Because of my background in church-state studies, for the past third of a century or so I have been interested in the many legal puzzles linked to the work of military chaplains.
The bottom line: There is no easy way to provide doctrinally specific care to all of the sailors on a submarine (or a very small, remote base near the front lines).
It is possible for one clergy person to show tolerance and sympathy for believers in a number of different religions with clashing doctrines, but there is no way one or two chaplains can turn into doctrinal Swiss Army knives and provide the same degree of care for Catholics, Muslims, Lutherans, Mormons, Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, Wiccans, Hindus, etc., etc. At some point, people feel left out. At some point, there is a Catholic who needs to say a sacramentally valid Confession before going into combat and the only chaplain available is a female Baptist or United Methodist or Episcopalian or Disciple of Christ.
Doctrinal conservatives in various traditions often try to wish this conflict away, even though it is just as important for neopagans to have religious liberty as it is for Southern Baptists.
Doctrinal liberals in various traditions are the leading advocates for the theological Swiss Army knife approach, since their faiths almost always take a more Universalist approach to issues attached to salvation and sacraments. Thus, when a Catholic male declines to say his confession to a female chaplain in a liberal mainline church, that is the male soldier’s problem. Why can’t everybody just get alone?
As a result of my fascination with these issues, I have been paying close attention to the debate about whether Catholic priests who are under contract (as opposed to being regular military chaplains) will be allowed to volunteer (as in for free) say Mass on bases affected by the government shutdown.
Alas, cruise through the results of this logical Google News search file and it will be easy to see a familiar trend.
The Daily Caller? Check.
The Washington Times. Check.
The Christian Broadcasting Network? Check.
National Review Online? Check.
The Christian Post? Check.
Yes, indeed. It appears that this is a conservative news story, one that falls outside the approved template for the mainstream media’s coverage of government-shutdown horror stories.