NSS queries MoD spending on religious chaplaincy

A Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by the National Secular Society has revealed the Armed Forces spend £22 million annually on Christian chaplains. 280 chaplains are employed by the MoD across all three services.

“A significant part of a chaplain‘s role is to provide pastoral support – but to all service personnel, not just the religious. It is therefore important to question the Christian monopoly in this area. “

– Stephen Evans, National Secular Society

The FOI revealed that a quarter of all army chaplains are either on medically limited deployability (18%), or are medically non-deployable (7%). Just 20 out of the 150 army chaplains are currently on active service. As a rule, only 30% of chaplains are preparing for, on, or recovering from military operations at any one time.

All chaplains employed by the MoD are commissioned officers. The starting salary for a military chaplain is £37,172 on appointment, rising to £55,857 after 15 years’ service, but senior chaplains receive more.

The NSS has written to defence minister Andrew Robathan to question the spending, asking that either churches assume funding of their chaplains themselves, or that the MoD converts the role of chaplains into a secular “pastoral care” service, for which anybody can apply.

A MoD spokesman has said the spending of £22m a year on military chaplaincy is “currently being assessed”.

The MoD employs and funds chaplains, but their authority comes from their Sending church. At present, the permitted Sending churches are Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist/URC/Congregational, Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, Elim and Assemblies of God.

The armed forces also retain five civilian chaplains to care for Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Muslim recruits. There have been calls for the establishment of Humanist chaplains, who would offer support to those with no spiritual beliefs.

Stephen Evans, spokesperson for the National Secular Society said: “A significant part of a chaplain’s role is to provide pastoral support – but to all service personnel, not just the religious. It is therefore important to question the Christian monopoly in this area.

“If the MoD determine there is a place for pastoral support in the military in addition to counselling and psychotherapy services already offered, then those positions should be open to any professionals with the skills to provide necessary support, regardless of their religion or belief.

“If religious groups want specific representation, then they should fund their own chaplains, and not expect salaries to be paid from the military budget, which is already under immense strain.”

In a recent letter to the National Secular Society, a serving soldier expressed concern about what he described as “wasteful” MoD spending on chaplains, and also about the homophobic attitudes of some of the churches approved to send their ministers into the forces.

A statement on homosexuality on the US Assemblies of God website states: “Clearly on every front whether it be moral, spiritual, physical, or psychological, the practice of homosexuality has proven itself devoid of any individual good or social benefit.”

A call by the NSS to theUKbranch of the church confirmed that this is a position they also hold.

Another Sending church, the Elim, made headlines when one of its followers, Iris Robinson, former MP and wife of Peter Robinson MLA, First Minister of Northern Ireland, compared the sexual abuse of children to homosexual relationships. Ms Robinson stated in Parliament: “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children.” When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Robinson reiterated her views and said she was following Scripture.

Stephen Evans commented: “The attitudes of some of the Sending churches hardly seem consistent with a service that describes itself as committed to equality and diversity. The appropriateness of any “moral leadership” such chaplains can offer the armed forces is highly questionable.”

In September this year, a government inquiry into the death of theBasra hotel receptionist Baha Mousa criticised Father Peter Madden, a Catholic chaplain who was attached to 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, for not reporting the abuse. Baha Mousa was beaten to death while in British custody inIraq in 2003. The inquiry accused Madden of giving inconsistent evidence and “lacking the courage” to report the “shocking and shameful” treatment of 10 Iraqi men, including Mousa. Madden is now a parish priest inWarwick.

Defence cuts announced last year will see Harrier jump jets, the Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal and planned Nimrod spy planes axed and 42,000 MoD and armed forces jobs cut by 2015. The RAF and Navy will lose 5,000 jobs each, the Army 7,000 and the Ministry of Defence 25,000 civilian staff.

Earlier this year, a defence select committee led by MP James Arbuthnot claimed cuts to the military budget could leave the British armed forces with no choice but to abandon operations beyond 2015.