Catholic military chaplains are banned form performing funerals, counselling or weddings for gay people.
The Defense Department last week announced that couples in same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal would be recognised as legally married from 3 September, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), back in June. That meant they would be eligible for federal benefits previously only afforded to straight couples.
Last week also saw the first day on which military service members could apply for special leave of up to ten days to allow same-sex couples to travel to a US state where equal marriage is legal, in order to marry.
In a statement following the announcement by Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, he set out guidelines for Catholic military chaplains, which claimed that policies enacted by the Obama administration, including the strike-down of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the subsequent extension of benefits to same-sex military couples, had caused confusion about chaplains roles.
“A clear disservice is rendered if the truth of the Gospel is confused by the actions of those ordained to disseminate that truth,” Archbishop Broglio wrote.
The archbishop also claimed that Catholics who exercise command within the armed forces are now problematically required to implement programs that recognise same-sex unions. He said, however, that officers may carry out the policies, if they had voiced their opposition to equal marriage.
He wrote: “No Catholic priest or deacon may be forced by any authority to witness or bless the union of couples of the same gender. No Catholic priest or deacon can be obliged to assist at a ‘Strong Bonds’ or other ‘Marriage Retreat’, if that gathering is also open to couples of the same gender. A priest who is asked to counsel non-Catholic parties in a same-gendered relationship will direct them to a chaplain who is able to assist. Catholic parties will, of course, be encouraged by the priest to strive to live by the teaching of the Gospel.
“While the tradition of the Catholic Church always tries to find reasons to bury the dead, a priest may not be placed in a situation where his assistance at a funeral for a Catholic would give the impression that the Church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships….
“Obviously, anyone who is known to be in a sinful relationship is excluded from ministries in the Catholic community. While this list is not intended to cover every situation, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, catechists, and members of the Catholic Council immediately come to mind.”
Earlier this month it was announced that military chaplains from the Southern Baptist Convention will not be allowed to perform, attend or support the weddings of gay couples, even if they are held away from military installations.
The US Department of Defense issued a statement in response to the SBC’s guidance, saying it “respects, places a high value on, and supports by policy the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to have no religious beliefs. The department does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.”
The refusals of Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana states are unlikely to block same-sex couples from receiving the benefits, which will still be available through enrolling at federal installations, however are being seen as a preview of a bigger battle over benefits still to come.