Reversed: US Navy Continues Catholic Chaplain Contracts
Various outlets have reported the US Navy reversed the “controversial” decision (highlighted here yesterday) to cancel contracts for civilian Catholic chaplains, which was reportedly done either as a cost-savings or because it didn’t serve the proper demographic, depending on who you asked.
The religious services will continue for at least the next year, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander Navy Region Southwest, said in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday.
“Contrary to previous discussions, this year we will continue contracted religious ministry programs and services similar to what we’ve had in place previously,” Bolivar said. “We will also continue to assess how best to meet the needs of our sailors and their families throughout the region.”
The decision to axe the civilian chaplain contracts was criticized by Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Archdiocese that encompasses the military service.
The Navy’s actions had even caught the attention of their Commander-in-Chief, with President Trump tweeting about the reversal:
The United States Navy, or the Department of Defense, will NOT be cancelling its contract with Catholic Priests who serve our men and women in the Armed Forces so well, and with such great compassion & skill. This will no longer be even a point of discussion!
However, it appears the impetus for the reversal was actually the advocacy of a military religious freedom foundation: First Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, Mike Berry, had sent a letter (PDF) to the Secretary of Defense yesterday decrying the Navy’s actions. Less than 24-hours later, the decision had been reversed:
“Our Commander in Chief, President Trump, continues to stand up for our men and women in uniform when they need him most. We commend the Navy’s quick course correction. If we are to remain the greatest military on the planet, we must ensure that our service members have access to the spiritual support they need,” Berry said. “Religious freedom is crucial to maintaining a powerful, resilient military.”
As discussed previously, contract civilian chaplains is an imperfect solution to the growing problem of chaplain shortages in the US military. That said, First Liberty’s firm response — and the DoD’s admirably responsive reversal — demonstrated the dignity and value of military religious freedom.
The US military will never be perfect; no mammoth institution — government or otherwise — ever is. Hopefully, the rapid response and correction demonstrated by the DoD when notified by First Liberty will be an indicator of its continuing desire to provide the proper protection of military religious freedom — in all circumstances.