Military archbishop stresses faithful ministry for chaplains

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In ministering to gay individuals, Catholic chaplains must share Christ's love and mercy, without being forced to condone same-sex relationships, said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. military archdiocese.

"The current situation makes it necessary to reiterate with clarity the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality," said Archbishop Broglio in a Sept. 17 statement, "Renewed Fidelity in favor of Evangelization."

"The Church must minister to all regardless of their sexual inclination. While the invitation to conversion cannot be diluted, the door to the mercy of Christ, obtained through His Cross, must be kept open."

At the same time, he added that "no Catholic priest or deacon may be forced by any authority to witness or bless the union of couples of the same gender."

The archbishop's statement recalling "what is clearly held by the Catholic Church" was occasioned by "recent changes in interpretations of the laws of the Federal Government."

Several months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

The federal government has extended benefits to same-sex partners of military servicemen, and the U.S. Department of Labor said on Sept. 18 that same-sex couples can participate in employee benefit plans, even if they live in states that do not recognize "gay marriage."

"A clear disservice is rendered if the truth of the Gospel is confused by the actions of those ordained to disseminate that truth," Archbishop Broglio said, also acknowledging "the danger of scandal."

In addition to the recognition that his clergy cannot witness or bless the union of same-sex couples, Archbishop Broglio said that they also must not be compelled to lead marriage retreats open to same-sex couples or to offer relationship counseling that contradicts Church teaching to same-sex partners.

He added that priests may officiate a or participate in burials and military ceremonies such as retirements, changes of command, and promotion ceremonies, so long as assistance or participation would not "give the impression that the Church approves of same sex 'marital' relationships."

Archbishop Broglio reaffirmed that lay Catholics openly living as if they were married are "excluded from ministries in the Catholic community," such as lectoring, altar serving, and being extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

Lay Catholics in command positions also received guidance in the archbishop's statement, as they "can be faced with additional questions as they fulfill their responsibilities to those above and below them in the chain of command."

Archbishop Broglio referenced the National Catholic Bioethics Center's guidelines for military personnel, quoting that while commanders "would not be engaging in morally illicit cooperation" by implementing certain employee benefits to same-sex couples, that they should avoid such cooperation where possible.

"Our determination is contingent on the situations in which commanders are unable to avoid such cooperation without jeopardizing their own just right to their employment security for themselves and/or their families," the guideline explains.

"This is also contingent on the commander making known his/her objection to being required to so participate, as well as on attempting through legal channels to continue to accomplish changes in policy consistent with the historic understanding of marriage and family as based on natural moral law."

Archbishop Broglio thanked the "Congress of the United States for its passage of renewed conscience-protection language, specifically for chaplains in the Armed Forces," and encouraged Catholics in the archdiocese to consult the archdiocese with further questions and concerns.

The military archdiocese is responsible for the pastoral care of nearly two million Catholics in the U.S. Armed Forces, overseas United States civilian government personnel, and their families. The archdiocese oversees 265 Catholic chaplains, who volunteer for ministry as members of the Armed Services.

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