplains in uniform — obviously none are Roman Catholic. There is no rule against hiring women religious into contract assignments in base chaplaincy offices — much like deacons can already be hired.

    –Some have suggested that “Foxfier #6″ has the better idea. Open up a Warrant Officer Occupational Code for “Chaplain Technologist” where both Catholic religious sisters and deacons can go into uniform in military chaplaincy positions. The Air Force no longer has Warrant Officers but the other four services do.

  8. Fr John Mack says:

    Just retired from Air National Guard/AF Reserve Chaplaincy after 28 years. Deployed 6 times during my service, including 3 times to Southwest Asia once to Central Asia. Deployed ministry was wonder-filled! But, I believe just as there are contract positions supplementing military positions in deployed situations, there is no reason why Catholic military chaplaincy could not be performed by contracted clergy (priests and deacons) and lay ecclesial ministers. BUT, ordained priests are still needed to preside at Eucharist. With deployed situations in far-flung places and dependent on irregular transportation, circuit-rider Roman Catholic priests would still be needed and flexibility in all things would be essential. Yet, I believe Orthodox priests have been circuit-riding in deployed situations for some time. If truth be told, Protestant ministers who enter into military chaplaincy are often looking for a career and a retirement and find the contract-clergy proposal for the Catholics represents a threat to their own endeavours.

  9. I stumbled across this topic looking for a homily for our Sunday service and thought I would share a little bit.

    I am an enlisted Sailor serving on a Destroyer deployed in the Western Pacific. While the Aircraft Carrier we are deployed with has a priest, the logistics behind getting him over to our ship is challenging. On our last deployment he only managed to come over for mass twice.

    What we do instead is a “Sunday Service in the Absence of a Priest” which is led by the “Catholic Lay Leader (CLL).” Basically the service is just the Liturgy of the Word. Up until a few years ago the CLL would be given enough consecrated hosts to hold communion services during deployment. Unfortunately problems of desecration (usually out of ignorance) arose and The Archbishop for Military Services stopped allowing communion without a Priest.

    Out of the 100 or so Catholics on the ship only one comes to the service I lead. I think if communion were offered a lot more would show, but I understand why it is not allowed.

    I think the strain is hardest on the Navy due to the very nature of our service. It would be impossible to station a Catholic Chaplain on each ship while underway. At least the Marines, Army and Air Force have bases they operate out of and generally can get to a Mass.

    I have never met an Active Duty Deacon. I know several who got out and then were Ordained. I think its and interesting idea but if anything were to come out of the idea it would have to be from the Archbishop for Military Services.

  10. Janice Mastriano says:

    I am trying to locate a Father Francis (Frank) Pugelise who
    was a U. S. Navy/Marine chaplin. He was ordained in 1967.

    [Janice: I Googled his name. He's reachable through the US Military Archdiocese. I've sent you via private e-mail the link. Dcn. G.]

Leave a Comment