Father and Sir

In your issue on “The Chaplain Controversy” (11/17), Deacon Tom Cornell and John J. McLain, S.J., agree that soldiers need priests. I agree too. I am a veteran of this current war, and was honorably discharged almost two years ago from the Navy as a conscientious objector. While on deployment, I had to battle with the moral dilemma in which I found myself. Fortunately, there were priests who were of some help. But as an enlisted soldier, I found it nearly impossible to talk with my chaplain as a representative of Christ and the church (“Father”) rather than as someone who had military authority over me (“Sir”). I suspect that there are scores of soldiers who will not come forward because they do not feel free to open up their consciences to someone who is of equal rank to their commanding officer.

Assuming the necessity of working within the existing chaplaincy, I suggest a new ministry in which non-chaplain priests and counselors are also made available to our military personnel. Soldiers, especially those who are struggling with participation in war and other issues like suicide, should have equal access to counselors who are unimpeded by their actual or perceived threat of military allegiance or rank. This means that civilian counselors and priests should be allowed the same availability to the troops without having to pledge allegiance to the military hierarchy. In this way, we might move toward a future when “Father” will no longer be compromised by “Sir.”

Daniel Baker

Catholic Peace Fellowship

South Bend, Ind.

From the Trenches

I appreciated the varied views and insightful observations in your recent articles on military chaplaincy in the issue of Nov. 17. As a soldier currently deployed in Iraq, I can relate to the concerns about the true role of a chaplain. Is it to serve the soldiers and others in need, or is it to help the military accomplish the mission? As a military physician, I deal with this same question every day. The oath I took upon becoming a physician often conflicts with the Army medical motto, “Preserve the Fighting Strength.”

Eric Schneider, D.O.

Baghdad, Iraq

Ministry and Credibility

I read with interest Deacon Tom Cornell’s article on military chaplaincy (“The Chaplain’s Dilemma,” 11/17). I think that soldiers are better served by ministers who are not affiliated with the military, but I do not agree that the chaplaincy should be outside the military organization. A chaplain is part of a unit, trains with that unit and goes to the field with that unit. A chaplain serves both as a staff officer, advising the commander pertaining to religious issues, and as a spiritual leader, serving the soldiers and families of military personnel.

Only a unit chaplain who faces the same challenges and sacrifices as his or her unit can provide word and sacrament while also retaining credibility with all ranks within that unit.

(Rev.) George Harris

Farmington, Conn.

On the One Hand…

The commentary on Senator Joseph Biden (Current Comment, 12/8) does all Catholic Democrats a huge favor by identifying Biden’s sense of how he must act as a national politician. We who believe in and try to follow a pro-life ethic are working to change the minds of those who are not in conformity with the church’s teaching, and we are all praying that our leaders coming into office might bring a true sense of renewal and belief in the dignity of human life in all its forms. Thank you for providing some fresh air on this matter.

Donald J. Ehrenreich

Williamsville, N.Y.

On the Other…

Re your analysis of Senator Joseph Biden’s faith commitment (Current Comment, 12/8): You have no idea how much damage you do to the real Catholic Church by your support of cafeteria Catholics like Joseph Biden. Please change your name to “America: The National Catholic Weakly.”

Jerry McFadden

Deptford, N.J.

No Easy Task

Thank you to Drew Christiansen, S.J., for his insightful analysis on the Middle East (Of Many Things, 12/1). I recently returned from a delegation of Catholic Relief Services diocesan partners to the West Bank, where we observed the work of C.R.S. and their local partners there. The situation is exceedingly complex, but there is much human suffering that people of good will on both sides feel compelled to alleviate. It does appear that more could be gained if the United States were to adopt a true “servant leadership” role, stepping back and facilitating rather than stepping in and dictating. Given its past propensities, this will be no easy task.

(Deacon) Joseph R. Symkowick

Sacramento, Calif.

A New Image

It would be wonderful if our political leaders would read the article by Drew Christiansen, S.J., on American foreign policy in the Middle East (Of Many Things, 12/1). Americans who have never lived in other countries cannot imagine the negative image people have of the United States still wanting to be the sole superpower in the world. I lived for 49 years in Brazil and can vouch for the persistence of that negative image.

Globalization demands our participation in working out all the world’s problems, but not as the one and only superpower. Let’s be more humble. We need to be a presence like a priest at a wedding: one among many equal witnesses.

Gerald Oberle, C.Ss.R.

Newark, N.J.

Revisiting History

Thank you for the interesting and insightful article on Pius XII and the Holocaust by Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J. (“A Pope in Wartime,” 12/15). With regard to the 1933 concordat between the Holy See and Nazi Germany, it might bear mentioning that concordats were not needed with countries that respected the rights of the church, but precisely with those that did not. It makes sense that Pope Pius would want a concordat with Germany, so that the church would have a basis for international protest of the expected Nazi violations of the church’s rights, which in fact occurred almost immediately.

J. Michael Parker

San Antonio, Tex.

Recently in Letters