AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
Real leadership is hard to come by, perhaps especially in religious circles. An old joke has it that a little boy was at a cathedral when a new bishop was being consecrated. When the man was laying prostrate on the floor in prayer, the boy asked his father, “What are they doing now?” The father answered, “This is where they remove his spine.”
One man whose spine seems to have survived is Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the United States Military Services, which provides Catholic ministry to America’s servicemen and women. He was recently elected by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to a three-year term as its new president. The squawking from the Catholic left was immediate since Broglio has been a stout opponent of abortion, defender of religious liberty and conscience rights, and a man generally willing to speak out on tough issues the cultural forces say that traditional Christians should shut up about. Broglio’s career and his appointment show us some important lessons about leadership.
Timothy Broglio was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1951 and attended St. Ignatius High there before going on to study classics at Boston College and then theology and canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. After ordination for the diocese of Cleveland, he spent two years working in parishes before heading back to Rome where he entered the Vatican Diplomatic core in 1983. In this work, Broglio learned a number of languages and served not only in Rome but in places as far-flung as Ivory Coast, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
In 2008 he was named to his current role as the archbishop of the Military Services. And it’s in that time that his reputation was made.
In 2010, in the midst of the legal battle concerning the ending of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, Broglio defended the policy publicly. He acknowledged that he was not an expert in Constitutional Law, but he foresaw the dangers in the shifting culture of the U. S. at a time when the Obama Administration had begun to refer to “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion,” with the implied understanding that Americans might pray the way they wanted to but were not free to teach their faith or operate their own organizations according to their religious views. Concerning DADT, he noted that the teachings on homosexual behavior were not peculiar to Catholics and warned of potential dangers for chaplains of many faiths. “There is,” he warned, “the danger that teaching objective moral precepts or seeking to form youngsters in the faith could be misconstrued as intolerance. Then indeed, freedom of religion would be compromised.”
Broglio saw those threats to religious freedom and he saw them in the last few years during the COVID crisis, even when many leaders in the Catholic Church were reluctant to see or act upon them. In 2020, he sought relief from a rule in some Naval commands forbidding sailors from attending religious services indoors when they were off base. While he did not advocate for disobedience of orders, he rightly saw that this command was “odious” to religious believers and asked plaintively, “Should those who swear to protect and defend the Constitution be obliged to surrender their First Amendment Rights?”
The same went for his defense of members of the military who sought conscience exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate. While Broglio had defended the morality of taking the COVID vaccines and even of a mandate for them, he also noted that those who were bothered by the use of stem-cell lines derived from aborted fetuses should be defended. And he forthrightly spoke out on the necessity for the military to accept such acts of conscience. “The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible.” As many observed, Broglio was just as comfortable arguing from the U. S. Constitution as from the Catholic position on the conscience.
Even on internal Catholic matters, Broglio has not been afraid of speaking the truth about controversial issues. In 2020, Broglio released a letter of clarification in the wake of a documentary that seemed to show Pope Francis approving of same-sex civil unions, leading some to think that Catholic teaching on marriage had changed or was changing. Broglio noted that the comments clipped had reference to certain particular political situations. While Catholic teaching on both the love and respect due to all persons made in the image of Christ, including those with same-sex attractions, was as always in place, so too was the permanent teaching on marriage and sexuality that ultimately comes from God. He tartly concluded the letter by noting that it is “useful to remember that the Church teaches through official documents with degrees of importance that vary. She does not issue official teachings in interviews, off-the-cuff remarks on airplanes, or even in merged statements in ‘documentaries.’”
While some left-wing Catholics pretended that such an explanation of Pope Francis’s words was somehow disrespectful, what Broglio was doing was what bishops (and indeed all believers) are required to do: correct false impressions of Christian morality. What most likely bothered the critics was that Broglio was not urging a change in Catholic moral teaching on sexuality. Given that the publications airing such grievances felt no compunction about not only explaining but denying any validity to the teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I think that’s a safe bet.
Broglio’s plainspokenness on such hot-button issues continues. Answering questions upon his election to the bishops conference presidency, he did not deny the connection of homosexuality to the priest scandals. “That’s certainly not to point a finger at anyone but I think it would be naïve to suggest that there’s no relationship between the two.” Given that the vast majority of the victims identified by the 2011 John Jay College of Criminal Justice study on the abuse crisis were post-pubescent males, this should be obvious. But it is politically incorrect even in many Catholic circles to bring it up and the authors of the John Jay study refuse to consider the possibility.
Broglio is a man who doesn’t hide behind others. He is also not afraid to do what he considers right even if other bishops are not following him. Some have accused him of being somehow disloyal to Pope Francis or of fomenting some sort of division in the Church because of his style. But there is no evidence for that either. In fact, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who has known Broglio for 25 years, spoke to his knowledge of and experience with Broglio as a man of unity and a loyal son of the Church: “I’ve served the past two years on a planning committee that Archbishop Broglio chaired and I was consistently impressed by both his collaborative style and his explicit commitment to integrating the priorities of Pope Francis into the life of the Church in the United States. His service in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, moreover, has assisted him in developing exceptional listening skills while giving him a first-hand experience of many of the issues that are at the heart of Pope Francis’ teaching.”
No doubt Timothy Broglio approaches many of Pope Francis’s characteristic themes from a different angle. That’s to be expected given the different situations and backgrounds of the men. Pope Francis has himself advocated a more open and listening Church; for critics to then accuse everyone who does not mimic the pontiff’s particular opinions, ways of doing things, or style as disloyal is to make nonsense out of these themes.
The National Catholic Register’s editorial on Archbishop Broglio’s election was much more perceptive than the narrow-minded clerical and journalistic critics. It observed that Francis’s own documents point to the importance in Francis’s thinking of a “healthy decentralization” in the Church and the corresponding roles of conferences of bishops in determining what is needed to advance the Gospel and true communion in particular places. “By discerning the specific challenges facing the U.S. Church and society and electing a candidate well-suited to meet them, the bishops are demonstrating greater fidelity to Pope Francis’ vision than if they had picked a conference president who simply regurgitated Vatican talking points.”
Indeed, Broglio is not only a model for leadership in the Catholic Church but also in broader society, both of which are often overwhelmed by a managerial and bureaucratic tendency that simultaneously allows those in authority to hide behind others when things get hot but also allows the kind of groupthink that stifles recognition of uncomfortable realities and makes for bland action. Such tendencies make for leaders with whom the buck will never stop.
Archbishop Broglio has charted a different path: willingness to put his name and his authority behind positions that are sound but controversial; willingness to speak out on real threats facing Church and nation; willingness to take in all sides of important questions; and willingness to work with everybody without sacrificing his own particular duties. Those are lessons for which we could all use a refresher.
We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...
Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.Donate Now