Why am I am hermit with so much sacramental need in the world?  For one, bishops do not want a priest who will exclusively do the old sacraments.  Just a couple years ago, I (quite accidentally) ended up having a quick espresso with the Archbishop of Military Services.  I knew I would never see him again, so I gave him an offer that had been mulling around in my heart for a long time:  I told him that I would go anywhere in the world he sends me—even to the front lines—as a priest and paramedic to serve US troops.  I said I was in good standing, but I only did the old sacraments.  He smiled, sipped his espresso, and said “You gotta do both Masses.”  My heart sank.  Now, the easy rebuttal against me wanting to serve our troops with would be:  Well, if you want to do serve the troops so badly, why don’t you do the new Mass too?  But my easy rebuttal right back would be:  The Archbishop of Military services will answer to God himself for every soul on the battlefield, so he should take any priest of any rite (even one standing on his head and spitting wooden-nickels in his off-time) if his mission of military families is that important.  

Yes, the bishop is going to answer to God for those soldiers’ souls, not me.  So he should probably take any priest bringing last rights on the front lines—short of a criminal or heretic.

The current situation in Afghanistan got me thinking about blogging about this event, even though I had probably buried that in the annals of my brain of being just another trad-rejection.  But this is important in the current political situation in the world.  As you will see in the article linked below, there are about 200 Catholic priests serving about 1 million family members of Catholic servicemen.  Yes, you read that correctly:  200 priests for a million US Catholics around the world serving in the military or being part of their immediate families.  The above incident of me offering myself as a priest and a paramedic to the Archbishop of Military Services happened two years ago in private.

But two years before that, my friend, the Army Sgt. Major Johnny Proctor had offered several of us traditional priests to the same Archbishop of Military Services in a formal letter, asking him to let us serve US troops across the globe.  Yes, he admitted in the letter that we would be using exclusively the old sacraments, but we were indeed available to the Archbishop.  When the Archbishop of Military Services refused all of us priests (via Sgt. Major Proctor) he ostensibly declared that no priests were better than traditional priests on the battlefield, on the ships, on the bases. The Liturgy Guy blogged about this about four years ago.  And it went public.  And it went big.  Up until now, I have never revealed myself as one of the several traditional priests offered to the Military in the Liturgy Guy article, but with the current situation in the US Military in Afghanistan, it’s worth again reminding the Armed Forces world and the traditional world reading my blog what events transpired four years ago that revealed that liturgy politics were to be placed above the eternal souls of our US soldiers:

Archdiocese of Military:  Better to Have No Priests than Traditional Ones—The Liturgy Guy

p/c Amy Proctor

For the past two years the Fort Hood Traditional Latin Mass community has celebrated All Souls Day with an outdoor Mass offered on the hood of a Korean era Army Jeep. While the Mass is offered for the souls of all the faithful departed, it is especially for soldiers who fell in battle, including Father Emil J. Kapaun, chaplain for the 8th Calvary during the Korean War. Fr. Kapaun was famously photographed offering the Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the war, shortly before his capture and eventual death, at the hands of the North Koreans.

Fort Hood’s Latin Mass Community, established in 2015 and comprised of approximately 120 faithful, has been averaging upwards of 45-55 weekly attendees at their Sunday Latin Mass. They have also been profiled on EWTN’s Extraordinary Faithseries, in an episode scheduled for broadcast later this year. Unfortunately, all of that may soon be coming to an end.

Like many other service men and women in the Archdiocese for the Military Services, the Traditional Latin Mass community at Fort Hood might become victims to the ongoing vocations crisis. With their current chaplain set to retire from active military duty this summer, they are likely to find themselves without a priest capable of offering the Traditional Mass.

One of the founding members of the Fort Hood Traditional Latin Mass Community, Sergeant Major Johnny Proctor, US Army, III Armored Corps Chaplain Sargeant Major, reached out to Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services for help. More importantly, SGM Proctor wrote the archbishop offering a potential solution to the crisis: invite more traditional priests to consider joining the military as chaplains.

That the military is suffering a priest shortage is undisputed. Archbishop Broglio has said the need for Catholic chaplains is “desperate”, noting that an already bad situation is about to get worse.

In 2015, the same year that Fort Hood began offering their Latin Mass, Archbishop Broglio appealed to his brother bishops at the annual gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore:

Approximately one fourth of the active-duty personnel and their immediate families are Catholics…At present, those Catholics — totalling around a million people — are served by only 217 priests in a territory that covers the globe. They represent only 8 percent of all military chaplains…That suggests that others might easily cultivate Catholic young people seeking spiritual counsel…

Archbishop Broglio has also noted that as many as half of those priests may be retiring from active service in the next few years. In his remarks in Baltimore, he urged the bishops to release more priests to serve in the military, noting it was “imperative that every diocese give at least one priest to ensure that your faithful who defend our religious freedom do not have to sacrifice theirs.”

For Catholic men and women serving in the military the importance of the priest-chaplain cannot be overstated. They:

  • Offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
  • Hear Confessions
  • Provide spiritual guidance and formation
  • Visit and comfort the sick and wounded
  • Anoint the sick
  • Pray for the dead
  • Administer Last Rites

Of course, the need for all of the above is even greater to those service members deployed for combat, where death is a daily reality and availability to a priest-confessor the difference between salvation or damnation.

It is in this context that SGM Proctor reached out to Archbishop Broglio. In his letter, Proctor wrote:

We have…been visited by another seminarian from Houston who served eight years in the US Army Special Forces and has the…desire for Traditional formation and Army chaplaincy. We have a seminarian who will be ordained next month for the Priestly Society of St. Peter (FSSP)…His parents are regulars at our TLM. Typical of Traditional communities, we have many young men in attendance and also young couples with children. We have several altar boys who diligently practice the Latin responses and perform their liturgical actions with precision and reverence.

In his letter, SGM Proctor further highlighted for Archbishop Broglio a trend already well known to Latin Mass Catholics: traditional orders and societies are experiencing a boom in vocations as more of the young are drawn to the traditional Mass. He noted:

(A)ccording to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the average age of a Priest in the USA is 64. In the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), it is 37. The FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) have almost 500 priests with over a hundred in formation now. The Priestly Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) may soon be regularized by the Holy Father and granted a personal prelature. They have 600 priests and over 200 seminarians in formation now…Priest-chaplains for the future may be available from these traditional priestly societies if we actively recruit them and permit them to serve in their charism of exclusively using the 1962 liturgical books.

Archbishop Broglio wrote back to SGM Proctor and the Fort Hood Latin Mass community in a letter dated June 6 (interestingly enough the anniversary of D-Day). Considering the “desperate” situation currently facing U.S. military personnel due to the shortage of chaplains, the archbishop’s response is surprising.

In his letter (see above), Archbishop Broglio argues against the Military accepting priests as chaplains who only offer the traditional Mass, also called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Unfortunately, the reasoning employed is faulty. This isn’t to suggest malice, rather it could simply reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the Roman Rite, both its history and its current definition following the release of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict in 2007.

In the letter the archbishop compares the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite to the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church. He argues that eastern rite priests have to be bi-ritual if they are military chaplains and must offer the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, suggesting the same holds true for priests offering the traditional Mass. He also states that the Divine Liturgy is much older than the “liturgy established by the Council of Trent.”

First, regarding the suggestion that Extraordinary Form is a different rite. In his letter to the bishops which accompanied the release of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict wrote:

It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

In other words, a Catholic priest of the Latin Church offering the Roman Rite does so, regardless of whether the Mass said uses the 1962 Missal (the Extraordinary Form), or the 1970 Missal (the Ordinary Form). Using an analogy to bi-ritual priests of eastern churches is simply incorrect.

Secondly, it is historically inaccurate to suggest that the Council of Trent established the Traditional Roman Rite in 1570. Pope St. Pius V simply codified the existing Roman Rite for the entire Latin Church, only excepting those venerable rites which were more than 200 years old at the time (such as the Ambrosian Rite).

It is much more accurate to state that the Traditional Latin Mass is the form of Roman Catholic worship used in the Latin Rite since the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (d. 604 AD). While there was ongoing organic development from the 6th century until the time of Trent, the Mass itself, from the Canon to many of the Offertory prayers to the liturgical use of Latin and Chant, were all there.

Archbishop Broglio, referencing St. Paul’s admonition to be “all things to all” contends that the “legitimate liturgical expectations of all Catholics” would not be fulfilled if a priest-chaplain was unable to offer the Ordinary Form. Interestingly, the archbishop doesn’t see the irony in the reverse being the case now for those who desire the Extraordinary Form.

Regardless, this argument for the “liturgical expectations” of the faithful strikes me as being highly unusual and rather arbitrary. Considering the “desperate” situation now faced by Catholics in the Archdiocese for the Military Services, isn’t there also a “legitimate” expectation that a bishop will do all he can to simply make the sacraments available to his flock?

In his final paragraph Archbishop Broglio provides what he believes to be the solution: those traditional priests of the FSSP, or ICKSP, or even diocesan, who feel called to be military chaplains should petition their superiors for faculties to offer the Ordinary Form of the Mass and sacraments.

With all due respect to His Excellency, this suggested solution isn’t a solution at all.

The current crisis and priest shortage resides in the military, not the traditional orders. The traditional liturgy is attracting the young and experiencing growth, not the military services. The charism which attracts young priests to offer the liturgy according to the Extraordinary Form isn’t simply an option for their priesthood; it is part of their identity. Their formation. Their spirituality. If anything, one might wonder why the archbishop isn’t more interested in finding out why tradition attracts, instead of simply looking to restrict it, or rejecting it outright.

SGM Proctor summarized it best when he told me:

What we are left with from Archbishop Broglio’s letter is a stunning conclusion that under the auspices of pastoral efficiency and paternal concern, it is better to have no priest-chaplains than to have ones devoted exclusively to the Traditional liturgical books.

Unfortunately, this indeed appears to be the case.

The Catholic chaplain has been a fixture in the U.S. military for well over 150 years. In fact, since the end of the Civil War, only five chaplains have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic service. All five were Catholic priests. All five offered Mass in the traditional Roman Rite. The most recent recipient being none other than the previously mentioned Father Emil J. Kapaun.