By Michelle Bauman
The archbishop who oversees American Catholic military chaplains worldwide claims the U.S. Army violated his rights by stifling a pastoral letter condemning the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio stands “firm in the belief, based on legal precedent,” that the Army defied his rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, according to a Feb. 3 statement from the military archdiocese.
U.S. Catholic military chaplains around the country were initially told to disobey their archbishop’s instruction to read a pastoral letter from the pulpit at all Sunday Masses on Jan. 28-29.
Although an agreement was eventually reached allowing the letter to be read, a key passage urging Catholics to avoid complying with the “unjust law” was removed.
On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new mandate that will soon require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortion.
The announcement sparked protest around the country, as Catholic leaders and religious organizations argued that they were being coerced to violate their religious beliefs.
Although a religious exemption to the mandate exists, it does not apply to organizations that are willing to serve or employ members of other faiths. As the mandate stands, most Catholic schools, hospitals and charity organizations would be excluded from the exemption.
More than 150 Catholic bishops across the country have spoken out against the directive, saying that it violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. Several have called for civil disobedience in response to the new regulation.
On Jan. 26, Archbishop Broglio joined many of his fellow bishops around the country in issuing a pastoral letter on the mandate to be read from the pulpit at all Sunday Masses throughout the following weekend.
The pastoral letter argued that the mandate violated the religious freedom protected in the U.S. Constitution and called on Catholics to resist it.
However, according to the archdiocese’s statement, the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out an e-mail instructing that the letter “not be read from the pulpit.”
The e-mail said that the letter could instead be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed at the back of the chapel, but that it had not been coordinated with the office and should not be read during Mass.
After a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, “it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading” of the letter.
However, the line, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law” was removed from the letter by the archbishop at the prompting of Secretary McHugh, who believed that it “could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.”
According to the archdiocese, Archbishop Broglio believes the move violated both his rights and “those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.”
The archdiocese did not give any indication that it intends to pursue legal action over the incident. It said that it “did not receive any objections to the reading of Archbishop Broglio’s statement from the other branches of service.”