Military Chaplains Plumb Church-State Tar Pit

National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Military Chaplains Plumb Church-State Tar Pit


The U.S. military is in a sticky situation and a Catholic chaplain is to blame. Fr. Vincent Rigdon is an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel who serves at Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D. C.

In June, Rigdon was ordered not to urge military families to participate in the Catholic bishops' postcard campaign aimed at persuading Congress to override President Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban.

Military orders for all branches preclude chaplains from participating in, or urging others to participate in, acts to influence or solicit votes on legislative issues.

Rigdon chose an Americans defense: He sued (NCR, Oct. 4). Rigdon is joined in the suit by an Air Force rabbi, the Muslim Military Association and a Catholic officer from the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. Rigdon wants the order -- which he sees as an infringement of his Constitutional right of free exercise of religion -- rescinded.

He is, he has said, caught between serving two masters. He told NCR, "The supreme master is God." While Rigdon is currently pursuing his case within the system, "I've not violated or disobeyed any orders," he said. "If I ran into something I could not resolve legally, a very serious conflict, I'd have to resign. I have not yet run into that serious conflict."

The greater point here, he stresses, is that he was directed by his bishops, civilian and military, to preach on the "Project Life Postcard Campaign," and the Military Ordinariate -- the military archdiocese -- sent him samples of the postcard. …

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