Military Faces Catholic Chaplain Shortage, and Surge

Chris Carroll at the Stars and Stripes notes the importance of Catholic chaplains to a large majority of the US military population — and yet the marked shortage of priests in the military as a whole.

Searching for bombs day in and day out, [US Army SPC Joe] Murphy needed the reassuring hand of his faith more than ever, but because of a worsening shortage of Catholic chaplains in Afghanistan and throughout the military, it had never been more difficult to practice it.

“The only time in Afghanistan I ever saw a priest was on large bases, and I wasn’t on large bases very often,” Murphy said. He estimated he attended Mass three times during his nine-month deployment in 2010 and 2011.

With a shortage of priests, some adherents may simply make do.  Local priests may help, if they’re available.

In war zones, the more abundant Protestant chaplains often shoulder the load, said Army [Chaplain] Capt. Joel Panzer…

Though some have insinuated ulterior motives to the Protestant chaplains, Chaplain Panzer never saw it.  In fact, he was impressed by the opposite:

Panzer said he doesn’t worry about proselytization of his Catholic troops; chaplains take seriously their obligation to help troops practice their own religions, regardless of creed.

“I’ve heard that a few years ago there were some Bible fundamentalists who were working a little too aggressively to pull people into their fold,” he said. “I have not witnessed that myself. They really amaze me with the concern they show … that Catholic soldiers have support in practicing their faith.”

A surge of volunteers has been experienced in Catholic seminary, however, portending a possible reversal in fortune in the shortage of Catholic chaplains.