On the U.S. military archdiocese, religious freedom & Bishop Joseph Estabrook

The spring 2012 edition of Salute, the magazinette from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A., has on its cover page Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the head of the unique archdiocese based in Washington, D.C., and three of his four auxiliaries -- Richard Higgins, Richard Spencer and Neal Buckon -- sitting in front of Pope Benedict XVI, as if called into the principal's office. In truth, these bishops were on their ad limina visit to the Vatican.

Paging through the document, there is a copy of Archbishop Broglio's letter to his "Brothers and Sisters in Christ," dated 26 January 2012, describing the "heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people [North Americans]." He was reacting to the Jan. 20 HHS announcement on contraception services. You know how the rest of the letter went.

On the opposite page was an "Update on AMS [Archdiocese for the Military Services] protecting Chaplains religious freedom," by John L. Schlageter, Esq., General Counsel Archdiocese for the Military Services.

In this essay, Schlageter states, "What should be of grave concern to all U.S. citizens is that, by way of a memo, a political appointed (not a ballot box, judge, or legislature), with a stroke of a pen, circumvented a duly enacted Federal Law."

What Schlageter is talking about is a September 2011 internal memorandum in which Clifford L. Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, informed his readers that in light of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," military chaplains may officiate at same-gender unions on military installations where not prohibited by local state law.

Schlageter points out that the "Defense of Marriage Act," (DOMA) which has not been repealed, says marriage is between a man and woman and is still good law. You can see where this is going.

Who shows up to the rescue? House Republican Catholic and tea party member Tim Heulskamp of Kansas, who introduced on Jan. 27, 2012, H.R. 3828, titled "The Military Religious Freedom Protection Act." According to Schlageter, the bill would do the following:

  • Protection of rights of conscience of military chaplains.

  • Ditto for military members

  • Military facilities or other property owned by the Department of Defense cannot be used to perform any ceremony contrary to DOMA's definition of marriage as a union of one man, one woman.

Schlageter then pleads for the readers' help by contacting Congress and Rep. Huelskamp, and he includes the congressman's web address.

While it is expected that AMS will go through the motions of "fighting" for so-called religious freedom for itself, what's troublesome is the official position of Archbishop Broglio & Co. to force other military personnel and ministers off of the real estate that the U.S. Department of Defense owns in order to have their same-sex relationships "solemnized." This reflects once again, in my personal view, that Catholics bishops and their lawyers want outcomes both ways.

On the one hand, they want religious freedom protections for their view of religion, but then they want the federal government to force out others with different views of faith and civil laws -- in this case, off of military installations because of the bishops' view of religious freedom. In this dynamic, the Catholic bishops and their lawyers are in fact creating hostile implications on others in civil society who don't share their view of the world. AMS should advocate for the protection of religious freedom for themselves and like-minded military personnel, but retreat from wanting to force others off of military installations.

You can read both Archbishop Broglio's HHS letter and Schlageter's letter here. The EWTN interview of Archbishop Broglio on the ad limina visit can be found here.

The moving words of Bishop Estabrook

On a more uplifting note, a dozen or so pages later, I was moved by an essay written by AMS Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Estabrook, who is suffering with pancreatic cancer. People who are facing serious illness and death often write with piercing clarity. Even more heartening is the fact that Estabrook found solace and uplift from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late archbishop of Chicago. Bernardin, if he were living today, would be a convincing, attractive and balanced voice in the culture wars that are being waged between the U.S. bishops and civil society.

To read Bishop Estabrook's essay on dying, click here.

Estabrook died Feb. 4, 2012. You can read his obituary here.

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