Eugene McMullen has written an essay about chaplains in the military and Archbishop Timothy Broglio’s commentary about keeping “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” at Religion Dispatches. Like McMullen, I found Broglio’s comments nonsensical, even foolish, and offensive. But, McMullen’s essay has its own foolishness.
McMullen includes this sentence in his commentary: “Chaplains are engaged primarily in a non-sectarian work of care and counsel.”
It is true that military chaplains deal with those outside their own faith, but it is also true that Catholic chaplains provide something unique to Catholic members of the armed forces, specifically, the sacraments. The word “sectarian” invites images of the Thirty Years War, but if it is sectarian to provide the sacraments to our Catholic soldiers, then three cheers for sectarianism. Care and counsel are all well and good but a nice person or a smart shrink can bring those to the soldiers and sailors. Only a priest can bring the sacraments.