Category Archives: Archdiocese of Military Services

Il nostro soldato (Our Soldier)

This article talks about the role of religions during the First World War in Italy. It devotes specific attention to Catholicism and the attitude to the war of the Catholic Church and the Holy See. Here is an excerpt about the “usefulness” of religion and military chaplains:

Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959)

Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959)

“In 1917, Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959), a Franciscan military chaplain, doctor and psychologist, published a book entitled Il nostro soldato (Our Soldier), in which he demonstrated (on the basis of personal observations and data collected from other military chaplains) that the religion of the soldiers at the front was not the expression of an authentic faith, but the result of psychological mechanisms that could be directed to reinforcing their strength and commitment in battle.”

I have not been able to located this book online, but from what I can glean from online sources, this lack of authentic faith was, to Gemelli, not a bad thing, necessarily! It could be exploited.

“Gemelli also had an apologetic objective: to show the army and the Italian state the importance of religion in the psychology of the soldier, in order to achieve victory, and in the “national education” of the Italian people after the war.

The Italian authorities, for their part, were well aware of the usefulness of religion to maintain soldiers’ morale, and optimize their commitment to the war effort. As early as 12 April 1915, before Italy’s entry into the war, one of Luigi Cadorna’s (1850-1928) circulars reintroduced the role of the military chaplain – gradually suppressed between 1865 and 1878 and partially readmitted to the health services in the war in Libya – by establishing the allocation of Catholic chaplains to each regiment….

According to official estimates, 24,446 clergy were mobilized during the war, of which 15,000 were soldiers and 2,400 military chaplains. The latter carried out many functions, ranging from giving spiritual comfort to education. The most strictly religious tasks were celebrating mass in the field, the functions for the repose of the dead, the administration of the sacraments (including general absolution and communion before the fighting), and preaching. The sermons intertwined explanations of the Gospel with reminders of the values of order, discipline, and patriotism. Except in the case of a minority of nationalist chaplains, the preaching was not usually aligned with war-time propaganda, but tried to mould behaviour in the listeners which would be not only patriotic, but also Christian. Therefore, there was an insistence on the necessity of faith and religious practice, the purity of morals and language, and a sense of duty and obedience. The performance of duties by the soldiers was not presented as a constraint imposed from above, but as a spontaneous adhesion, arising from love of the country, which was presented as a Christian virtue.

…The religion proposed by the Catholic chaplains was different from the religion “experienced” by the soldiers. This was expressed in devotional and superstitious practices whose objective was safety and personal salvation and a peace that did not depend upon victory. It resorted to materials from various sources, linked to the most ancient beliefs (such as stones, nails, human remains) and the landscape of war (copper crowns from grenades, bullets extracted from the wounds of comrades) or the Catholic tradition itself (scapulars, blessed laces, medals, alleged relics, rosaries, crucifixes, vials of holy water, medals, holy cards, prayers and votive offerings).

Hm. This Agonstino Gemelli is an interesting figure. According to this article: “Scholars tend to judge him solely in light of the Fascist regime and mark him as the archetypical clerical fascist.” He was known for his accommodations to the State. It seems Agostino Gemelli was also an outspoken critic of Saint Padre Pio, stating that Padre Pio was “an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people’s credulity” with his stigmata. Yikes! I have not seen any evidence that Gemelli has been considered for sainthood, though I do think the American government might be taking a few pages from his playbook when it comes to how religion can be “useful” to reinforcing commitment to war.

Chaplain Questions Militarism, Gets Fired

I wish I had heard even one homily like this on a Sunday in the last 14 years, just one. But I haven’t, which is part of the reason we started this site.

In February, Preacher Randy Beckum carefully and respectfully questioned Americans’ increasing love of militarism, in light of Christian truth. The majority of his sermon consists of quotes from Scripture. He is a soft spoken person. He is not being disrespectful to military personnel, nor is he really making any assertions. He is asking questions, simple questions, basic questions — that is all. He is trying to spur thought, trying to “start a conversation.”

That is too much. It was deemed offensive and disrespectful. He was fired. When the kinds of questions he is asking become too controversial for American Christians to tolerate, I think that is a sign that something is wrong, very wrong. Too many American Christians want certain topics to be considered “off limits,” as in “you can’t go there” or “it is wrong to question this.” Violence and war (and participation in war) is the number one topic that they want deemed “off limits.” It seems quite clear to me that they are afraid of the questions: If you ask the questions, they might lead you to the “wrong” conclusions.

But it is never “wrong” to question anything! Inherent in the Christian faith is an ongoing attitude of self-criticism, self-critique. This applies to both our own souls and our country at large. Our religious leaders garner much praise, love and support when they unite us as Christians (and Americans) by demonizing and vilifying the  “other,” whether that “other” be Muslims, liberals, secularists, terrorists, Obama, etc. We feel edified and strengthened through opposition, enmity. But when they urge us to look at ourselves, and within ourselves, we no longer feel united in self-righteousness and mutual admiration and self-congratulatory celebration for our collective awesomeness: We feel disharmony, disagreement, self-doubt, and maybe even if we let ourselves “go there”…shame? guilt? And how can a country stay strong and united if our leaders make us question our own awesomeness? We kill the messenger and feel safer. With that scary voice silenced, we can once again relax, comfortable and settled with our self-justifications.

Sermons like this in civilian life are rare. They are dangerous for the one who delivers them. So, can you imagine a military chaplain giving a sermon like this? All of the pressures that already exist for our religious leaders — pressures to be popular, to be PC, to be accepted and loved by everyone — all of those pressures are only increased exponentially in the even more militaristic culture of the military.

This story apparently became popular over on Reddit, where it made the front page by attracting readers’ attention and receiving over 500 comments. I would like to know what became of this story and whether the Chaplain got his job back, but a quick Google News search shows only exactly one search result: the original story. Apparently, no mainstream media outlets, local or national, have found this story worthy of reporting?

The New Good Samaritan

The following is an excerpt from a Commencement address given in May 2014 at Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college in California, by Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, a former Catholic military chaplain and the former Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the US Military for ten years before being named a Cardinal.

Is it really okay, if you can’t find a story from the New Testament to support what you do, to just make one up?

One of my greatest challenges and responsibilities was persuading 19-year-old Catholics, who instinctively feel that there is some conflict between the Catholic faith and bearing arms, that they need not feel that way. I use the example of the Good Samaritan. The story is of a fellow who is beaten half to death, left dying. Two pass by, and they are big shots in the religious organizations of the time, and the third is a stranger, a Samaritan, who stops and pours oil on and bandages the wounded man. We all know the story well. Well, I say, ‘What would have happened a half hour before, if that Samaritan saw that this man was being pummeled half to death’? Would he have a right to step back and say, ‘I will become a Samaritan about a half hour after this is over,’ or would he not have a right and obligation to step in and do what he had to do—and only what had to be done—to bring about justice there? That is what the military is.

Military service is a Christian vocation, if only our people were conscious of the potential to adopt it as a Christian vocation. That is the role of the Church, to remind them that there need be no conflict, and that the Church considers—and always has considered—military service to be a lofty call: an act of love. Christ defined Himself as one who came to serve and not to be served. ‘No greater love than this, to give one’s life for a friend.’ Our kids are giving their lives for perfect strangers. Peace I leave you.”

The Good News is now newer! Improved, with better stories more relevant for our times, like The New Good Samaritan. Brought to you by the Archdiocese of Military Services. Coming soon to a Catholic bookstore near you.

The Good News is now newer, improved, with better stories that are more relevant for our times, stories like The New Good Samaritan. Brought to you by the Archdiocese of Military Services. Coming soon to a Catholic bookstore near you!

Pat Tillman Anti-War?

Worth Fighting For? by David Swanson is a great article about a book by a former soldier, Rory Fanning, who walked across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation after leaving the Army Rangers as a Conscientious Objector. There is reason to think Pat Tillman turned against the war and had planned on using his fame as a platform to speak out against it upon his return, and so naturally there is reason to suspect that his death was not an accident. Of course, we can’t be surprised to hear this:

“Fanning recounts a conversation with a military chaplain.  Fanning made the case that the whole war was unjust.  The chaplain made the case that God wanted him to do it anyway. “

worth

Christians Killing Christians

Here is a great book review at The Christian Century on the book The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

Philip Jenkins builds upon this specialized historiography as it treats the Great War as a global religious conflict. His vividly written synthesis be­longs at the top of reading lists on the conflict.

Not only does Jenkins provide detailed accounts of interactions between religion and militarism, religion and combat, and religion and trauma on all sides of the war, he also demonstrates that the world torn apart by the Great War was a world of many shared religious concerns and vocabularies, a world that needed the extreme fission that religion accomplishes in order to launch and sustain such a brutal conflict.

Hmmmm…

atheistmilitarychaplainatheist 2

These cartoons seem to be making fun of atheists. “What a ridiculous idea!” they seem to be saying. “The idea of atheist or humanist chaplains!” But what is ridiculous about it? I suppose it is seen as ridiculous because, realistically speaking, the main job of the military chaplain is to provide emotional comfort and spiritual reassurance to the troops. Spiritual reassurance is very different from spiritual guidance. Oftentimes spiritual truth is not very comforting at all. As Flannery O’Connor said, the truth does not change depending on our ability to stomach it, or something like that.

If Christian military chaplains were really doing their job of providing spiritual guidance as revealed in Jesus Christ, then atheist and humanist chaplains would actually have a much more comforting message than Christian chaplains.

“If you die, you might go to heaven…but you might go to hell.” — Christian chaplain

“There’s no heaven, but on the other hand, there’s no hell either, so don’t worry about it.” — atheist chaplain

I would take a void of nothingness over hell any day. The only way atheist chaplains can be seen as funny and ridiculous is if Christian chaplains are always implicitly or explicitly conveying a message that what the troops are doing has no chance of sending them to hell, or even going so far as to imply that it will be their ticket to heaven. Only if that’s the case (and we all know it is) can the idea of an atheist chaplain seem funny. Only in comparison to this false comfort can the atheist’s message seem ridiculous or depressing.

job is done

Cliches

Those who demand unconditional support for the troops often speak in clichés. This satirical “Open Letter to a Soldier to Those Who Criticize the Troops” nails almost every one.

untitled (2)

Church bulletin on Veterans Day, 2013, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Athens, GA. "Thank you for serving our country & protecting our freedoms."

Church bulletin on Veterans Day, 2013, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Athens, GA. “Thank you for serving our country & protecting our freedoms.”

Final Note on AMS Collection

For the last few days we’ve had a chance to peruse the comments threads on various websites where people are chiming in about CAM’s initiative, described in a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter.  There’s been some confusion about why we encouraged Catholics to put statements of protest in the collection basket. Critics accused us of “attacking” the military chaplaincy and trying to “deny” sacraments and pastoral care to Catholics in the military. Neither of these charges is true.

1)  To reiterate: The collection was accompanied by militaristic sermons and appeals in Catholic churches across the United States, with priests and laypeople honoring the military for keeping us “free” and “safe.” Behind the campaign’s message lies an assumption that America’s wars are good and necessary to keep us free and safe, a comforting myth but a debatable assumption. This campaign shamelessly capitalized on and took advantage of one of America’s greatest sins: idolatrous nationalism. In its imagery and advertising, slogans and sentimental appeals, it discouraged serious reflection on America’s foreign policy, the moral gravity of war, and the appropriateness of Catholics serving in the military, especially in wars such as these. In short, militaristic propaganda has no place in the House of God.

2)      Let’s keep in mind this was the first ever collection for AMS. AMS managed to survive for almost 30 years without this collection. To say our efforts were an “attack” that posed an actual threat to AMS was a bit alarmist. Even if nobody gave a dime, AMS would still be in the exact same position they were in last year. They’d probably just throw a fundraiser, invite a bunch of beltway Catholic neocons with stock in the arms industry, play some golf, pray for the troops, smoke some cigars and cha-ching! Problem solved. Nothing in the public record suggests that Catholics in the military would lose access to the sacraments or pastoral care without this collection.

3)      Military personnel receive a salary, free health care, free food, free or subsidized housing, family pay, education benefits, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, a noncontributory retirement plan, tax-free and hazardous duty pay if deployed to a combat zone, and a lifetime of benefits if they get seriously injured in the line of duty. These people are professionals, not charity cases. The Archdiocese of the Military has to raise about $5.5 million in private donations annually; the U.S. military has about 360,000 Catholics on active-duty; that’s about $15-$20 per year per Catholic. They should be able to pay for their own Archdiocese.

4)      Furthermore, these funds pay for more than sacraments and pastoral care for men on the front lines of combat. Much of yesterday’s collection will be used to pay for the $1.8 million mortgage on the archdiocesan headquarters in Washington’s expensive Brookland neighborhood. There also seems to be a lot of money that goes toward AMS’s educational and formation materials, which is kind of scary. (What do their materials say? “Love your enemies,” with an asterisk and a footnote at the bottom: unless a government tells you to kill their enemies, but only if it’s the American government, because if another government tells you to kill their enemies, especially if their enemies are Americans, then killing is evil. Sheesh. We haven’t even gone there yet.)

5)      Reality check: Only 4 to 10 percent of military personnel are trained combat troops; the rest have normal jobs in logistics, training, administration, and so forth. If you join the military, you have a 0.02 percent chance of dying in combat. We have over 900 bases around the world! On AMS’s slick marketing poster, however, some soldiers in fatigues are, of course, attending Mass in a desert rather than in a quiet suburb of Munich. I suppose it’s more emotionally resonant that way. We wonder who their ad agency is.

One definition of militarism is “the tendency to subordinate all interests to those of the military.” We are in the worst economic times since the Great Depression. America has a record number of people out work, a health care crisis, and record amounts of consumer, household, and government debt. All kinds of Catholic organizations are desperate for funds. On top of the taxpayer-funded compensation, Americans donate tens of millions of dollars to veteran’s charities every year. Soldiers and veterans also benefit from special discounts at many stores, preferential hiring from some companies, and never-ending public displays of appreciation and gratitude from a supportive and sympathetic public. Since every Catholic has a limited amount of money to give to various groups and causes, the Archdiocese of the Military should be low on the priority list, especially for any Catholic who opposes America’s wars and militarism inside the Church.

If you want to help people negatively affected by war, we suggest making a donation to War Child International or some other organization that helps the innocent victims of war. Civilian casualties in Iraq outnumbered U.S. military casualties by at least 30-to-1. Unlike U.S. military personnel, these civilians lack access to top-notch medical care and never chose war as a career path. The U.S. government invaded Iraq under false pretenses, completely destroyed its infrastructure, and unleashed mass chaos that killed 600,000 people (including more than 1,000 Christians). Violence continues to rise Iraq, with 1,370 people killed in October, the most in any month since 2007. Perhaps Americans owe more to the innocent victims of America’s wars than the people who wage them. Another possibility is donating to the Christian community of Iraq, which has been decimated by the war.

This campaign was not about attacking or destroying the Archdiocese of the Military. We didn’t expect anyone to refuse to donate because of us. Our initiative was for the people who wouldn’t have given to the collection anyway, the people who have been sitting in the pews biting their tongues for the past ten years while their churches get turned into houses of military worship, not saying a peep about any of it because they didn’t want to cause scandal or offend somebody or seem insensitive, but feeling less and less, and less, at ease with it. At some point, you feel you have to do something, to speak out. It was for them.

We’re trying to start a dialogue about militarism in the Catholic Church. Protesting the collection was simply an opportunity to make our voices heard, to start a conversation that is long overdue, and to get people thinking. It’s very unlikely that our campaign negatively impacted yesterday’s collection. Some of our critics probably donated extra just to stick it to us. Military personnel will continue receiving the sacraments and pastoral care from military chaplains—and that’s a good thing…though we do have many questions about the kind and quality of “pastoral care” military personnel receive from the military chaplaincy. Somebody somewhere needs to look into that. Seriously.

Second Response to Fr. Z

Fr. Z had another diatribe on his blog on Saturday regarding the National Catholic Reporter’s article, “Military archdiocese collection muddies nonviolence message, detractors say.” Catholics Against Militarism was interviewed for the article.

He referred to us as Liberals and Leftists, writing: “Liberals are the experts at division.  This is a Leftist idea and tactic.” Again, he labeled our initiative as an “attack.”

Fr. Z, in case you venture over to our neck of the woods here, we must point out: We do not consider ourselves to be “Leftists.” Both of us are libertarian-leaning and agree with you on many theological issues. One of us is a regular follower of your blog, and not even in a “What’s this loon going to say next?” kind of way. One of us follows your blog out of general respect for your views and sincere interest in your commentary. (The other of us never heard of you until this weekend.)

Fr. Z has a very 1960s mentality. The Left/Right mentality no longer applies to people, at least not in our generation. You can’t simply attribute antiwar and noninterventionist sentiment to the Left anymore. Things have changed since Vietnam.

"diablo" means "division"

“diablo” means “division”

Also, classifying people as “Right” or “Left,” based on one opinion or idea, as a way to dismiss that opinion or idea, is an example of argumentum ad hominem (attacking the traits of an opponent as a means to invalidate their arguments). In our opinion, that kind of attack is responsible for far more division in the Catholic Church than what we’re doing! How can Catholics have any kind of dialogue about important issues, if Catholics are making snap judgments about other Catholics and engaging in abusive ad hominem?

We don’t want to be derided and dismissed as “Leftists,” “liberals,” “pacifists,” “traitors,” “isolationists,” “anti-American,” or “unpatriotic,” just as we believe Fr. Z and his readers do not want to be derided and dismissed by being labeled “fascists,” “neocons,” “chickenhawks,” “warmongers,” “Constantinian Christians,” “baby killers,” or “bloodthirsty heathen idolaters.”

As Christopher Dawson wrote in his famous “Essay on War”:

“There is no subject on which rational discussion is more difficult than war and peace. In time of war, of course, rational thought is practically suspended and passion becomes a virtue, as we saw during the last war (World War I, 1914-18). Then the remotest suggestion that there was anything to be said on the other side, or that the enemy was capable of the smallest degree of human behavior, was regarded as a kind of immoral madness. Nor is this unreasonableness confined to the war-mongers. In time of peace, at any rate, the pacifist is often passionate and more irrational than the militarist, and it is usually easier to carry on rational discussion with a staff officer than with a professional pacifist. Moreover, the pacifists are far from agreed among themselves, and it is useless to argue about pacifism in the abstract when we are ignorant of the particular school of pacifism to which our opponent happens to belong.”

Believe it or not, we happen to be much more interested in dialogue and rational discussion than creating controversy and inciting comments threads wars on the Internet. To this end, we think that doing a series of podcasts with people who both do and do not agree with us might be a better way of fostering dialogue and minimizing divisiveness than almost anything else. To that end, Fr. Z, we would like to invite you to be a guest. We see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we disagree on just enough to make it interesting. If you read this and if you’re interested, let us know.

Here is our first response to Fr. Z.

NCR: Asking the right questions

The National Catholic Reporter ran an editorial today called “Questioning our assent to militarism.” In it they write: “No one is suggesting that Catholics anywhere should go without spiritual guidance and support.” Exactly.

The question is: What kind of spiritual guidance and support are soldiers receiving from Catholic military chaplains? Chaplains are essentially federal government workers…might furloughthat not compromise them a little? We saw recently how the the furlough situation presented Catholic chaplains with challenges, in terms of their allegiances and autonomy, due to their being ultimately agents of the state. So it’s not out of line to suggest that they might be compromised in other ways, too, as a result of this. It would be silly to think that Church and State rarely, if ever, have conflicts of interest, and I think we saw during the furlough who is really in charge here (not the Catholic Church). If the government can prevent chaplains from saying Mass, the government can probably prevent them, or “strongly discourage them,” from saying or doing other things that the government doesn’t want them to say or do because of those conflicts of interest.

Just one example: When we called AMS to ask them how many Catholics had become Conscientious Objectors since 2002, they said they didn’t know. When we asked them what the process is to become one, they said they didn’t know, weren’t involved in that process, and advised us to go ask a military recruiter. Daniel Baker also said that, “No one knew about it on base, neither did the chaplains, because when I went to talk to one chaplain, he just talked about the Just War theory.” That seems to be a huge gap in the pastoral counseling provided, especially in wars such as these, does it not?

The NCR article goes on to state: “One of the more tragic elements in [Joshua] Casteels journey from warrior to pacifist was his failure to find a Catholic chaplain with whom he could discuss his growing reluctance to participate in war. He said he found commanding officers more sympathetic to his point of view and more willing to smooth the way to conscientious objector status than he encountered in any of the priests he consulted.”

I know that if I worked for Apple, I wouldn’t go around my workplace criticizing Apple. Everyone who has ever had a job knows that you have to be a “team player.” Maybe that’s why AMS is recruiting, more and more, from within the military. After ten years of this “war” on “terror,” it’s probably getting harder and harder to recruit from the outside. Maybe they have better luck with people who have already been drinking the Kool-Aid for a while. Maybe at some point you stop seeing any conflicts of interest at all.

Editorial: Questioning our assent to militarism | National Catholic Reporter