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Training material listing Catholics as ‘extremists’ angers archdiocese

Apr. 5, 2013 - 03:15PM   |  
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Catholic military archdiocese officials are calling on defense officials to review training materials after learning that a briefing from an Army Reserve unit cited Catholicism as an example of “religious extremism” — on a list with al-Qaida, the Ku Klux Klan, and the white supremacist Christian Identity.

“The archdiocese is astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist,” said a statement from the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Catholics make up about 25 percent of the armed forces, according to the archdiocese.

An Army spokesman said the briefing was held a year ago. “After receiving a single complaint following the presentation, this person deleted the slide, and it was never again shown,” said Army spokesman George Wright, in an email response. “This person apologized for any offense it may have caused, and we consider the matter closed.”

The slideshow, titled “Extremism & Extremist Organizations,” includes a list of 17 religions or organizations, to include evangelical Christianity, that are “religious extremism.”

The materials were used in an Equal Employment Opportunity briefing at the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Pennsylvania, said Ron Crews, a retired colonel who served as an evangelical Christian chaplain in the Army. Crews is executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. A soldier who saw the briefing contacted him, he said.

“The archdiocese calls upon the Department of Defense to review these materials and to ensure that taxpayer funds are never again used to present blatantly anti-religious material to the men and women in uniform,” according to the statement, which noted that archdiocese officials had talked with the Army chief of chaplains office about the incident.

Officials in the 316th ESC referred the matter to Army public affairs.

As noted in the statement from the archdiocese, Wright said, it was an isolated incident not condoned by the Army.

“The slide was not produced by the Army, and certainly does not reflect our policy or doctrine. It was produced by an individual without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission.” Wright said the briefing material stated that the presenter was not a subject matter expert, and produced the material using Internet research.

Crews said he talked to the EEO officer who conducted the briefing, who apologized that people were offended, and said the information would be removed. He said it was not clear why Catholicism and evangelical Christianity were originally included.

“Our concern is that everyone who attended that briefing should be given the corrected information,” Crews said. And he is concerned that the unit didn’t use chaplains as their source of experts on religious extremism. “We’re concerned there’s an environment in the [Equal Employment Opportunity] world that allows this to be presented to soldiers,” Crews said.

The problem could be more widespread, Crews said, because his organization has received information about briefings at other Army units and at least one Navy installation that labeled groups as “religious extremists” who were part of the Evangelical Christian community.

“Men and women of faith who have served the Army faithfully for centuries shouldn’t be likened to those who have regularly threatened the peace and security of the United States,” Crews said.

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