Chaplain's Military Career Ends in Dispute
Archbishop Dismisses Priest Known for Victim Support in Abuse Crisis

By Arthur Jones
National Catholic Reporter
Downloaded April 29, 2004

Dominican Fr. Thomas P. Doyle, who has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. Catholic bishops' handling of the priest sex abuse crisis, was dismissed as a military chaplain by the Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services in September.

Doyle has made no public mention of the withdrawal of his "endorsement to serve," by Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien Sept. 17, but knowledge of the incident, as well as some papers pertaining to it are now circulating.

The Dominican was apparently given no hearing, just notification of the withdrawal, "effective immediately," according to a copy of O'Brien's letter obtained by NCR.

Though reluctant to be drawn out on the issue, Doyle agreed to answer the same set of questions NCR faxed to O'Brien and the military diocese.

The immediate issue precipitating the withdrawal was apparently two different interpretations - O'Brien's and Doyle's - of what Doyle wrote or intended in response to O'Brien's "Basic Expectations for the Pastoral Care of Our Military Personnel," particularly with regard to celebrating daily Mass.

The priest-short Catholic chaplaincy in Ramstein, Germany, where Doyle served at the time, covered three military bases. The non-Catholic wing chaplain and the director of community ministries asked Doyle to write a memorandum on the legal force of O'Brien's letter and its applicability to all three chapels, particularly at a time when it was expected only two priests might be present.

Doyle's private memo was sent by a Ramstein Catholic liturgical minister to O'Brien.

O'Brien, in withdrawing Doyle's "endorsement," said the "overall tone" of the memo "reflects your opinion that the Basic Expectations need not be taken seriously. I regret in particular that you chose to dismiss my expectations that priests are to serve daily Mass."

NCR: What is/was the accusation against you?

Doyle: My understanding of it is I believe the archbishop perceived that I did not agree with the concept of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life. And I do.

Was a venue offered in which to defend yourself?

No. I was informed by the provincial superior (Dominican Fr. Michael Mascari) of what had happened. I communicated through him, sent him a letter of explanation, which he communicated to the archbishop.

Since the withdrawal of "endorsement to serve" may be tantamount to a canonical penalty, do you think canonical procedures were followed?

I don't think so because the chaplaincy is a stable ecclesiastical office and the canonical procedures, as I understand it, indicate my provincial superior should have been involved. I know I'll never be reinstated with the chaplaincy - there's not enough time. What I'm concerned about is that whenever this happens to any priest in the future that proper procedures be followed and the individual be given the right to due process.

Was your superior invited to a hearing on this matter?

Not that I know of.

Did Archbishop O'Brien meet with you prior to withdrawing the "endorsement to serve?"

Neither before or after.

Were you given a hearing?


What is due process in the Archdiocese for Military Services? What are the rules?

I don't know.

Though Doyle was no longer serving as a Catholic chaplain in the Air Force, he continued to work in the military as a certified addiction counselor. In January of this year, the Bush administration ordered a reduction of personnel in the armed services. Chaplaincy manpower was not affected; Doyle's branch of work was. He was notified he would be terminated at the beginning of February. "I was caught by the fact I was no longer a chaplain," he told NCR.

With only 24 hours before his separation deadline, and anxious to preserve his military benefits by not leaving before August, Doyle said he was informed by a non-Catholic chaplain colleague that as a bureaucratic technicality an endorsement by any recognized religious chaplaincy would suffice until he left the Air Force in August, after completing 18 years' service in the military.

The Orthodox chaplaincy wrote such a letter.

Doyle said he "received endorsement from another denomination. This did not mean I had joined the denomination nor did I have to function as a chaplain. It was a technical move. The Air Force understood that it was a bureaucratic avenue, simply certifying that I was a chaplain, pending my August separation from the service. It was an unfortunate but necessary avenue to stay until August separation. I was assured there'd be nothing public about it. There was no face-to-face meeting with the denomination. No one knew about this, no scandal, no notoriety. The military archbishop found out about it and interpreted it as apostasy."

Doyle said he has since consulted with other canon lawyers who have said the letter does not lead to that conclusion.

"This was not an act of defiance against the military archbishop. Nor against the church," said Doyle. "I have challenged the institutional church many times in regard to the sexual abuse of children, as is well known. But defiance was not in my mind at all. I am saddened all this has leaked out," said Doyle, currently based in North Carolina.

He said he would be leaving his post long before August, due to accumulated terminal leave, and had hoped to depart the Air Force and chaplaincy service as quietly as he had entered.

"I have had an excellent military career as a chaplain," he said, "with commendations and citations. I have tried to be a good priest and chaplain. I'm saddened this misunderstanding is ending that career on this note. I do not have any hostile, angry or bitter feelings toward the archbishop or the military archdiocese."

Among Doyle's chaplain friends some are less sanguine about what actually triggered Doyle's ouster as a chaplain. The withdrawal of Doyle's endorsement to serve is regarded elsewhere as the long arm of those determined to punish Doyle for his outspokenness and leadership on the sexual abuse issue.

Msgr. Aloysius R. Callaghan, vicar general for the military services archdiocese, did not answer NCR's requests for information on due process procedures for Catholic chaplains under the archdiocese's rules, and said that "any communication between the Archdiocese for the Military Services and Fr. Doyle on personal matters is treated with all due respect for his right to privacy."

In 1985, Doyle, then a canonist serving in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, with Fr. Michael Petersen and civil attorney Ray Mouton sent the U.S. bishops an extensive report, with 100 pages of supportive evidence, documenting the extent of - and likely fallout from - the clerical pedophilia rampant in many Catholic dioceses.

In the past two years, Doyle has surfaced as a determined voice on behalf of the victims. He has been particularly critical of the bishops and their cover-up and sheltering of abusive priests.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2004


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