The Archdiocese for the Military Services was created by Pope Saint John Paul II to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those in the United States Armed Forces. This includes more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 V.A. Medical Centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the USA in 134 countries. Numerically, the AMS is responsible for more than 1.8 million men, women, and children.
Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan was named and installed as the first ordinary of the Archdiocese for Military Services in March 1985. In January 1986 he created the administrative headquarters of the newly independent jurisdiction in the Washington, DC area. When Archbishop Ryan retired in 1991 the Most Reverend Joseph T. Dimino, who had been an auxiliary bishop, was appointed the second ordinary for the Military Services. Archbishop Dimino retired in 1997 and was succeeded by the Most Reverend Edwin F. O’Brien, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. Archbishop O’Brien was installed as Archbishop of Baltimore on October 1, 2007.
On November 19, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland, as Archbishop of the Military Services. Archbishop Broglio was serving as Apostolic Nuncio to the Dominican Republic and Apostolic Delegate to Puerto Rico. Archbishop Broglio was formally installed as Archbishop for the Military Services on January 25, 2008, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
The Archdiocese serves as the sole endorser (certifier) of Roman Catholic chaplains to the United States government. A Roman Catholic priest cannot serve within the United States Military as a priest without the express permission of the Archdiocese. As of 2020, 204 Roman Catholic priests were endorsed by the Archdiocese for active-duty military service. These chaplains serve on loan from their diocese of incardination or religious order/society and are released for a term of military service. Chaplains never become members of the Archdiocese; instead, they always remain subject to their home bishop/religious superiors. The only clergy incardinated into the AMS are its archbishop and auxiliary bishops.
Once a priest receives the endorsement and the subsequent faculties of the archdiocese, he becomes a commissioned military officer of the United States. A priest’s assignments are provided by the Office of the Chief of Chaplains of each respective branch of the U.S. military.
The Archdiocese is the sole endorser of chaplains for the Veterans Administration hospitals. In 2008, 242 priests were endorsed for service in the Veterans Administration. Approximately 1.8 million Catholic men and women are served by the Archdiocese. To meet the needs of the faithful, the Archdiocese has positions for four auxiliary bishops to assist the archbishop in his pastoral duties. Four of those positions are currently filled with former chaplains; Bishop F. Richard Spencer and Bishop Neal Buckon from the Army, Bishop William Muhm and Bishop Joseph Coffey from the Navy. The Archdiocese is currently headquartered in the northeast section of Washington, DC, at the Edwin Cardinal O’Brien Pastoral Center adjacent to The Catholic University of America.
Unlike a conventional diocese, the Archdiocese has no parishes or parish registries. Chapels are property of the United States government. Although the Archdiocese exercises jurisdiction over the religious education programs and the celebration of Catholic Liturgy, it maintains no legal jurisdiction over the physical property of the chapel. Because base/command chapels are United States government property, all records of sacraments performed on U.S. Military installations are maintained by the Archdiocese in its Office of Sacramental Records. This starkly contrasts with the model used in conventional parishes, where all sacraments are recorded in the parish registry. The Archdiocese currently maintains more than 2.5 million records of sacraments performed on military installations.
The Archdiocese receives no funding from the United States government. Rather, the Archdiocese is solely funded by the generosity of its chaplains, men and women in uniform and private benefactors.
AMS Coat of Arms
The coat of arms of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA is divided into three sections, one in red, one in silver or white, and one in blue – the traditional colors of the United States. In the uppermost portion, there is an American Bald Eagle holding in each claw the universal symbol of peace, a green olive branch. In the middle portion, there is a silver cross on the outline meridians of the earth. In the lowest, the red portion of these arms, are the gold and silver crossed keys of Saint Peter. The composition of the arms conveys the message and mission of the Archdiocese for the Military Services – to be Americans bearing peace; to proclaim Christ all over the world; and to carry out the mission of the Church to offer healing through the forgiveness of sins.