An archdiocese spanning the globe

Asked to name the most populous American dioceses, alert Catholics would likely name Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I rather doubt that most of us would rank Brooklyn (the country’s only completely urban diocese) as high on the league table as it in fact is, and I’m willing to wager that not 1 in 20 Catholics would put Rockville Centre and Orange (California) in the top 10. Then there is the real sleeper, which is the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA—a global jurisdiction whose congregants include Catholics serving in the armed forces and their family members; students at the service academies; all patients in Veterans Administration hospitals; and U.S. government personnel and their families serving abroad, such as members of the foreign service and those American Catholics working abroad in foreign aid programs. Add all that up, and the Archdiocese for the Military Services is the fifth-largest diocese in the United States.

It also faces unique challenges.

The first is geographic. While its administrative headquarters is in Washington, D.C., near the Catholic University of America, the AMS literally spans the globe, with responsibilities in every time-zone and on every continent (including Antarctica). That puts an enormous strain on Archbishop Timothy Broglio and his auxiliary bishops, who spend much of their on the road, visiting, celebrating the sacraments with, counseling, and otherwise encouraging their far-flung flock.

The AMS also has unique personnel challenges. It is the sole authority for recognizing Catholic chaplains in the armed forces and at VA hospitals; but its military chaplains are under the command of the chiefs-of-chaplains of their respective services. Its priests are drawn from all over the United States; but they must have the permission of the local bishop to serve, and they remain canonically a part of their home diocese. Thus the only clergy canonically incardinated in the AMS are the archbishop and his auxiliaries. Given the current shortage of priests in many dioceses, some bishops are reluctant to release priests for work in the AMS as military chaplains; thus Catholic billets in the chaplain corps are chronically under-filled, and Catholics on overseas deployments can go weeks, sometimes months, without having access to the sacraments.

Military chaplaincy also places unique demands on the priests who volunteer for service with the armed forces. The Capodanno Room at AMS’s headquarters in Washington bears poignant and powerful testimony to what the fulfillment of those demands can require. Father Vincent Robert Capodanno was a native of Staten Island and a Maryknoll missionary with years of service in China when he volunteered for the Navy chaplains corps during the Vietnam War and asked to serve with the Marines. On Sept. 4, 1967, Father Capodanno, despite having been severely wounded while tending to his troops, rushed to interpose his torn body between a wounded Marine medic and an enemy machine-gunner, and was killed instantly when dozens of bullets tore through his head, neck, and back. He was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest decoration for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the cause for his beatification has been recognized, such that Lieutenant Capodanno is now the Servant of God Vincent Capodanno.

Another unique challenge facing AMS is funding. The archdiocese is not a governmental body, nor is it a part of the armed forces. Rather, it’s a Church body that receives no federal funding for its work with federal employees. Thus AMS must rely on donations from individuals, parish, diocesan and military communities, bequests from wills, and grants from philanthropies. One might think that a national collection in support of such vital work—which is done on behalf of all U.S. Catholics—would be a good idea, but there are objections to increasing the number of national collections.

So let’s have an informal national collection: If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift, consider making a tax-deductible charitable donation to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, directing your check to the archdiocesan headquarters at P.O. Box 4469, Washington, DC 20017-0469. Your gift will be much appreciated, around the world.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”