What is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services (US)?


The coat of arms of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (formally the Military Ordinariate of Archdiocese for the Military Services of the United States) is a Latin Church ecclesiastical jurisdiction or archdiocese that provides the Catholic Church’s pastoral and spiritual services to those serving in the armed forces of the United States and their dependents and to all military and naval bases, to the facilities of the Veterans Administration, and to other federal services overseas.

It was originally established as a military vicariate, with the Archbishop of New York serving as the military vicar. It was reorganized as an archdiocese, with its own archbishop and its see relocated to the District of Columbia by Pope John Paul II in 1986. While part of the Latin Church, clergy from the Eastern Catholic Churches are permitted received endorsement by the archdiocese on the condition that they possess bi-ritual faculties and can celebrate in the Roman Rite.

The current diocesan bishop is Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio. He is assisted by several auxiliary bishops. Together, they oversee Catholic priests serving as chaplains throughout the world. Each chaplain remains incardinated into the diocese or religious institute for which he was ordained.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA is a personal jurisdiction, meaning that it has no defined territory and that its jurisdiction extends to those whom it serves throughout the world. It has jurisdiction wherever American men and women in uniform serve. The jurisdiction of the Archdiocese extends to all United States government property in the United States and abroad, including US military installations, embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions.

Brief History

Prior to the creation of the Military Ordinariate and then the Archdiocese for the Military Services, the armed forces of the United States was served by an informal corps of volunteer priests. Beginning in 1917, the spiritual care of those in military service fell to the Military Vicariate, the equivalent of a personal vicariate apostolic, that is, a particular church the membership of which is defined by some personal quality (as in this case being a member or a dependent of a member of the armed services) that is headed by a legate of the pope. Originally, the ordinariate was headed by then-Bishop Patrick Hayes, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York who served double duty as papal military vicar for the United States beginning on 24 November 1917.

Hayes was chosen because New York was the primary port of embarkation for US troops leaving for Europe and therefore a convenient contact point for Catholic chaplains serving with them. When Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, died, Hayes was appointed as his successor and kept the additional title and duty of military vicar. In November 1939, the Holy See established the Military Vicariate of the United States of America. The post remained an additional duty of the archbishop of New York from Hayes’ time until Cardinal Terence Cooke began plans to separate it as its own jurisdiction in the early 1980s, plans he was unable to carry out before his death in 1983. Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor – a retired Navy chaplain with the rank of Rear Admiral, having served as chief of Navy chaplains (the military’s title for its own senior chaplain officer) subsequently served as an auxiliary bishop for the Military Vicariate. He succeeded Cardinal Cooke as Archbishop of New York and Apostolic Administrator of the Military Vicariate. He oversaw the completion of the transition. On 21 July 1986, Pope John Paul II reconstituted the military vicariate as the present Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, naming Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan its first archbishop.

In 2012, Catholic Extension approved a $56,000 two year grant to the Archdiocese for the Military Services to support faith formation programs for Catholics in the United States military. On April 2013, about 25% of the US armed forces were Catholic.

As of 2017, the Archdiocese had 208 priests on active duty serving approximately 1.8 million people.


The following is a list of bishops, archbishops and auxiliary bishops and their tenure of service:

Apostolic Vicar of the United States Armed Forces

  • Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes (1917-1938), concurrently served as Auxiliary Bishop of New York and later Archbishop of New York.
  • Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman (1939-1967), concurrently served as Archbishop of New York.
  • Cardinal Terence James Cooke (1968-1983), concurrently served as Archbishop of New York.

Apostolic Delegate for the United States Armed Forces

  • John Francis O’Hara, C.S.C. (1939-1945), appointed Bishop of Buffalo and later Archbishop of Philadelphia (elevated to Cardinal in 1958).
  • William Richard Arnold (1945-1965).

Archbishop for the Military Services, USA

  • John Joseph Thomas Ryan (1985-1991).
  • Joseph Thomas Dimino (1991-1997).
  • Edwin Frederick O’Brien (1997-2007), appointed Archbishop of Baltimore and later Pro-Grand Master and Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (elevated to Cardinal in 2012).
  • Timothy P. Broglio (2008–present).

Coadjutor Archbishops

  • John Joseph Thomas Ryan (1975-1985).
  • Edwin Frederick O’Brien (1997).

Auxiliary Bishops

  • William Tibertus McCarty, C.Ss.R. (1943-1947), appointed Bishop of Rapid City.
  • James Henry Ambrose Griffiths (1949-1955), concurrently served as Auxiliary Bishop of New York.
  • Philip Joseph Furlong (1955-1971).
  • William Joseph Moran (1965-1981).
  • James Jerome Killeen (1975-1978).
  • John Joseph O’Connor (1979-1983), appointed Bishop of Scranton and later Archbishop of New York (elevated to Cardinal in 1985).
  • Lawrence Joyce Kenney (1983-1990).
  • Angelo Thomas Acerra, O.S.B. (1983-1990).
  • Joseph Thomas Dimino (1983-1991), appointed Archbishop for the Military Services, USA.
  • Francis Xavier Roque (1983-2004).
  • John Gavin Nolan (1987-1997).
  • John Joseph Glynn (1991-2002).
  • José de Jesús Madera Uribe, M.Sp.S. (1991-2004).
  • John Joseph Kaising (2000-2007).
  • Joseph W. Estabrook (2004-2012).
  • Richard Brendan Higgins (2004-2020).
  • F. Richard Spencer (2010-present).
  • Neal James Buckon (2011-present).
  • Robert J. Coyle (2013-2018), appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre.
  • Joseph L. Coffey (2019-present).
  • William Muhm (2019-present).


The diocesan chancery is located in Washington, D.C. The Archdiocese for the Military Services is the only US diocese without a cathedral, but celebrates its major functions at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Non-Combatant Status

The Geneva Conventions state (Protocol I, 08 June 1977, Art 43.2) that chaplains are non-combatants: they do not have the right to participate directly in hostilities. Captured chaplains are not considered Prisoners of War (Third Convention, 12 August 1949, Chapter IV Art 33) and must be returned to their home nation unless retained to minister to prisoners of war.

Reports of Sexual Abuse


In 1985. Catholic US Army chaplain Alvin L. Campbell plead guilty to sex abuse and received a 14 year prison sentence. He served 7 years of this sentence and was removed from public ministry. He died in 2002.

In 2000, Catholic army chaplain Mark Matson was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting a 13 year old boy while serving at a US Army hospital.

In 2005, Catholic chaplain Gregory Arflack was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting members of the US Army.

Air Force

In 1991, US Air Force priest Thomas Chleboski pled guilty to five counts of molesting a 13 year old boy in 1989 and received a 20 year prison sentence. He was accused of luring his victim with tours of Andrews Air Force Base.

Barry Ryan, who served two years in prison for separate acts of sex abuse he committed in 2003, was removed from the archdiocese in 1995 after allegations surfaced that he committed acts of sex abuse against a minor in 1994.

On 12 April 2019, Arthur Perrault, a former Roman Catholic priest who served as a US Air Force chaplain, was found guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy at an Air Force base and a veterans’ cemetery in New Mexico in the early 1990s. On 15 September 2019, Perrault, who was extradited in September 2018 years after he fled the country, received a 30 year prison sentence. Perrault was serving in the Air National Guard when the abuse took place.

Notable Chaplains by Conflict

What was the Mexican-American War (1846-1848)?Mexican-American War

  • John McElroy, S.J. – One of two of the Army’s first Catholic chaplains. Founder of Boston College.
  • Anthony Rey, S.J. – One of two of the Army’s first Catholic chaplains. Vice president of Georgetown College (1845). First Catholic chaplain killed during service with the US military.

Civil War

  • Emmeran M. Bliemel, OSB – He was the first Catholic chaplain killed in action during the Civil War.
  • William Corby – He is famous for giving a general absolution to the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • John Ireland – He served as a chaplain of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
  • Bernard John McQuaid – He volunteered as a chaplain and accompanied the New Jersey Brigade to the seat of war, during which service he was captured by the Confederates.

Spanish-American War

  • John P. Chidwick – A priest of the Archdiocese of New York and the third Catholic chaplain in the history of the Navy, he was the chaplain on USS Maine when it was destroyed by an explosion on 15 February 1898 (which led to the Spanish-American War of 08 April to 13 August 1898); he helped coordinate the burial of sailors and their later reburials at Arlington National Cemetery

World War I

  • John B. DeValles.
  • Francis P. Duffy – Chaplain for the 69th Infantry Regiment (a military unit from New York City and part of the New York Army National Guard) – known as “The Fighting 69th” – which had been federalised and re-designated the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
  • John Joseph Mitty – In 1919, he was assigned as Catholic chaplain at the US Military Academy; during his tenure at West Point, General Douglas MacArthur served as superintendent.
  • Colman O’Flaherty – Chaplain with the 1st Infantry Division; was killed in action, in France; posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
  • Barry O’Toole.

World War II

  • William R. Arnold (first Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains; later served as Apostolic Vicar for the US Armed Forces).
  • Thomas J. Barrett.
  • Frederic P. Gehring, C.M.
  • Joseph Gilmore.
  • William Guilfoyle.
  • Philip M. Hannan.
  • William A. Irwin.
  • Alfred W. Johnson.
  • Francis J. McManus.
  • Joseph T. O’Callahan – served on USS Franklin; awarded the Medal of Honour.
  • John A. Ryan.
  • Joseph T. Ryan.
  • Aloysius H. Schmitt – first US chaplain to die in WW II; on USS Oklahoma.
  • William J. Walsh – Air Force Catholic Chaplain Said the first Mass since the 5th century in Greenland in 1942. He was a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul.
  • John P. Washington – one of the Four Chaplains.
  • Joseph Verbis Lafleur, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

Korean War

  • Herman G. Felhoelter – chaplain with the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division; executed, along with 30 critically wounded soldiers; posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
  • Emil J. Kapaun – chaplain with 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Captured by Chinese forces at the Battle of Unsan, 01-02 November 1950. Continued his priestly ministry among American POWs, including speaking out against Communist indoctrination and stealing food and medicine. Died in captivity on 23 May 1951; posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour in 2013. Declared a Servant of God in 1993, Fr. Kapaun’s cause for canonisation as a Saint began in 2008. In 2022, Catholic officials raised the possibility that Fr. Kapaun died a martyr for the Catholic faith, which would hasten the process of canonisation.
  • Dennis Murphy.
  • John J. O’Connor (later served as Navy Chief of Chaplains, 1975-1979, and as auxiliary bishop of the Military Vicariate, 1979-1983).

Cold War (Pre-Vietnam)

  • Terence P. Finnegan (first Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • Patrick J. Ryan (second Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains).

Vietnam War

  • Robert R. Brett, S.M. – killed during Tet offensive, after declining his seat on a departing helicopter.
  • Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M. – awarded the Medal of Honour posthumously.
  • Edwin R. Chess (second Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • John F. Laboon, Jr., S.J.
  • Charles Liteky.
  • Francis L. Sampson (third Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains).
  • Charles J. Watters – awarded the Medal of Honour posthumously.

Cold War (Post-Vietnam)

  • John A. Collins (fourth Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • William Joseph Dendinger (seventh Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • Patrick J. Hessian (fourth Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains).
  • John P. McDonough (fifth Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • Henry J. Meade (third Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).
  • Donald W. Shea (fifth Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains).
  • Arthur S. Thomas (sixth Catholic Air Force Chief of Chaplains).

Iraq War/War on Terror

  • Donald L. Rutherford (sixth Catholic Army Chief of Chaplains).
  • H. Timothy Vakoc – only US chaplain to die from wounds received during the Iraq War.

Fiction and literature portraying Catholic military chaplains:

  • The Fighting 69th (film) (1940).
  • The Longest Day (book) (1959).
  • The Longest Day (film) (1962).
  • MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (novel) (1968).
  • M*A*S*H (film) (1970).
  • M*A*S*H (TV series) (1972-1983).

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