More men asking about becoming military chaplains

More men asking about becoming military chaplains August 24, 2011

Are vocations to chaplaincy on the rebound?  Last week, the Archdiocese for Military Services issued a release that indicates that could be the case:

Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., Director of Vocations, said, “This is one of the ‘untold stories’ of the blessings of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and those Faithful fervently seeking to respond to the Voice of God. Catholic seminaries in the United States, and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, are straining to accommodate the influx of seminarians entering formation programs leading to presbyteral ordination and military chaplaincy. Many seminaries have found it necessary to convert guest rooms to seminarian quarters.”

The outlook for future vocations is just as bright. The archdiocese [of Military Services] is currently processing hundreds of inquiries from prospective military chaplains. Father Abbott expects anywhere from five to 10 more to enter seminaries next year, with still more to come in years to follow.

The timing could not be better. The U.S. armed forces have seen a steady decline in Catholic military chaplains over the past 10 years as priests reach the military retirement age of 62. Their numbers are down from more than 400 active in 2001 to 274 this year.

Father Abbott says the increase in vocations is due mainly to the support of Catholic bishops, “for which this archdiocese is most grateful,” and successful recruiting over the past three years. The recruiting, which began under his predecessor, Father John McLaughlin, is taking place largely among a pool of candidates that has contributed substantial numbers to the priesthood in recent years—the U.S. military. According to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, nearly 10% of men ordained as U.S. Catholic priests over the past two years had previously served in the military. Another 10% came from military families.

“When you think about it, this makes complete sense,” Father Abbott said. “Both the military and the priesthood rely on a largely common set of foundational values, including a commitment to service, self-discipline and a higher calling. So it should come as no surprise that so many of our seminarians come from a military background and a growing number are looking to go back to the life they know after ordination.”

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15 responses to “More men asking about becoming military chaplains”

  1. That’s terrific news.

    This Memorial Day, Suz and I took the kids on a tour of the U.S.S. IWO JIMA, docked in NYC for Fleet Week. While on board one of our party talked to a Protestant chaplain who lamented the shortage of Catholic chaplains.

    Most of the troops, he told us, were Catholic, but the majority of chaplains were Protestants like him — “and we can’t give them [Catholic troops] what they need,” he added.

    Encouraging to hear that may be turning around.

  2. Is the chaplain in the picture facing “contra gentes”? Perhaps the soldiers were all around. Just noticing.

    God bless military Chaplains. In past wars they were some of the first to be shot by the enemy because these knew that they provided a morale boost to the troops. One Military Chaplain told me how he had to fake being dead after his Marine unit was overran in Vietnam. He had to stay still under a pile of dead Marines while he heard the VC shot medics and other survivors.

  3. Absolutely delighted this has turned around and even more that the Military Archdiocese is actively recruiting men directly from the military itself and from veterans.

    Too bad, however, that Canon Law still requires the Military Archdiocese to receive a “co-sponsoring diocese” for an actual ordination to the priesthood. They do not currently have the authority to ordain their own directly.

  4. Re: Rudy #2.

    I’ll just bet that the men have circled all around their chaplain and this is just the angle that the photographer used.

  5. I am just finishing an old book, Gordon Zahn’s German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars, first published in 1962, when it was very controversial to investigate why Catholics had been so supportive of Hitler’s manifestly unjust wars of aggression and conquest. Zahn notes that even German bishops known from opposing aspects of Nazi policy, including the widely-praised von Galen, offered encouragement to soldiers enlisted in the Nazi cause. The military bishop, Franz Josef Rarkowski, was overtly enthusiastic about Hitler and his cause. Through his chaplain corps, he promulgated the blasphemous doctrine that death for the Fuhrer was comparable to Christian martyrdom.

    One of our recent deacon candidates, a retired career military man, told me we should not worry about any comparable development in the USA because, as he was convinced, “America only fights just wars.” My experience suggests that men with military backgrounds–20% of recently-ordained priests, according to this article–are far more likely to adopt such a position than most practicing Catholics would be. I wonder if they even think it possible that an American Catholic soldier could decide, in the words of the Catechism, that he might have to resist orders “deliberately contrary to the law of nations and its universal principles.”

    In return for his loyalty, Bishop Rarkowski was promised that his chaplains could attend to all of the German Catholic soldiers’ “religious needs.” However, those men under his charge who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously soon found they could satisfy their “religious needs” only by facing death in the way that Franz Jagerstatter did.

  6. Ron:

    A few years ago I went to an exhibit on Anne Frank. There was a duplicate of her family’s hiding place and literally hundreds of pictures and memorablia.

    I saw a picture of about 4 or 5 German bishops standing on a stage and giving the Nazi salute. Honestly, I was shocked. When I looked closer, I saw the year was 1932.

  7. Participation as chaplain in the military is a tough subject in view of the original Church fathers view on pacifism. Many of the early Fathers would not even allow Chistians to join the military or participate in civil service. In the other hand American Catholic chaplains provide a valuable service to their country and do not carry arms. I would not compare them to Nazi chaplains. The U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that no soldier is obligated to obey unlawful orders, like harming unarmed civilians. It is one of the first thinngs they teach in Marine Bootcamp and Army Basic Training. In my experience American troops behave outstandingly with POW’s and civilians. There has been a few atrocities but is the exeption and not the rule.

  8. I can not express how grateful I am for our deacon on base. He prepared my husband and I for marriage, as well as lead the RCIA classes which guided my husband into the Church the following Easter. I am also incredibly grateful for his support when my husband died in Afghanistan this past December (13 months after we were married). Military chaplins have such a difficult job, yet their value goes beyond words. I know the ongoing changes being imposed on the military is going to make their job even more challanging. I am happy to see an increase in semenarians willing to take on such a difficult vocation.

  9. Re: ann82

    Thank you for your warm and sincere comments but it raises an interesting issue.

    YES, there are deacons who are incardinated in the Military Archdiocese — in fact, the Chancellor of that Archdiocese of Deacon Mike Yakir from the Diocese of Toledo in Ohio — but deacons are not allowed to be uniformed chaplains.

    They are, however, on the staff of base chapels literally all over the place. The largest military institution in the Midwest — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton Ohio — has a deacon serving full-time as a “Pastoral Manager” of sorts for the Catholic Chaplaincy staff. Always thought I might like to do that — but it never happened.

  10. One of my best memories of serving in the U.S. Air Force is the availability of Catholic chaplains for our spiritual needs. I grew spiritually via all the opportunities on base: Mass and other sacraments, singing in the choir, lectoring (which I started doing in the military and have been at it ever since) off base retreats, Bible studies, the opportunity to teach CCD classes for military dependents, and more, much more. It was a home away from home. Then there was the social life with fellow Catholics. It was fantastic!

  11. Dear Ann,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail in trying to offer comfort for your pain or gratitude for your husband’s sacrifice and your support of him.

    Please know that I will hold in prayer you and your family, as well as all those who share your same burden.

    Yours in Christ,

  12. Slight correction: No deacons or priests are incardinated into the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. They remain incardinated in their diocese of ordination and first incardination, or their respective religious congregation if they are members of religious orders. Deacons and priests receive the faculties of the AMS, however, in order to function.

    At any given time, there are about 60 or so (permanent) deacons on active duty (all of us in other military specialities because, as Deacon Norb has pointed out, deacons in the US are not permitted to serve officially as “chaplains”). Plus, there are many civilian deacons who live and minister near or on military bases who receive faculties and assist the base chapel program.

    (Personal aside: I spent my first three years as a deacon while I was still on active duty in the Navy, stationed on Okinawa. I was Executive Officer of a Navy Base, and also deacon at Kadena Air Base).

    We’ve always had a lot of military folks go into the chaplaincy or the diaconate; this isn’t new. However, they should NEVER go straight from ordination back into the military: EVER! They need to be given time to adjust to life as a priest first, which is why they currently must serve at least three years in their home dioceses before returning to the military.

    Finally, you’ll notice that I said that “in the US, deacons are not military chaplains.” This does not, and is not, universal practice. In Australia, for example, deacons ARE credentialed by the Australian government AS CHAPLAINS. Deacon Greg even posted a story about one such deacon-chaplain not too long ago.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  13. HMS

    A few years ago I went to an exhibit on Anne Frank. There was a duplicate of her family’s hiding place and literally hundreds of pictures and memorablia.

    I saw a picture of about 4 or 5 German bishops standing on a stage and giving the Nazi salute. Honestly, I was shocked. When I looked closer, I saw the year was 1932.”

    Kind of like the bishops of today giving honors and supporting democrats who support abortion. They seemed to be tripping over themselves to be at the Ted Kennedy funeral and some of the bishops were silent when Obama was given honors at Notre Dame. One day I hope we will be looking back at these pictures and saying how could these Catholic bishops have done this while 54 million babies were being killed and these democrats who called themselves catholic kept it legal and supported. They are human and human beings make mistakes. Unfortunately, many pay the price for this mistakes.

  14. It should be interesting to see how the entire chaplain group and the soldiers handle the new pro gay regulations being delivered to the military by Obama and the democrats in time of war. I wonder if the chaplins will have to toe the pro gay line despite the fact that most believe it is a gravely disordered lifestyle. Look for sparks on this issue as it is forced on the military.

  15. I really doubt that the military would have any higher percentage of gay folks in uniform that any other area of our society. In fact, I suspect the figure is considerably less and would remain considerably less.

    IF, theoretically (and I really do not know what the figure actually is), one in thirty American adults (3.3%) have homosexual orientations — that also means that in your Sunday congregation of 600 folks, there are 20 who have homosexual orientation who are are worshiping the Risen Lord Jesus just like you are — and are proud to be Roman Catholic just like you are.

    There are also those who insist that substantially less than 20% of those who do acknowledge their personal homosexual orientation are expressing it in the public ways many folks find obnoxious.

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