Feb 4, 2012 192 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
The emerging conflict between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration may have a new front: in the U.S. military itself.
The Catholic Church is fighting mad about an HHS ruling that would have them buy insurance for things they consider sinful–contraception, sterilization and abortion.
All the bishops in the country sent out a letter to be read in their parishes promising that the Church “cannot-and will not-comply with this unjust law.”
Even Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who is in charge of Catholic military chaplains sent out the same letter.
But after he did, the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out another communication forbidding Catholic priests to read the letter, in part because it seemed to encourage civil disobedience, and could be read as seditious against the Commander-in-Chief.
More than one Catholic chaplain who spoke to us off the record confirmed that many chaplains disobeyed this instruction and read the letter anyway. Others sought further instructions from their Archbishop.
Now after much behind-the-scenes bureaucratic wrangling, a new version of the letter will be read, one that was edited of the language about “unjust laws.”
A new statement issued this afternoon from Archbishop Broglio’s office acknowledged the interference this way:
Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.
Following a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter. Additionally, the line: “We cannot-we will not-comply with this unjust law” was removed by Archbishop Broglio at the suggestion of Secretary McHugh over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.
It’s an issue that Catholic chaplains are taking very seriously in private. We obtained a confidential letter sent to the chaplains that prepares priests to contact the Military Archdiocesan lawyer in case of more interference or any punishment.
The Archdiocese believes that any attempt to keep a chaplain from freely teaching and preaching the Catholic faith, for which you were endorsed, is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. If any of you are in any way punished or slated for punitive action, I ask that you kindly call our Archdiocesan Attorney, John L. Schlageter, Esq. at 202-719-3635 and he will immediately place you into contact with a Religious Freedom Law Firm that will be most willing to take your case free of charge.
The letter also tries to clarify to priests that the Archbishop’s letter “concerns a moral, not a political issue.”
While it is true that soldiers do not have an unlimited right to free speech or political action, the military does not want to strain relations with the Catholic Church and its chaplains who provide services to many service members of all faiths.