The U.S. Military and the Catholic Faith: Authority


Frank Cash - Roman Soldier

This article discusses comparisons between the U.S. Army, the military, and Catholicism. Though my views are subjective, they are based on objective facts which exist within both institutions. My main intention is to give readers a good analogy and thus a better understanding of why Catholics do what they do. I would like to add that I use the word ‘military’ loosely. I focus on mainly pertaining to the Army, this is because I am a soldier and grew up through the ranks of the enlisted side. In fact, when I get to Heaven Saint Peter’s going to say, “How’d you earn your living boy?” and I’m going to say… (Army Cadence and reference).

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

 Flaws in Authority

The Catholic Church and the U.S. military have similarities in their history, doctrines and authority, traditions and customs, hierarchy, and specific training. With the Catholic Church and the Army, there are always flaws in those in authority, which means there can never be even a promise of a perfect leader. Although there shouldn’t be flaws in fundamental faith and morals, individual people in the Church have made bad judgment calls, just like in the military or any job for that matter. Many people will say they don’t like it. Truthfully, though, it’s not the Church but rather the fallible people running it who upset those who are critical.

Doctrine and Authority

The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), AR’s (Army Regulations), FM’s (Field Manuals), SOP’s (Special Operating Procedures) and so on in the military can be compared to Tradition, the Bible, and the Catechism in the Church. With military doctrine, a person can add to but not take away from the authority of leaders. Just as legal, moral or ethical directives are issued, they must be followed regardless if they are agreed upon. Now, of course, if a leader gives a directive which is illegal, immoral or unethically then it should not be followed.  Papal authority, through Peter, means faith and morals are infallible but being human a pope can make mistakes dealing with various other issues. On the other hand, just as a leader in the military, the worse kind of religious leader is one who refuses to make any decisions at all.

When a bad choice is made, followers can offer polite suggestions through tactful conversation, a respectable way of telling leaders when they are wrong. In Church history, popes have been corrected by followers. Peter was corrected by Paul, even though Peter was given the keys of authority and was the first Pope. However, respectful correction doesn’t undermine leadership authority because all ‘on the spot corrections’ should be reinforced by doctrine. We must remember the Church’s basic mission is to teach its disciples to follow in Christ’s footsteps while standing on Tradition, the Bible, and the Catechism, which is an instruction ‘textbook’ of Catholic doctrine. Similarly, all military doctrine is in support of its main cause, which is to have a well-trained, proficient and disciplined military.


Instructions and the authority which teaches them, lead to a hierarchy, a process of leadership. The Chain of Command (rank structure) really starts from the basic soldier and up because men need to know where their position in the ranks is as well as where they came from. The military has staff positions such as Company Commanders, Battalion Commanders, Division and so on and up to the President of the United States who is the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces. Within the Church, we have Deacons, Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Pope.

With all rank structure, especially in the military, we are told to address our NCO’s by their rank and officers either Sir or Ma’am. Now in the Church, we address our priest’s as ‘father.’ This is quite controversial because of the proof text in the Bible when Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9. This does not refer to the Catholic term ‘father’ for priest, it refers to those who are arrogant and proud, demanding the title ‘teacher’ or ‘father.’ Similarly, some in the military, especially immature Sergeants or Lieutenants, use their titles as a privilege which is not a proper use of authority and leadership. “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15).

To acknowledge authority, soldiers stand at parade rest for their senior NCO’s and stand at the position of attention for officers. By doing this we acknowledge respect whether it is to the person directly or to the rank. Though many soldiers would prefer to respect the person as well, once again leaders are only human which means they all have faults.

The Welfare of My Soldiers

Service members have a chain of command which we have to use when service member are counseled for their actions and/or requesting information and guidance. Catholics pray to those who have been acknowledged as Saints in heaven, as God’s appointed ones who set standards for us on earth. Catholics ask them through prayer to intercede for them. This would be no different than if you were to apply for a job and got a referral letter from a well-known person who would stick their neck out so you would get the job. A leader in the military might also stand up for their soldiers if they got into trouble so they get a lesser punishment. But it is our job as a leader to set an example and also to look out for our soldier’s best interest. In the second paragraph in the NCO creed, the leader must be concerned for “…the welfare of my soldiers.” Do you not think the saints who have gone before us would not love us enough not intercede for us? In addition, just like in the military, priestly leaders are shepherds who watch over their parishioner’s welfare as their earthly leaders.

When Leaders Fail

As a leader in the military, we are to work for those who are our followers and yet sometimes we fail. Failing isn’t the main issue; the main issue is with those who have put their faith and trust in us because many have been pushed to the side and fear those who are supposed to take care of them won’t. Also, from another angle, there are those who think they are so important, they act like ‘a first round draft pick’ who goes straight to the top boss demanding action, skipping over those appointed over them. Parishioners should likewise take problems to their parish priest first before complaining to their bishop. Now, of course, there is a time and place for everything. Skipping your chain of command is allowed in some cases, depending on the issue and circumstances but often the issue could have been resolved at a lower level if it was brought to them properly.

Whoever Rejects You, Rejects Me

This can be related to those who wish to pray directly to God, not saying this is wrong but like Jesus stated, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). This can also go hand in hand with the verse found in Luke 10:16 “…whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  Jesus is speaking in strong terms about how we respect the authority of His priests, bishops, and the pope. This is like a superior’s guidance which is questioned by the kind of subordinate who always wants their own way by skipping the proper channels.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.(Hebrews 13:17-18)

The life as a soldier has taught me values; these values have helped me become stronger, more rooted in my faith. Also being a soldier has shown me the importance of obedience and discipline which helped me understand and respect the Church’s authority and hierarchy, even when those over me make mistakes.


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