April 27, 2007

Be Our Guest / Fr. Eric Albertson

Popes, Church support ministry of military chaplains to soldiers

This is in response to the April 13 letter in The Criterion concerning military chaplains.

Chaplains have blessed soldiers going into combat throughout our nation’s history and our faith history.

A reminder—our popes always support this ministry.

An important clarification is necessary: The Fifth Commandment prohibits murder—the unjustified taking of innocent life.

Killing is the justified taking of guilty life as when a police officer kills a criminal in the line of duty while protecting innocent civilians.

Soldiering is no different, especially in this conflict where the primary target of the insurgency is that of innocent civilians.

Our culture frequently uses the words interchangeably, contributing to the confusion (i.e., a “serial killer” should actually be called a “serial murderer”).

Part of the duty of a chaplain providing ministry in combat is to help soldiers with this distinction.

Killing is an unfortunate part of our human existence. Even the soldier or police officer would rather not have to do it. However, there are times when it is necessary, morally justifiable and considered a patriotic duty.

Our American military history confirms this as does our faith with our theology of the “Just War.”

Further, sacred Scripture revealed God as a “Warrior” after the Exodus victory at the Red Sea, stating that He was responsible for the killing of the Egyptians. “The Lord is a Warrior! Pharaoh’s chariots and army he has cast into the sea!” (Ex 15:3-4).

Absolute pacifism is an option for Catholics and it certainly should be held as a universal ideal, but it is wrong to impose it on everyone.

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek. Individually, we should do so but, in a fallen world where tyranny can surface, a nation has a responsibility and an obligation to defend itself from the enemy as does a society from the criminal element.

My first prayer with soldiers was always for peace. I would also pray that the enemy would surrender or have a change of heart and see the wrongness of terrorism. Next, I would pray for safe travel on dangerous roads and then I would pray that they would remain calm in battle and shoot true at the enemy.

Commanders and soldiers alike appreciated this, confidently believing it was necessary and helpful.

The only alternative would be to discriminate, and deny pastoral care to our brave young men and women in uniform who have volunteered to serve their nation—service that sometimes involves the difficult work of killing.

(Father Eric Albertson is a U.S. Army major and chaplain for Archdiocese of Military Services in Washington, D.C.)

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