Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio told bishops at their annual gathering in Baltimore that the U.S. military is facing an alarming shortage of priests that is increasingly leading Catholic servicemen to seek help from Protestant pastors.
Calling it a “pastoral problem” that “affects all of us,” Archbishop Broglio appealed to bishops across the U.S. during the annual Nov. 15-18 meeting in Baltimore to consider sending more priests to help serve in the military.
“As you know, the Archdiocese for the Military Services assures the pastoral care for people from your respective particular churches,” he told the bishops. When these people “hang up their uniforms and return home,” he added, “I would like to be able to return them to you as Catholics.”
Approximately one fourth of active duty personnel – 400,000 people – and their immediate families are Catholic, he said.
At present, these Catholics “are served by only 275 priests in a territory that covers the globe,” the archbishop noted. “Those numbers will shrink in the coming years.”
Because many in the armed services often face grave situations, he said, questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God often surface.
“They are at great risk because there are not nearly enough priests to meet their needs,” he said. Speaking of the growing trend for Catholics to seek help from Protestant ministers, Archbishop Broglio said “our separated brothers and sisters are more than eager to fill the gap created by the absence of a priest.”
“If we are not there,” he said, “someone else will be.”
Archbishop Broglio also lamented the increasing amount of suicides that occur in the military. He said that one suicide occurred per day this last June in the U.S. armed forces and asserted that the presence of a priest is essential in helping prevent future “tragedies.”
“We cannot abandon” service men and women “at the moment of their greatest need,” he added.
Archbishop Broglio concluded his remarks by urging the bishops in attendance at the annual meeting to “to consider sending one more priest to the military.” He also appealed for the bishops to designate a day of prayer for peace, an end to suicides, and to express gratitude to U.S. military personnel.