Military’s Top Catholic Prelate: Navy’s Indoor Religious Services Ban ‘Odious’

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The leader of the Archdiocese for the Military Services compared the Navy’s banning sailors from attending religious services to the treatment of the Catholics in 17th century Japan depicted in the movie “Silence.”

“The persecution was systematic and destined to eradicate the faith from the islands,” wrote Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who has led the Catholic military chaplaincy and its programs since 2008, in a public letter posted Sunday.

“While the current situation in the US is certainly not one of persecution, the movie does invite the viewer to recognize values, determine how important they are, and decide what value merits a sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice,” the archbishop said.

“Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics,” he said. “It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

The archbishop said given the circumstances, he dispensed the obligation to attend Mass from Catholics burdened with the Navy policy.

“It seems tragic to offer these reflections on the Independence holiday when we honor the bravery of those who forged this Nation to ensure self-evident truths about the endowment by the creator of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

Broglio, who was consecrated a bishop by St. Pope John Paul II, said he became aware of the problem after a number of people reached out to him about the Navy’s June 24 COVID-19 order banning sailors from attending indoor religious services off-base – a policy that does allow sailors to attend mass protests and use mass transit.

In those orders, the Navy also strongly discouraged civilian Navy employees and Navy dependents from attending indoor religious services, he said.

“Upon receiving this information, I immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains’ office,” he said. “They have been unable to offer any relief from these provisions.”

Broglio: Chief of Naval Operations ignored my inquiry

When the archbishop reached out to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday, there was no response, he said. “My attempt to contact the Chief of Naval Operations has not even been acknowledged.”

Gilday, who served as military aide to President William J. Clinton, was raised in a Catholic family and graduated from Central Catholic High School in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts before entering Annapolis.

Broglio said the Navy went beyond verbal orders and put the prohibition in writing. “Service members are required to sign that they have received the Frag orders. Those who disobey will be held accountable.” Frag orders or Frago’s are military shorthand for fragmentary orders that are a new supplement to a more comprehensive standing order.

“The provision is particularly odious to Catholics, because frequently there is no longer a Catholic program on naval installations due to budgetary constraints or many installation chapels are still closed – even though many of them could well ensure appropriate social distancing,” he said.

The archbishop, who served is a canon lawyer and served as a Vatican diplomat before taking over the Military See, said the Navy was acting outside its authority.

“The Navy cannot legally prohibit family members from frequenting religious services off base,” he said. “Those family members return home where the military member lives.  What is the protective effect of the prohibition for the Navy personnel? Zero.”

Air Force officer seeks relief

The First Liberty Institute, the civil rights watchdog, wrote a June 29 letter to the Air Force liaison at the Navy school on behalf of Air Force Maj. Daniel Schultz, who attends the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, asking for an accommodation for his religious practices.

First Liberty Institute General Counsel Michael Berry, a Marine Veteran, said the Navy is countermanding an order from President Donald Trump, who declared religious practices essential.

“In open defiance of the commander in Chief, who recently declared churches as essential to America, the U.S. Navy has threatened to court-martial service members if they go to church,” said Berry.

Broglio made the same point in his open letter.

“I wonder why the Navy has decided to prohibit the faithful from something, which even the commander-in-chief has called an essential service,” the prelate said. “I want to assure the Navy Catholic faithful of my prayerful solidarity.”

The Star newspaper group reached out to Navy public affairs by email and phone requesting comment. The Navy did not respond by deadline.

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Neil W. McCabe is a Washington-based national political reporter for The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. In addition to The Star newspaper, he has covered the White House, Capitol Hill and national politics for One America News, Breitbart, Human Events and Townhall. Before coming to Washington, he was a staff reporter for Boston’s Catholic paper, The Pilot, and the editor of two Boston-area community papers, The Somerville News and The Alewife. McCabe is a public affairs NCO in the Army Reserve and he deployed for 15 months to Iraq as a combat historian.  
Photo “Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio” by The Archdiocese for the Military Services.

 

 

 

 

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