Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Spirit of Militarism: Bishops' Support for Multiple Wars Underpins Collection for Military Archdiocese

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Spirit of Militarism: Bishops' Support for Multiple Wars Underpins Collection for Military Archdiocese

Article excerpt


At its November 2012 general assembly, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved by a majority vote "financial assistance to the Archdiocese for the Military Services in the form of a national collection to be taken up every three years proximate to Veteran's Day or a similar strategic date beginning in 2013." The vote was 123 yes, 42 no, with eight abstaining.

This collection is supposed to be taken up at the weekend liturgies Nov. 9 and 10. Our Sunday Visitor sent materials on the military archdiocese to every parish in the country. There was a letter to pastors and suggested bulletin announcements for the week before, the week of and the week after the collection. In addition. 250 envelopes and 250 full-sheet bulletin inserts have gone to every parish whether the bishop of the diocese voted yes or no. At least a few dioceses have decided to hold the collection on a " different strategic date." The diocese of Albany, N.Y., is skipping the collection this year, but Bishop Howard Hubbard, who voted for the collection, is giving a donation from the diocese.

This extraordinary collection is one sign that the spirit of militarism and nationalism has spread apace in our church, at least among our bishops. The Archdiocese for the Military Services must consider it a major coup. The idea may have originated with George Weigel, who wrote about it in his Dec. 8. 2010. column "The Catholic Difference." Weigel was a charter signatory of the Project for the New American Century which anticipated the need for something like 9/11 that would serve as another Pearl Harbor and galvanize the country behind the neoconservative agenda. He has long understood how important Catholic support is for the multiple wars the project believed would have to be waged to maintain U.S. dominance in the world.

The military archdiocese would have wanted a weekend "proximate to Veteran's Day" in order to capitalize on "support the troops" sentiment, which has been an essential, mythical underpinning of U.S. war policies. The weekend was not chosen because Veteran's Day is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours on the Catholic calendar This one-time soldier, beloved bishop and, later, patron saint of soldiers is, rather, an embarrassment for the archdiocese because his conversion to Christianity at a young age coincided with his refusal of further military service: "I am a soldier of Christ; it is not lawful for me to fight."

The archdiocese, on the other hand, does everything it can to assure young soldiers that carrying out the works of war is what Jesus would want them to do. Catholic military chaplains do not burden tender consciences with questions about the grisly things they encounter in war. They fulfill the role of "force multiplier" that the Pentagon has for them. Many soldiers would not be able to continue being efficient warriors without the spiritual support of chaplains who counsel obedience to commanding officers. More than 1,000 Catholic soldiers have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, but the archdiocese does not know their names. It is not responsible for funerals that take place at the home parish.

Despite its growing influence in the bishops' conference, the very existence of the military archdiocese hangs by the thread of the possibility of the existence of a just war Amazingly, even when the bishops admitted the war with Iraq was unjust before the 2003 invasion, they did not cut that thread of just war. Most bishops quickly supported Catholic participation in the war to avoid even the appearance of being unpatriotic or not supportive of the troops.

Only one Catholic bishop who is an ordinary Bishop John Botean of the Romanian Catholic diocese of Canton, Ohio, can be given credit for teaching his people the moral consequences of participating in an unjust war. In a pastoral letter read from every Romanian Catholic pulpit in the country he wrote, "Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. …

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