by MICHAEL OTTO
The Principal Defence Force Chaplain says New Zealand’s military is “desperately short of Catholic chaplains”, and more are needed.
Wellington-based Rev. Lance Lukin said there are no regular force Catholic chaplains, and there are only three Reserve Force chaplains.
Some of the pastoral care of defence force personnel is being met through Catholic parishes, though.
And there are some parish-based Catholic priests who act as “officiating chaplains” and can come onto bases when required.
But this is not ideal from the New Zealand Defence Force’s viewpoint.
“I can’t get enough Roman Catholic priests, which is the problem, because I desperately need more,” Rev. Lukin said.
Military ordinary (bishop) Archbishop John Dew said that with fewer and fewer priests, it is more and more difficult to “provide for all the chaplaincies we
have traditionally serviced”.
He said he often makes requests of his brother bishops for assistance, and they are always willing to help, but there just aren’t enough priests.
Increasingly, trained lay people and religious help priests in ministries like hospital, prison and ethnic chaplaincies, and this may be a path for supporting military chaplaincy, Archbishop Dew said.
But he noted that priests would still have to be relied on to administer the sacraments, which is “a significant and necessary part of the chaplaincy”.
Rev. Lukin said countries like Canada and Australia support Catholic military chaplaincy using trained lay people or deacons, and he would like to
see that here.
But NZ Catholic understands that the NZDF’s requirements about qualifications and length of pastoral service effectively mean only priests can be Catholic military chaplains here.
Archbishop Dew also noted that pastoral ministry to those connected with the military is “now mostly done through parishes in the areas around the country
where the military are based”.
“As well as making this ministry easier to maintain, it connects a parish community to a military base, which can be isolated from wider family and
community networks,” he said.
Information attained through the Official Information Act reveals that of the 11,065 regular and reserve force NZDF personnel on June 30 this year,
1284 (11.6 per cent) are Catholic.
Fr Richard Laurenson from Hamilton said military ordinaries past and present have tried to get priests for military chaplaincy.
But priests don’t “put their hands up” for this “for a number of reasons”, Fr Laurenson said. “One of which is that we are all busy.”
Fr Laurenson is the only Reserve Force Catholic chaplain in the North Island. He is also doing vicar general work in Hamilton diocese, as well as being Fairfield parish priest.
He also works as a canon lawyer on the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in New Zealand and has some responsibilities for RCIA.
He also has duties on Hamilton diocese’s Council of Priests and College of Consultors.
“My involvement [with the military] in the last few years has been pretty minor,” he said. “The reason I’m still in, frankly, is that there are no priests [in military chaplaincy] in the North Island, apart from me,” he added.
But if he gets called to officiate at a wedding or Baptism, he makes an effort to oblige, even if this means travelling to places like Devonport or Feilding.
Fr Laurenson said there is pastoral care being provided for defence force personnel through Catholic parishes, as Archbishop Dew noted.
Many bases are quite close to large New Zealand towns or cities, Fr Laurenson said.
A Catholic priest, Fr Julian Wagg of Masterton, serves on an advisory panel to Rev. Lukin. Fr Wagg is a former principal defence force chaplain.
A few years ago, one fulltime Catholic defence force chaplain, Fr Kevin Brophy, joined the Anglican Church.
by MICHAEL OTTO