WASHINGTON, DC – The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), has received many messages and is well aware of the news items published over the past few days about the decision by the U.S. Navy regarding the pastoral care of Catholics at Naval Base (NB) Coronado, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Monterey, and NB Ventura County—all of which are currently served by civilian Catholic priests willing and able to continue their ministry. In what’s being described as a “cost-cutting” move, the Navy has announced it will cancel the contracts of civilian Catholic priests who serve these military faith communities. Meanwhile on-base Protestant services, led by active-duty non-Catholic chaplains, will continue as usual.
For some time now, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, has been engaged with the Navy Chief of Chaplains and has been trying to meet with those responsible for this decision. Archbishop Broglio noted the savings from cancelling these contracts amounts to a mere 250-thousand dollars—approximately 0.000156% of the Navy’s budget. “It is difficult to fathom how the First Amendment rights of the largest faith group in the Navy can be compromised for such an insignificant sum,” Archbishop Broglio said. His Excellency expressed hope the Navy will reconsider the decision.
U.S. Navy chaplains serve the pastoral needs not only of the Navy but also the Marines and the Coast Guard. Currently, due to a nationwide shortage of Catholic priests, only 48 priests serve as active-duty Navy chaplains, hardly enough to meet the pastoral needs of more than 135-thousand Catholics now on active duty in all three service branches, plus their families. The Catholic Church depends on civilian priests under contract with the Department of Defense to fill the gap. If the Navy follows through with its decision to begin cancelling those contracts, Catholics who serve will be deprived of their First Amendment right to exercise their religion, casting doubt on the constitutional validity of the move.