The Pentagon recently released its much anticipated study on the possible repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The law requires gay US soldiers to keep their sexual orientation a secret or face discharge from the military. Among those surveyed were military chaplains, representing a wide array of faiths and denominations.
CNN and the Washington Post note that chaplains offered some of the sharpest opinions on both sides of the debate. These opinions are offered in the shadow of the military's assertion that a change in the law will have little to no effect in the ways it handles the chaplaincy.
The Washington Post:
The Rev. Dennis Camp, a retired Army colonel, said it pained him when gay soldiers came to him to complain of the burden they felt from keeping their sexuality a secret. They could not display pictures of their loved ones or talk freely about their personal lives, he recalled. But he could not encourage them to be honest about their orientation, he said.
"They were forced by the situation, the system, to be dishonest, and that took its toll on them. And me," said Camp, a United Methodist minister who retired in 1996 after 27 years of service. "It was horrible. Right from the beginning, I was saying, 'This is bad. This is wrong. It really has no place in our military community.'"
To other ministers, however, lifting the policy would in effect condone a lifestyle that their faith considers sinful. Among the most high-profile opponents to the change has been the Catholic Church. About 20 percent of the military is Catholic. In July, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services compared the policy to Alcoholics Anonymous.
"Like homosexuality, there is rarely a cure," he said in a statement. "There is a control through a process, which is guarded by absolute secrecy."
CNN interviews two retired chaplains, one in favor of repeal and one who desires the law remain intact. The chaplain who opposes repeal says that religious liberty would be threatened if homosexuality were "normalized" in the military, as some chaplains would no longer be able to espouse their views that claim homosexuality is immoral. Yet the current situation, say many top military leaders, including Adm. Mike Mullen, cuts directly at the integrity of individual service members and at the military as a whole.
The report allays fears that gays serving openly in the military would pose a threat to national security, with 70% of soldiers claiming they foresee no harm if gays were to serve openly. Repeal of the law is endorsed by the Commander in Chief, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and scores of retired generals and military leaders.
Given the diversity of the chaplaincy corps, that there is strong divergence in opinion among military chaplains is not surprising. What is remarkable is the strong words and statements against repeal offered by some chaplains, including those speaking for the Catholic Church. How does the military balance the religious liberty of chaplains and the individual liberty of gay service members? If a primary role of a chaplain is to provide pastoral care, how will these comments affect those seeking care? If the law is repealed, is there a cohort of chaplains who, by virtue of their comments, will be unable to provide effective care to openly gay soldiers? What role should chaplains have in setting law for the military?