Chaplains at top of Navy list in officer crimes, files show

Associated Pressn/July 5, 2003
By Matt Kelley

Washington -- The Navy has punished more than 40 chaplains over the past decade for offenses ranging from sexual abuse to fraud, a misconduct rate much higher than for other officers, according to documents that detail the Navy's alarm at the problem.

"Navy chaplains, in fact, create a disproportionate number of problem cases," Navy Chaplain Corps official Bradford E. Ableson wrote in a 1999 memo that is among several documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The previously undisclosed documents detail offenses that included adultery, spousal assault and sexual harassment that were so pervasive that in 1999, then-Navy Secretary Richard Danzig ordered a new training and oversight program to ensure that the Navy's nearly 870 chaplains met high moral standards. Ableson, deputy executive assistant to the chief of Navy chaplains, wrote the memo to give his boss details on the extent of the problem.

The Chaplain Corps implemented that retraining program but hasn't tracked how many chaplains have been punished since then, said Lt. Jon Spiers, a Chaplain Corps spokesman.

Court records and news stories show that since 1999 at least one chaplain has been convicted of indecent acts and a recently retired chaplain was charged with murder.

Spiers said the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Barry Black, has made enforcing ethical standards his top priority. Black has been nominated for U.S. Senate chaplain.

Spiers said the Chaplain Corps should not be judged by its members' misconduct.

"To say the actions of a few speak for the service of the many thousands of men and women who serve and have served as Navy chaplains does an injustice to all the good work these officers give so willingly," Spiers said in a written reply to questions submitted by AP.

Danzig declined to comment through an assistant at the Center for Naval Analyses, where he is a senior fellow.

Most of the punished chaplains, 28 of the 42, were accused of sexual misconduct or harassment, according to the documents obtained by AP.

Examples: A Roman Catholic chaplain went to prison for molesting the young sons of sailors and Marines. A Seventh-day Adventist chaplain was court-martialed for an indecent assault during a counseling session. Three chaplains - a Baptist, a Catholic and a United Pentecostal Church International minister - were punished for downloading porn onto Navy computers.

Despite its relatively small size, the Chaplain Corps had at least 39 officers disciplined from 1994 to 1999, than the number disciplined among the rest of the Navy's 32,000 regular officers, Ableson wrote.

The regular officers had a discipline rate of two per 1,000, while the rate for chaplains was 45 per 1,000, other Navy memos said.

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