The new archbishop of Military Services, Timothy P. Broglio, pledged to address the alarming shortage of Catholic chaplains during his installation Mass last weekend.
In a press conference after the Mass, the new archbishop said his primary goal is to get more chaplains, saying they are “desperately needed.”
According to the Army News Service, Lt. Col. Gary Studniewski, a priest and the vocations and retention officer at the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said that the Army currently has 92 active-duty Catholic chaplains, and he expects to have 100 by the end of the summer. This small increase continues the upward trend of the past couple of years, but isn’t enough as the Army needs at least a couple hundred.
He explained that only 25 priests, both active duty and reserve component, are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, so some soldiers may go weeks or even months without Mass or Sacraments.
“We have a very robust recruiting effort,” Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Carver, the Army’s chief of chaplains, said. “We visit the bishops, we visit Catholic seminaries and schools and communities so we can make them aware…of the need to provide for the spiritual needs of the Catholic men and women who maybe don’t have the opportunity to find a church nearby or drive somewhere.
“I think the most valuable thing we can do is tell the story of the great need and the opportunities to provide ministry in the military…We have a Consider the Call weekend in October, in which we challenge our military congregations, especially the Catholic congregations, about number one: ‘Are there some of you in the ranks who, you obviously know the military and how important it is, maybe God’s calling you to be a chaplain?
"Then we get them more information and let them see the chaplaincy up close," said Carver, "...Some of our Catholic leadership – senior noncommissioned officers and senior leadership – volunteer to go out to their particular dioceses, bishops or congregations to share the importance of faith and having a priest in the context of the military. So we’re working it hard.”
Studniewski said the efforts of Recruiting Command, the renewed interest of the chief of chaplains and the commitment of Archbishop Broglio are bringing him hope, and he believes the Army is turning a corner when it comes to recruiting Catholic priests.
“The most positive thing in all this, I think, is Archbishop Broglio,” he said. “He can be agent with his fellow bishops to engender their support. I believe there are priests ready, willing and able to serve if they had permission from their bishops.”
Broglio will begin his ministry this week at the Fort Carson, Colo., and the Air Force Academy. He plans to conduct Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 6 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The Archdiocese of the Military Services serves 375,000 military Catholics worldwide. It relies on local bishops to lend priests to serve with the military, but the shortage of Catholic priests nationwide has resulted in an even-more-critical gap in the military.