Weekend ordinations a sign of encouragement for branch of service with the military’s biggest shortage of Catholic chaplains
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Just as surely as there are three persons in one God, three prospective new United States Navy chaplains are scheduled to be ordained priests in one day on Saturday in their home diocese of Arlington, Va. The three, all of whom have spent the past year serving as transitional deacons as they complete their seminary coursework, are Reverend Mr. Christopher Christensen, Rev. Mr. James Hinkle, and Rev. Mr. Steven Walker. All hope eventually to serve as chaplains in the Navy with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).
Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va. will ordain them and four of their classmates at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 3901 Cathedral Lane, Arlington, Va., through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit. U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio will assist at the 11:00 a.m. (EDST) ordination Mass.
The ordination of three prospective Navy chaplains at one time comes as a welcome development for Catholics in the Sea Services. The Navy is the branch of service where a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains, due to growing attrition, is currently severest. Of the 835 active duty chaplains in the Navy’s Chaplain Corps, only 52—or six percent—are Catholic, compared to about eight percent of U.S. military chaplains as a whole. The AMS estimates that 123,000 Catholics serve on active duty in the Navy and Marine Corps; their families and dependents account for an additional 178,000 Catholics; and theCoast Guard has an additional 16,000 Catholics. Catholic priests in the Navy serve all these populations at a current ratio of only one chaplain per 7,000 faithful.
The chaplain shortage comes as more and more priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains throughout the U.S. military has fallen from more than 400 to 225.
Fortunately, help is on the way. The three priestly ordinations on Saturday represent an upward trend in the number of men completing formation to become priests and military chaplains through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities to support vocations. Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities for prospective chaplains, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in 2008 to 31 today, and still more candidates are on the way. Rev. Mr. Christensen, Rev. Mr. Hinkle, and Rev. Mr. Walker are among thirteen prospective chaplains to be ordained this year, either as priests or transitional deacons.
The AMS, which receives no funding from the government and depends entirely on private giving, is now looking for ways to fund a fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at $2.7 million over the next five years. Donations can be made atwww.milarch.org.