Archbishop for the Military Services,Timothy Broglio is appealing for more priests for the Archdiocese of Military Services, saying that he soon may be “unable to provide Catholic priests for the military.”
Addressing his fellow bishops at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, Archbishop Timothy Broglio who heads the military archdiocese said that there is a tremendous scarcity of priests, that even though many diocese across the country are understaffed, military service members and their families should not be forgotten.
“Indeed I recognize that every archdiocese, diocese, and eparchy is understaffed and struggling to meet the legitimate needs of the people entrusted to your pastoral care,” he said Nov. 16.
“It is not easy to ask you to sacrifice a young, physically fit priest to care for that portion of your flock that is out-of-sight and under my care as long as they are active duty,” the archbishop said, “but the dire situation leaves me few other viable options.”
In recent years, there has been a substantial decline in the number of Catholic military chaplains. One of the biggest reasons has to do with the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62, which leads to many having to step down from the role, even though there is often no one new to fill it. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from over 400 priests to 228. So now there is only one priest for every 1,300 Catholics in the U.S. military.
While one fourth of military personnel and their families — roughly one million people — are Catholic, there are only 217 priests in the Military Archdiocese to serve them, he added.
This poses a serious problem not only in regards to providing access to the sacraments, but also leaving young service men and women and their families vulnerable to proselytization by other religions.
Next year, he continued, more than 11 priests will be retiring from the Army, or leaving due to medical reasons — a branch that was “heretofore stable.” Similarly the Navy, which provides chaplains for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard, has 48 priests, of whom 36 can be deployed. The Air Force also faces a drop from its current 56 priests.
“The numbers mean that it will be almost impossible to ensure that men and women even in deployed locations and on aircraft carriers will have access to a Catholic priest,” Archbishop Broglio stated.
“If the Armed Forces were ever to be completely without priests, most observers agree that they would soon be completely without chaplains of any kind,” he said.
He urged bishops to encourage their priests to consider serving in the Archdiocese of Military Services even though he’s heard that there’s a perception among young priests that bishops do just the opposite.
“Please encourage your priests to consider the possibility of serving in the military. You might talk to the recruiters who are in the corridor outside this room. So often seminarians and young priests tell recruiters and me that your vocation directors, personnel board members, and vicars general dissuade priests from approaching you about eventual service as a military chaplain,” he said.
“Perhaps, to counter that perception, you could invite a recruiter to address a gathering of priests to illustrate the benefits and the challenges of this ministry,” Archbishop Broglio added.
He also corrected the wrong impression people have that young priests make a lifelong commitment in the AMS .
“That is not the only option. You can send a priest for 3-5 years and then send another,” he said. “The AMS does want some long term commitments, because we need some priests in leadership roles with rank, but also can use many for shorter commitments.”
He reminded his fellow bishops of the benefit of sending a priest to the military archdiocese for 3-5 years, saying, “They return to you enriched and better able to serve your people in the diocese. I can also cite the example of many priests who have returned to their dioceses and taken assignments. They brought with them a wealth of experience and a new vision.”
He closed by thanking the many dioceses across the country that have given up a priest for military service, but asked that even more do the same.