Reports of a rift between the Obama Administration and the Roman Catholic Church over a "contraception mandate" have been swarming the media of late, with some saying the president was even "censoring" military chaplains from speaking out about the issue -- but a military source insists the whole affair is overblown.
The controversy surrounds a recent policy change by the Obama Administration that forces institutions affiliated with religious groups to provide coverage for birth control, sterilization and "abortifacients," all of which the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to. The church's official position is that the ruling is unconstitutional and infringes on religious rights.
Catholic pulpits across America have heard the church's firm response on the issue, but when Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services, emailed a letter to Catholic chaplains on Jan. 26 with instructions that it be read from the pulpit, an email from the Army's Office of the Chief of Chaplains was sent to them saying that the archbishop's letter was not coordinated with their office and was not to be shared with soldiers. Military officials may have felt the letter was too critical of the Obama administration and would lead to division among troops, according to observers.
The full letter that was deemed too provoking to read from the pulpits was obtained by the Business Insider and published on its website.
A portion of the letter reads:
"We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights."
It continued: "In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less."
The Catholic Church has been quite firm in its opposition of the contraception policy. St. Michael's Society, a network of Catholic professionals and activists engaging to defend and promote faith in the public policy and political arena, has gathered over 13,000 signatures in a petition started by Cardinal-designate and N.Y. Archbishop Timothy Dolan against the policy.
But a number of media and political sources may have tried to sensationalize the story of the Army's refusal to allow Bishop's Broglio letter to be read to the military pulpits, a source told The Christian Post. In addition, the decision to block the letter may not have even come from the Obama administation, as some news reports assert.
"Obama Appointee Muzzled Army Chaplains," The Daily Caller headline read, while The Gateway Pundit wrote "Outrage!… Military Tells Chaplains What They Can and Can't Say About Obama Administration's Assault on Religion."
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic himself, also offered his views on the issue and criticized the Army's decision.
"The Army and the Obama administration said they couldn't even issue the letter to complain about the Obama administration's plan on this policy," Santorum said, according to Radio Fox News.
"This is the problem when government tells you they can give you things. They can take it away but even worse they can tell you how they are going to exercise this new right consistent with their values instead of the values guaranteed in the Constitution," the former Pennsylvania senator added.
There are suggestions, however, that the issue may have been overblown and accusations that the Army is censoring Catholic Chaplains may be greatly exaggerated.
"This was a decision made by the chief of chaplains, a Catholic priest, not an Obama appointee. Both the Army and archdiocese consider this situation blown way out of proportion," John Schlageter, General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, told The Christian Post.
"The issue was resolved by both parties within hours. The Army just released a statement that the archdiocese agrees to a good recounting of the facts. Otherwise, this matter is closed," he added.
The National Review Online shared a copy of the Army's official response on the matter in a statement:
"The Army asked that the letter not be read from the pulpit. Instead, the letter would have been referenced in announcements and made available in the back of the chapel for the faithful, if they wished, as they departed after the Mass. The Army greatly appreciates the Archbishop's consideration of the military's perspective and is satisfied with the resolution upon which they agreed."
However, Daniel J. Sparks, a former Army chaplain with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, says the Army's decision was an "immoral, unnecessary, and unjust interference in the religious expression of Catholics."
"This action is offensive to all Christians -- and should be considered offensive to any religious member of the military when considering that it is an infringement on the free exercise of religion for service members," he added.
Sparks said that he has read Archbishop Broglio's letter, and finds nothing in it that is seditious or that undermines the chain of command. He also shared his suspicion that the current Army Chief of Chaplains, who is a Roman Catholic, may have had undue influence placed on him in this matter that resulted in his statement forbidding Catholic chaplains from reading this letter during their services.
"It seems apparent that the Secretary of the Army pressured the Chaplain Corps to yield to the Obama administration's desires," Sparks continued.
"By inserting himself in this matter, the Secretary of the Army appears to be serving as a surrogate for the president by stifling conscientious religious dissent from his actions in this matter. Perhaps the president and the Secretary have forgotten that religious freedom is an inalienable right given by God himself and that no president, Congress, or other government body has any authority to infringe on that right."
"The current administration needs to limit its actions to that which is within its legal authority. It must stop using the military for sociological experimentation and quit pressuring Americans to forsake their religious freedom for the President's political expediency," the former chaplain urged.